Acting with more deliberation than speed, Maryland’s top court on Friday ruled against a would-be developer in Columbia and against the estate of Catonsville woman — well over two years after hearing arguments in the two cases.
In a unanimous decision, the Court of Appeals said Renaissance Centro Columbia LLC failed to exhaust administrative remedies before going to court to block nearby resident Joel Broida’s challenge to the developer’s plan to build a 22-story retail and condominium building.
The court heard arguments in that case on March 5, 2009.
In a 4-3 ruling, the court deemed valid a Baltimore hospital’s $206,343 complaint against Dorothy C. Faya’s estate. The court said University Specialty Hospital, the Baltimore facility where Faya lived on life support for about the last 11 months of her life, had properly filed its claim in the city, even though her permanent home was in Baltimore County.
That case was argued on Dec. 8, 2008.
The decisions followed a report in the Aug. 15 edition of The Daily Record that found many Court of Appeals cases remain pending more than two years — and in one case more than five years — after they are argued.
That report noted retired Judge John C. Eldridge, who continues to hear cases by special assignment, takes the longest time of the judges to issue his decisions post-argument.
Eldridge, who wrote the opinion in the developer’s case, took an average of 24.2 months to issue his prior 10 majority opinions.
Retired Judge Alan M. Wilner, who wrote the majority opinion in the Faya case, had the quickest average turnaround time for issuing a decision post-argument at 1.6 months, according to The Daily Record report. Eldridge wrote the dissent in the Faya case.
Wilner, who like Eldridge hears cases by special assignment, declined to explain the two-year, eight-month gap between the argument and decision in the case.
“I can’t tell you what happened in that case because obviously we reveal some confidences [if I do],” Wilner said Monday.
Eldridge and Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert M. Bell did not return telephone messages seeking comment.
Broida said his gratitude to the court for enabling him to pursue his challenge outweighs any concern he has about the two years and five months he waited for the unanimous decision.
“Judges take a long time,” Broida said. “It’s my understanding [Eldridge] is a very careful and methodical person.”
But John R. Boer, Faya’s son-in-law and personal representative of her estate, voiced displeasure at the wait.
“I guess they have more important things to do, but it’s caused me a lot of heartache,” Boer said.
The heartache has consisted of paying insurance and taxes on his late mother-in-law’s vacant home, which he said he has been barred from selling because it serves as collateral for the claim the hospital filed after her death in November 2003.
“I’m paying insurance and taxes on a house that I can’t do anything with,” Boer said.
Exhaustion of remedies
In 2005, Broida mounted his challenge to Renaissance Centro’s plan to construct its building at the intersection of Little Patuxent Parkway and Wincopin Circle in Columbia.
He lost before the Howard County Planning Board and before a county hearing examiner, who said he lacked standing to challenge the plan because he would not be “specially aggrieved” by the building.
On appeal, the four-member Howard County Board of Appeals was divided on whether Broida — whose condominium would face the building — had standing.
The board on Jan. 22, 2007, declined to rule on Broida’s standing until after the Feb. 5, 2007, confirmation of a fifth board member to break the tie.
Renaissance Centro, instead of waiting, sought a judgment from the Howard County Circuit Court that the board’s 2-to-2 decision required Broida’s appeal to be dismissed. The court agreed with the developer.
But the Court of Special Appeals reversed, holding the administrative process had not been exhausted because a final vote had not been taken.
The Court of Appeals agreed.
“The appropriate time to argue that the decision of an administrative agency was not in accordance with law is in a judicial review action, after the rendering of a final administrative decision,” Eldridge wrote for the court.
Broida’s attorney voiced surprise that it took the court so long to issue a unanimous decision on what he called the well-settled legal issue that the administrative process must be exhausted before a developer can seek judicial recourse.
“It’s a long time for a case that turned on that particular issue,” said E. Alexander Adams of Adams & Adams in Ellicott City. “It certainly is black-letter law.”
Renaissance Centro’s attorney, Richard B. Talkin of Ellicott City, declined to comment on the case.
The decision in Faya’s case addressed a Maryland probate law provision requiring creditors to file claims within six months of a debtor’s death and in the county where the person “resided” or was “domiciled.”
Faya, who lived nearly all of her 82 years in Catonsville, spent the last 11 months of her life on a ventilator and feeding tube at University Specialty Hospital. She died Nov. 21, 2003.
On Dec. 10, 2003, the hospital filed a claim with the register of wills in Baltimore City for $206,343, the outstanding balance on her hospital bill.
Faya’s will was submitted to probate in Baltimore County on Feb. 18, 2004. On Oct. 1, 2004, the hospital resubmitted its claim for the outstanding balance with the Baltimore County register of wills.
Boer’s attorney challenged the Baltimore County filing as barred by the six-month deadline.
The hospital countered it met the deadline with its initial filing in the city, saying Faya resided in Baltimore during her 11-month hospital stay.
The Orphans’ Court for Baltimore County and the Baltimore County Circuit Court agreed with Boer and dismissed the hospital’s claim.
But the Court of Special Appeals held for the hospital. The intermediate court said Faya “resided” in the Baltimore City hospital when she died, rendering valid the filing in the city.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision.
Wilner wrote the majority opinion. Eldridge dissented, saying no “reasonable person” would “objectively believe” that Faya “resided” at the hospital.
Neither Boer’s nor the hospital’s attorney returned telephone messages seeking comment.
Boer was represented by Michael J. Kelly of Timonium. Allan B. Rabineau, of Baltimore, represented the hospital.
WHAT THE COURT HELD
Renaissance Centro Columbia LLC v. Broida, CA No. 104 Sept. Term 200810. Reported. Opinion by Eldridge, J. Filed Aug. 19, 2011. Argued March 5, 2009.
Did a tie vote regarding standing constitute a final administrative decision permitting a court challenge?
No; the administrative body could choose, as it did, to try to break the tie.
S. Scott Morrison for petitioner; E. Alexander Adams for respondent.
RecordFax # 11-0819-21.
WHAT THE COURT HELD
Boer v. University Specialty Hospital, CA No. 67 Sept. Term 2008. Reported. Opinion by Wilner, J. Dissent by Eldridge, J. Filed Aug. 19, 2011. Argued Dec. 8, 2008.
Under probate law, can a person be considered to have been a “resident” of the city in which she was hospitalized at the time of her death?
Yes; a person who spends a significant amount time in the hospital prior to death can be considered to have been a resident.
Michael J. Kelly for petitioner; Allan B. Rabineau for respondent.
RecordFax # 11-0819-20.