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Pimlico owners seek dismissal of Baltimore’s condemnation lawsuit

The owners and operators of the Pimlico Race Course are seeking dismissal of Baltimore’s lawsuit that would block plans to relocate the Preakness Stakes to another venue.

The Stronach Group has pledged only to keep the Preakness, scheduled this year for May 18, at Pimlico until 2020 and is considering moving the event to a track it owns in Laurel Park. Under state law, the race can be moved to another track in Maryland only “as a result of a disaster or emergency.”

Baltimore’s lawsuit, filed in Baltimore City Circuit Court in March, asks a judge to grant ownership of the Pimlico track and the Preakness race to the city through condemnation. Baltimore is also trying to prevent the Stronach Group from using state bonds to fund improvements at Laurel Park.

But the defendants say that the city’s action is preempted and precluded by state law and that they have made repeated requests for the lawsuit to be withdrawn so the stakeholders can return to “good-faith discussions.”

Alan Rifkin, an attorney for the Maryland Jockey Club, Pimlico Racing Association and the Preakness Stakes, said that his clients, the city and the communities affected by racing in Maryland need to discuss the future of racing in the state but that discussions have been put on hold by the litigation.

“All of those parties are important in the dialogue and conversation of what to do and how to move Maryland forward in the most positive way possible,” said Rifkin, partner at Rifkin Weiner Livingston LLC in Baltimore. “It serves no one’s interest and it surely doesn’t serve the city’s interest to think the way to begin that dialogue and to continue that dialogue is to try to confiscate private assets.”

In their motion to dismiss, filed Wednesday, the defendants argue the lawsuit should be dismissed because the claims made by the city are preempted by state law, which regulates and controls all aspects of horse racing via the Maryland Horse Racing Act. The act identifies racing properties and reserves for the state the right to condemn them.

“The City’s stated purpose in seeking the condemnation of the Racing Properties is to ensure the continued operation of Pimlico as a horse racing venue and to keep the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore, albeit under the City’s ownership and control,” the motion states. “The City’s Complaint is ‘about racing’; and, thus, under the Act, the City is expressly preempted and precluded from maintaining this action.”

Baltimore alleges the defendants have created a disaster by “systematically” underinvesting in Pimlico and spending money from the state to boost Laurel Park. The lawsuit seeks a declaration that there is no emergency under the Horse Racing Act, but the defendants argue that this issue is under the jurisdiction of the Racing Commission and that the Jockey Club has not yet sought a determination from the agency.

“The city has jumped the gun on even raising the question of emergency,” Rifkin said. “No one else has raised it and the Racing Commission has not even addressed the matter.”

But Rifkin noted that the facilities are aging and “in varying degrees of deterioration caused by time and weather and they are sprawling, capital-intensive facilities.”

The defense motion also argues the city has not followed proper procedures to exercise eminent domain and, moreover, is not authorized under its charter to take racing properties by eminent domain. The city’s “illegitimate and pretextual use of its condemnation powers without any plan to fund the taking or for operation of the property after the taking constitutes an unconstitutional taking,” according to the defendants.

The defendants also seek attorneys’ fees from the city for an unsuccessful condemnation attempt and because the defendants have made attempts to dissuade the city from “groundless and costly litigation.”

“It is an ill-conceived negotiating tactic, if that’s what it is, and it’s preempted and precluded as a matter of law if it’s meant to be a legal proceeding,” Rifkin said.

City Solicitor Andre M. Davis did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday. In response to letters by the defendants’ attorneys after they raised the preemption and preclusion issues, Davis did not address the arguments. Instead, on April 17, Davis asked if the defendants would consent to a “45-day stand down” during which time the city would file an amended complaint.

An amended complaint was filed April 18. The same day, the defendants declined to hold off on responding.

“For over a month, the City has been on notice that its lawsuit is not colorable, yet continues to perpetuate it,” the response states. “Under the circumstances and while the lawsuit is pending, our clients will not negotiate with the City.”

The case is Mayor and City Council of Baltimore et al. v. The Stronach Group et al., 24C19001776.

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