Justia Maryland Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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In a dispute regarding a Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) decision to approve a rate increase for Washington Gas and Light Company (Washington Gas), the Supreme Court of Maryland held that a reviewing court must apply an arbitrary or capricious standard of review to the Commission’s interpretation of its own prior order. The issue arose from the interpretation of Condition 44, a provision in the merger order which mandated a certain level of savings for customers following the merger. The Public Service Commission interpreted this condition to mean that Washington Gas’s post-merger costs must be $800,000 per year less than they would have been without the merger. The Maryland Office of People’s Counsel (OPC) disagreed, arguing that the condition required Washington Gas’s post-merger costs to be $800,000 per year less than they were the year before the merger. The court found the Commission’s interpretation was not arbitrary or capricious, affirming the decisions of the lower courts. View "Petition of the Off. Of People's Counsel" on Justia Law

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SmartEnergy Holdings, LLC, a retail electricity supplier, was found to have violated various provisions of Maryland law governing retail electricity suppliers, including engaging in deceptive, misleading, and unfair trade practices. The Supreme Court of Maryland upheld the decisions of lower courts and the Maryland Public Service Commission, affirming that the Commission has the authority to determine whether electricity suppliers under its jurisdiction have violated Maryland’s consumer protection laws, including the Maryland Telephone Solicitations Act (MTSA). The court also determined that the MTSA applies to SmartEnergy’s business practices, as it applies to sales made over the telephone where the consumer places the telephone call to the merchant in response to a merchant’s marketing materials. The court found substantial evidence in the record to support the Commission's factual findings and determined that the remedies imposed by the Commission were within its discretion and not arbitrary or capricious. View "In the Matter of SmartEnergy" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Supreme Court of Maryland held that the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) did not err in concluding that law enforcement had reasonable grounds to believe that Rahq Deika Montana Usan was driving a vehicle while impaired by alcohol, drugs, or both. The ALJ found substantial evidence to support this belief, including Usan's erratic driving, red and glassy eyes, slow and sluggish movement, and failure to perform three Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) successfully. The court also affirmed the ALJ's finding that law enforcement, having reasonable suspicion of a driver impaired by alcohol, drugs, or both, may request testing pursuant to the Maryland Transportation Article § 16-205.1. The court further held that Usan violated the statute by refusing to submit to the requested testing. As a result, the Supreme Court of Maryland reversed the decision of the Circuit Court for Charles County, which had overturned the ALJ's decision to suspend Usan's driver's license. View "Motor Vehicle Admin. v. Usan" on Justia Law

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In this zoning dispute involving the interplay between the public's interest in the future of a private airport in Prince George's County and the financial interests of its owner, the Supreme Court held that the amended zoning ordinance allowing the airport to develop higher-density housing did not violate Maryland's uniformity requirement, Md. Code Ann., Land Use 22-201(b)(2)(i).When the airport's owners began experiencing financial difficulties they sought to redevelop the site, which had been limited by the zoning ordnance to low-density, single-family detached housing, for non-airport use. The County Council amended the zoning ordinance to allow for higher-density housing to incentivize the airport's redevelopment. Plaintiffs brought suit. The circuit court concluded that the ordinance did not violate uniformity, but the appellate court reversed, finding that the ordinance violated uniformity because it was tailored so narrowly as to afford favorable development opportunities to only the airport property. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the ordinance was adopted to further a valid public purpose and did not discriminate against similarly situated properties, thus surviving the uniformity challenge. View "Prince George's County v. Concerned Citizens" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) arbitrarily and capriciously denied Open Justice Baltimore's (OJB) request for a fee waiver in relation to the production of closed files relating to certain use of force investigations and remanded the case to BPD to reconsider OJB's requested fee waiver in light of the factors set forth in this opinion, as well as other relevant factors.OJB, an organization seeking to investigate and publicize reports of police misconduct, filed several requests under the Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) for records relating to citizen and administrative complaints of police misconduct. OJB asked BPD to waive the approximately $245,000 in fees it would cost to produce the files, asserting that a fee waiver would be in the public interest. BPD denied the fee waiver request in its entirety. The circuit court upheld the fee waiver denial. The Supreme Court remanded the case, holding that BPD's fee waiver denial was arbitrary and capricious because BPD failed meaningfully to consider all relevant factors in deciding whether to grant the requested fee waiver. View "Baltimore Police Dep't v. Open Justice Baltimore" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that Jacob Bennett was not barred from serving on the Harford County Council because of his employment as a schoolteacher by the Harford County Board of Education, thus reversing the contrary order and declaratory judgment of the circuit court.After Bennett was elected to the Council in the November 2022 general election a dispute arose between Bennett and Harford County concerning whether he was precluded from serving simultaneously as a member of the Council and as an employee of the Board by either section 207 of the Harford County Charter or the common law doctrine of incompatible positions. The circuit court ruled in favor of the County on the basis that the Board should be treated as a County for purposes of Charter 207. