The state Court of Appeals will not hear a case pitting the Bengies Drive-In against a nearby Royal Farms store. The move effectively ends efforts to enforce a jury ruling ordering the chain to pay $838,000 for a fence to keep the convenience store's lights from interfering with the theater's operation.
Without comment, the Court of Appeals declined to hear an appeal of a July ruling from the state Court of Special Appeals. Judge Andrea M. Leahy had ruled that Baltimore Circuit Judge Robert Cahill was correct in setting aside the jury verdict. Evidence presented in the Circuit Court case did not sufficiently back up the damage claim, and thus the jury erred in ruling in the Bengies' favor, Leahy wrote.
The original trial resulted in a June 2012 jury finding that light from the convenience store interfered with business at the drive-in movie theater, the last in the Baltimore area. The jury awarded Bengies owner D. Edward Vogel $838,000, enough to build an 850-foot long, 25-foot high stone wall on the Bengies property along Eastern Boulevard, to block the light.
Cahill overturned that award the following September. He wrote that the evidence presented at trial "does not support the jury's finding that the Royal Farms' lighting constitutes a nuisance under prevailing Maryland law." He also wrote that the drive-in should be afforded no legal protection beyond that given any business.
Erin Murphy, who argued the case on behalf of Vogel, said she was "disappointed by the Court of Appeals' decision," which was dated Nov. 20 and which attorneys received Monday.
The only remaining step would be to appeal the state court's decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. Neither Vogel nor Murphy would comment on the likelihood of that happening.
Vogel has previously said that the future of the Baltimore area's last remaining drive-in theater rested on the outcome of the case. On Monday, he said he would have to meet with his attorney before deciding on the next step.
"Having spent the majority of my life trying to preserve this genuine piece of Maryland's Roadside History," Vogel wrote in an email, "it is difficult to accept the extent of Government actions and inactions to thwart it. The little guys live by the rules, the big guys blatantly and arrogantly ignore them and win."
Monday, he added, "is not a good day for The Bengies Drive-In Theatre."
Vogel was not ready to comment on the theater's future beyond saying he would likely have a plan in place by next season.
In a statement, Ed Stronski, marketing manager for Royal Farms, said, "We are pleased to have this case, which started nearly a decade ago, finally behind us. This decision by the court finally proves that Royal Farms has done nothing wrong, despite Mr. Vogel's repeated assertions to the contrary, and our attempts to work with Mr. Vogel over the years."
Vogel contended that the Royal Farms lights interfere with the view from at least two-thirds of Bengies' 750 parking spaces. A vocal advocate for the business his family started in 1956, Vogel said that the lights delay his annual opening by several weeks and have thwarted his plans to add a second screen.
Royal Farms countered that the store is in compliance with Baltimore County laws, even going beyond what the law requires by removing lights shining on the building's cupola.