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Fallston developer Michael Euler Sr., shown above in 2012, sued two local women over a petition they circulated in an effort to block expansion of the county's designated growth area to one of his properties. The suit has been dismissed by agreement of both sides.
Fallston developer Michael Euler Sr., shown above in 2012, sued two local women over a petition they circulated in an effort to block expansion of the county's designated growth area to one of his properties. The suit has been dismissed by agreement of both sides. (AEGIS FILE PHOTO / Baltimore Sun)

A Fallston developer has dropped his lawsuit against two women whose "Keep Fallston Rural" petition sought to thwart his effort to extend boundaries for Harford County's designated growth area in Fallston.

The suit, which lawyers for defendants Stephanie Flasch and Beth Poggioli claimed was an attempt to muzzle their rights to free speech, was dismissed with prejudice on Aug. 31 by mutual agreement of both sides, according to Harford County Circuit Court records.

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In April, Michael Euler Sr. sought an injunction to stop "Keep Fallston Rural" co-founders Flasch and Poggioli, both Fallston residents, as is Euler, from making public statements that Euler could be planning to develop retail buildings on 30 acres he owns near the southwest corner of the intersection of Routes 152 and 147. The property, which borders Euler's Aumar Village Shopping Center, is zoned for agriculture.

At the time, Euler was seeking a change in the county's designated growth area, called the development envelope, that would have allowed his property and several residential properties along Route 152 next to his to receive county water and sewer service. In addition to asking the court to stop them from making claims about his intentions, Euler's lawsuit asked for damages of $75,000 against Flasch and Poggioli.

Fallston-based developer Michael Sr. Euler is suing two women who organized a "Keep Fallston Rural" petition opposing his request to Harford County to extend development boundaries to Routes 152 and 147, so a property he owns can receive public sewer service.

Although Euler claimed he was seeking water and sewer service to alleviate the area's failing septic system issues and would subsequently seek only R-1 low density zoning for his property, Flasch and Poggioli said his proposal signaled the start of more westward development in Fallston. In late June, the Harford County Council approved the HarfordNEXT master plan, which encompasses the change Euler had requested.

Earlier this week, the ACLU issued a news release hailing the dismissal of the "frivolous" lawsuit.

In court filings, the organization had argued Euler's action was a "SLAPP," for Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, case meant to "censor, intimidate and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of litigation and threats of big damage awards."

Extension of Harford County's designated growth area, called the development envelope, was extended along Route 152 in Fallston, shown by the yellow area at right,  under a new county master plan adopted in June. The change will permit the extenstion of public water and sewer to the area.
Extension of Harford County's designated growth area, called the development envelope, was extended along Route 152 in Fallston, shown by the yellow area at right,  under a new county master plan adopted in June. The change will permit the extenstion of public water and sewer to the area. (Harford County government / Provided graphic)

Euler said Thursday he ultimately "met with two young, reasonable ladies and worked out our differences," referring to Poggioli and Flasch.

He said they then met with their respective lawyers and he agreed to withdraw the suit.

Robin Cockney, the lawyer who represented the women, explained there was no judicial action involved, as Euler agreed to dismiss the suit with prejudice in return for a release from all claims and counterclaims. Euler agreed to pay any outstanding court costs, according to the stipulation of dismissal signed by lawyers for the two parties.

Dismissal with prejudice means the suit cannot be refiled.

"Of course, we are pleased that these ladies were vindicated and the rights that they were asserting have been vindicated," Cockney said.

Flasch and Poggioli accrued $8,000 in legal fees before they went to the ACLU, according to organization.

Flasch was quoted in an ACLU news release that she "was very surprised that just speaking out on a county issue could spark such a frivolous lawsuit. I hope the dismissal restores confidence within the community about providing opinions about how we would like Harford County to grow."

A request by Fallston-based developer Michael Euler to expand Harford County's designated growth area along Route 152 to Harford Road has touched off a new wave of opposition among some area residents.

Poggioli said in the release that "many people in the community who supported our campaign were intimidated by the lawsuit and didn't come forward and speak up because of that fear. I believe this type of lawsuit was an attempt to use the justice system as a means of legal extortion."

Poggioli said she is now "supporting reform because many states have stronger legislation against SLAPP suits than Maryland and that needs to change."

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Reached by phone Thursday, Poggioli declined to comment further on her conversations with Euler, except to repeat that she "had no idea that this kind of thing could happen."

Deborah Jeon, legal director for ACLU of Maryland, said in the release that "more work is needed for Maryland to send a message that frivolous lawsuits intended to silence free speech will not be tolerated."

Jeon said state law needs to change to strengthen legal protections against such lawsuits.

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