Thursday, February 8, 2007

Baltimore v. Valsamaki (Ct. of Appeals)

Issued Feburary 8, 2007 -- Opinion by Judge Dale Cathell, joined as to the judgment only by Judge Irma Raker and Judge Glenn T. Harrell, Jr.

The City of Baltimore instituted "quick-take" proceedings against a bar and package goods store ("Magnets") located on Charles Street in the Charles/North redevelopment district designated generally for urban revitalization. Defendant, the owner of Magnets, filed a response to the proceedings. At the fact hearing, the Circuit Court for Baltimore City held that the City failed to show sufficient grounds warranting a finding of immediate necessity for the immediate taking, and declined the City's petition, reaffirming that denial upon a motion for reconsideration. The City appealed directly to the Maryland Court of Appeals.

Public Local Law Sec. 21-16 of Baltimore City provides that the City of Baltimore may institute proceedings for immediate possession of property for public use, upon a demonstration of "the reasons" for immediate possession and title towards a "public use." The Court upheld that it is the City, not the property holder, that has the burden of proof to show prima facie the reasons for the immediate taking of property for public use. In so holding, the Court distinguished the deference shown to a condemning authority in a non-quick-take regular condemnation as to the legitimacy of the condemnor's public use from the greater burden borne by the City under the quick-take proceedings, and noted the reduced due process and pre-trial procedures available to an owner of property sought for an immediate taking.

The Court upheld the Circuit Court's finding that the general needs of an urban renewal project did not meet the threshold for immediacy and necessity for a quick-take proceeding, emphasizing the specific facts of the testimony at the hearing and the City's failure to specify the factual grounds for heightened urgency justifying truncated proceedings. From the opinion:
The purpose of the quick-take power is for it to be used when the need for the public use is immediate. It was not conferred for the purpose of allowing a condemning authority to run “roughshod” over the owners of private property. When that happens, or begins to happen, the property owner’s recourse is to the courts.
In what arguably constituted dicta, the Court opined that the evidence presented by the City at the Circuit Court hearing would have been sparse even for a regular non-immediate condemnation proceeding, noting the lack of a comprehensive renewal plan demonstrating public use per the testimony of the City's witnesses. Judges Raker and Harrell indicated that they did not join in this portion of the Court's opinion.

A further clarification and augmentation of this preliminary synopsis will issue later today.

The full opinion is available here in PDF.

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