A Harford County jury Tuesday awarded $45 million to a company that has been battling the county government for nearly 30 years over the right to use a property as a rubble landfill, one of the largest jury awards in county history.
After an eight-day trial and nearly five hours of deliberations, the jury found that the county government’s decision to prevent Maryland Reclamation Associates from using the property near Havre de Grace as a rubble landfill was a regulatory taking of property for which the company deserved just compensation.
“The jury was persuaded that what the county did here was wrong. It was wrong back in 1990 and they thought it was wrong today,” said Brett Ingerman, the plaintiff’s lead attorney.
A spokeswoman for the county said it plans to appeal the verdict.
“There are a number of appealable issues which the county intends to fully pursue at the appellate level,” said Cindy Mumby.
Churchville-based MRA bought the 62-acre property in 1989. The county previously had included the property in a waste management plan and the state had issued an environmental permit, allowing the land to be used as a landfill, according to court documents. But the county then adopted a zoning amendment with new conditions that hindered MRA’s ability to use the property as a landfill, according to court documents.
MRA initially sued Havre de Grace in 1991, seeking to move forward with the rubble landfill project on the grounds the company had a vested right to do so. The case went up and down through the court system, including multiple times in the Court of Appeals, which ultimately held in 2004 that MRA could still seek a zoning variance or exception before asking for judicial review, according to court documents.
On remand, the Harford County Zoning Hearing Examiner denied the zoning variance, and MRA was unsuccessful in getting that decision overturned in court, including in the Court of Appeals in 2010.
Three years later, MRA filed a third lawsuit, claiming the county deprived the company of “beneficial use” of its property in violation of the state constitution.
Ingerman said Monday that county politics led to a “scheme” to deprive MRA of its right to use the property as a rubble landfill.
“But for the fortitude of our client, to fight the county for three decades, they probably would’ve gotten away with it,” said Ingerman, managing partner at DLA Piper US LLP’s Baltimore office.
Richard D. Schafer, MRA’s founder and president, “broke down in tears” after the verdict was read, Ingerman said, adding Harford County Executive Barry Glassman would pay the judgment if he had “a shred of integrity.”
The embattled property continues to be a “giant hole in the ground” that was described as a “moonpit” during trial, Ingerman said.
MRA had originally planned be finished with the landfill within five years and give it back to the county, he added.
“Had the county kept its promise and allowed it to be a rubble field, within five years, that moonscape would be capped and filled and be a park by now,” Ingerman said.
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Maryland Reclamation Associates, Inc. v. Harford County, Maryland
Maryland Reclamation Associates Inc. v. Harford County, Maryland
Court: Harford County Circuit
Case No.: 12C13000509
Judge: John Addison Howard
Proceeding: Jury trial
Outcome: $45,420,076 in damages to MRA, based on their valuation of the property in 2010 and interest at 6 percent since
Suit filed: Feb. 19, 2013
Verdict: April 17, 2018
Plaintiff’s Attorney: Brett Ingerman, Ellen Dew, Rachel Kessler and Nicole Kozlowski of DLA Piper US LLP in Baltimore; Bob Cawood of Cawood & Cawood, LLC in Annapolis
Defendants’ Attorney: G. Jefferson Blomquist and Justin B. Aronson of Funk & Bolton P.A. in Baltimore; Mary Katherine Herbig, Harford County Law Department
Count: Regulatory taking (constitutional tort)