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that neither Charter 207 nor the doctrine of incompatible positions barred Bennett from simultaneously serving as a member of the Council and an employee of the Board. View "Bennett v. Harford County" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court granting Defendant's motion to dismiss Petitioner's petition for judicial review of a decision of a hearing examiner with the Fire and Police Employees' Retirement System for the City of Baltimore denying Petitioner's request for line-of-duty disability retirement, holding that the petition was untimely.Petitioner, a police officer, sustained an injury during a car accident that occurred while he was responding to an emergency call. A copy of the hearing examiner's decision denying line-of-duty disability retirement but granting him non-line-of-duty disability retirement. At issue was whether former Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera's administrative tolling order issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic applied to Defendant's case. The circuit court concluded that the extension applied only to deadlines that were tolled during the closure of the clerks' offices between March 16, 2020 and July 20, 2020. The appellate court certified the question of whether the fifteen-day extension applied to all cases whose statute of limitations and deadlines related to initiation expired between those dates. The Supreme Court answered the question in the negative, holding that the fifteen-day extension under the administrative tolling orders applied only to cases with deadlines that were suspended during the closure of the clerks' offices between the relevant dates. View "In re Hosein" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court upheld the final determination of the Maryland Department of the Environment to reissue with revisions a general discharge permit to Animal Feeding Operations (AFOs), holding that the Department's final determination was reasonable and complied with applicable water quality standards.The most recent iteration of the general discharge permit the Department issued to AFOs was finalized by the Department pursuant to certain statutory requirements requiring the Department to review and issue or reissue water pollution control permits once every five years. The circuit court vacated the permit and remanded the matter with instructions to incorporate certain water quality standards into the permit. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court, holding (1) the Department's AFO general discharge permit framework was reasonable and consistent with federal and state law; and (2) the Department's decision to evaluate each AFO individually and to require appropriately-tailored best-management practices to control the emissions where they presented a risk of discharge was reasonable and not an abuse of discretion. View "Dep't of Environment v. Assateague Coastal Trust" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the appellate court concluding that the circuit court erred in determining that there was no public road over the parcel of real property in St. Mary's County at issue in this case but did not err in determining that the County owned the property in fee simple absolute, holding that the appellate court did not err.The trustee of the Wilkinson Family Trust sued the Board of County Commissioners of St. Mary's County asserting ownership of the property at issue. The circuit court found that the County owned the property in fee simple absolute and that no public road existed on the property. The appellate court vacated the judgment and remanded the case. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the appellate court (1) did not err in concluding that the County owned the property in fee simple absolute; and (2) did not err in holding that, as a matter of law, a public road was established on the property by dedication. View "Bd. of County Commissioners v. Aiken" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the appellate court dismissing Appellant's appeal of the circuit court's ruling affirming the judgment of the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights finding no probable cause to believe that Krav Maga MD, LLC (KMMD) engaged in disability discrimination, holding that the appellate court correctly dismissed Appellant's appeal.Appellant alleged that KMMD, her gym, engaged in disability discrimination by deleting a comment that Appellant had posted on the gym's Facebook account relating to her disability and then later by terminating her membership. The Commission ultimately found no probable cause the find that KMMD had discriminated against Appellant based on her disability. The circuit court affirmed the Commission's finding of no probable cause. On appeal, the appellate court ruled that it lacked jurisdiction to consider Appellant's appeal. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the appellate court correctly dismissed Appellant's appeal. View "Rowe v. Md. Comm'n on Civil Rights" on Justia Law