Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Layton v. Howard County Board of Appeals (Ct. of Appeals)

Filed May 9, 2007. Opinion by Judge Dale R. Cathell. Dissenting opinion by Judge Alan M. Wilner (retired, specially assigned).

From the official headnote:
Reaffirming the Yorkdale Corporation v. Powell, 237 Md. 121, 205 A.2d 269 (1964) rule that a change in statutory law that takes place during the course of the litigation of a land use or zoning issue shall be retrospectively applied by appellate courts whether it operates to deny, i.e., moot an application (provided that it does not affect the vested rights of a party), or applies in an opposite context.
The owners and operators of a wildlife and primate sanctuary ("Layton") had sought a special exception from the Howard County Board of Appeals (the "Board") to bring their operation into compliance with that county's zoning ordinances, but were denied permission to operate as a primate sanctuary. Prior to the Circuit Court's hearing of Layton's appeal of the Board's decision, the pertinent part of the Howard County Code was amended, changing the definition upon which the Board had relied in denying the special exception. Nonetheless, the Circuit Court affirmed the Board's decision, ruling in part that the change was not to be given retroactive effect. The Court of Special Appeals, in a reported decision, affirmed.

On appeal, the Court noted that the general rule is that statutes, and substantive statutory changes, are to be given only prospective, and not retrospective, effect, unless otherwise indicated by the legislature. One relevant exception to the general rule was stated in the Yorkdale case, where retrospective application is given to changes to statutes that impact land use issues made during the course of litigation in land use and zoning cases, unless vested or accrued substantive rights would be disturbed or the legislature had shown a contrary intent. Reviewing the cases since Yorkdale, the Court concluded that the rule set forth in Yorkdale was still good law, and had not been overturned, in the Riverdale case, the CSA's Holland case, or otherwise.

In dissent, Judge Wilner argued that, though the Court had treated zoning cases differently in the past, there was "no practical or jurisprudential basis for such a distinction, and the Court offers none." Absent legislative expression that a law is to be applied retrospectively, Judge Wilner argued for a consistent rule that prospective application would be given to substantive changes, and retrospective application only for procedural changes, and overruling the exception created in Yorkdale and its progeny.

The majority and dissenting opinions are available in PDF format.

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