Maryland’s highest court recently denied Harford County’s request to allow its appeal of a more than $45 million judgment against it in a nearly 30-year legal battle with Maryland Reclamation Associates Inc., the developer of a rubble fill, to skip over a lower court and instead to be heard by the highest court, according to court records.
In the wake of the denial by the Court of Appeals, Maryland’s supreme court, the county will proceed with its appeal to the Court of Special Appeals, Maryland’s intermediate court. The Court of Appeals denied Harford’s request on Oct. 26, county government spokesperson Cindy Mumby said Monday.
The request was sought to shorten the time before the highest court might hear an appeal and time is of the essence for the county.
A Harford County jury found in favor of Maryland Reclamation Associates Inc. (MRA) in April and levied a judgment of $45.4 million against the county government. The county is appealing the jury’s verdict, even as the judgment began accruing interest at a rate of 10 percent and $4.54 million per year — more than $12,400 per day — starting in May.
“We sought appeal of this case directly to the Court of Appeals to expedite a resolution of the matter,” Mumby, who called the court’s denial “procedural,” wrote in an email.
The county filed its request Aug. 31 to be heard by the highest court, bypassing the intermediate court. That was followed in mid-September by filings of support of Harford County’s request by Carroll, Cecil, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, plus three municipalities — Gaithersburg, Rockville and Westminster — and the Maryland Association of Counties and the Maryland Municipal League supporting Harford’s petition.
The Court of Appeals denied Harford’s request because “there has been no showing that review by [the high court] is desirable and in the public interest,” according to the order signed by Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera.
“The [Court of Appeals] denial should send a clear message to the county,” Richard Schafer, of MRA, the developer of the would-be rubble fill, said in a written statement.
He said that message is that the jury’s decision “was/is a local matter.”
“The time has come for the county executive and council to recognize what the jury understood after listening to the evidence, that ‘Harford County, through its zoning, did in fact cause a regulatory taking of MRA’s property,’” Schafer stated.
Schafer is president and CEO of the Churchville-based MRA, which owns the 55-acre property in the Gravel Hill community near Havre de Grace. Schaefer’s firm has been seeking permission from the county to develop a rubble fill on that property since the early 1990s and provided a copy of the Court of Appeals’ order Monday to The Aegis. Mumby also provided a copy to The Aegis.
The county filed a $49.9 million bond — the initial $45.4 million judgment, plus one year of interest which accrues at 10 percent — with the Harford County Circuit Court in July to continue the appeal.
Circuit Judge Kevin Mahoney denied a request by the county to waive the bond and ordered officials to post it.
“The bond is still in effect and we plan to seek reimbursement for the cost of the bond following a successful conclusion of this case,” Mumby stated.
Mumby wrote that the Court of Appeals’ decision “does not reflect on the merits of the case, or the [legal filings of support] filed by the other counties and organizations on our behalf.”
“We are prepared to proceed with our original filing to the Court of Special Appeals,” she said. “Written pleadings will be submitted by the county in December.”
Mumby said the county would not be paying anything, neither the judgment nor the accruing interest, while the legal process is ongoing.
“The annual interest amount is $4,542,008, but that is not an out-of-pocket expense and it is not payable, if we are successful, which we believe we will be,” she said.