Barbara Grzincic//Managing Editor/Law//March 4, 2012
//March 4, 2012
The Court of Special Appeals has revived a legal challenge to a senior housing development on Kent Island.
The challengers want a judge to overturn a 2009 settlement agreement among the county, the Maryland Department of the Environment and the developer, McKee Corp.’s Kent Island LLC, under which plans for the Cloisters at Kent Island were downsized from 273 units to 240 and the developer dropped a claim for attorneys’ fees.
That agreement resolved litigation the developer had filed in 2005 in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court. However, the challengers — county residents Michael A. DiNapoli, Janet DiNapoli, Leland C. Brendsel, B. Diane Brendsel, Daniel T. Hopkins, Richard M. Markman, along with the Queen Anne’s Conservation Association Inc. — claim the settlement agreement is nothing more than illegal spot zoning.
They filed an action for declaratory relief in Queen Anne’s County Circuit Court, where the property is located and all parties either reside or do business.
The developer, however, convinced the circuit court to transfer the case to Anne Arundel County, since that is where the settlement agreement had been filed. The judge in Anne Arundel County ruled in favor of the developer, and the challengers appealed.
On Thursday, the Court of Special Appeals vacated the summary judgment ruling, saying there was no evidence to support the decision to transfer the case on the basis of improper venue or forum non conveniens.
While the developer was free to sue the MDE in Anne Arundel County, since the MDE does business there, the challengers’ suit was properly filed in Queen Anne’s County. And, while the settlement agreement in question was filed in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, that did not bar the Queen Anne’s court from deciding on its validity, since the agreement did not order the settling parties to do anything they had not already agreed to.
“Without any indication that venue was proper in Anne Arundel County or that Kent Island presented, or the Circuit Court for Queen Anne’s County considered, evidence of the convenience of the parties and witnesses and private and public interests of justice as factors weighing in favor of transfer, it was an abuse of discretion for the Circuit Court for Queen Anne’s County to grant the motion to transfer,” Judge Shirley Watts wrote for the appellate court.
WHAT THE COURT HELD
DiNapoli et al. v. Kent Island LLC, CSA No. 2506, Sept. Term 2010. Argued Feb. 1, 2012. Decided March 1, 2012. Reported. Opinion by Watts, J.
Did the Queen Anne’s County Circuit Court abuse its discretion in transferring a declaratory relief action by county residents, regarding development of property in the county, to Anne Arundel County Circuit Court?
Yes, summary judgment vacated and suit remanded to Queen Anne’s County Circuit Court for a new trial. Venue was proper in Queen Anne’s County; there was no indication that venue was proper in Anne Arundel County; and there was no evidence presented to show that the convenience of the parties and witnesses or the private and public interests of justice favored such a transfer.
James J. Doyle for appellant; Patrick E. Thompson for appellee.