Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

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The Church and Reverend appealed the district court's dismissal of their claims against the county and board under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), the Free Exercise Clause, the Equal Protection Clause, and Article 36 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights. This action stemmed from the board's dismissal of a second petition to approve the use of plaintiff's property as a church. The Fourth Circuit held that the district court erred by dismissing plaintiffs' RLUIPA claim because plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged that the dismissal of the second petition imposed a substantial burden on their religious practice; the complaint plausibly alleged a prima facie claim of religious discrimination; and, while the county may have a significant interest in finality and economy that would ordinarily be served by the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel, the dismissal of the second petition was not narrowly tailored to serve that interest because the second petition did not seek to revisit the board's decision about the first petition. Accordingly, the court vacated these claims and remanded for further proceedings. The court also vacated the state constitutional claim. View "Jesus Christ is the Answer Ministries, Inc. v. Baltimore County" on Justia Law

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This case stemmed from FERC's approval of Mountain Valley's application to construct a natural gas pipeline through West Virginia and Virginia. Mountain Valley successfully negotiated easements allowing access onto the land of most of the affected landowners, but in order to obtain the rest of the easements it needed, it initiated condemnation proceedings. Three district courts granted partial summary judgment to Mountain Valley and issued preliminary injunctions granting immediate possession of the easements. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's orders and held that East Tennessee Natural Gas Co. v. Sage, 361 F.3d 808 (4th Cir. 2004), squarely foreclosed the Landowners' argument that the district courts lacked the authority to grant immediate possession in a Natural Gas Act condemnation. The court also held that the district courts did not abuse their discretion in granting preliminary injunctive relief to Mountain Valley under the test in Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 20 (2008). View "Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC v. 6.56 Acres of Land" on Justia Law

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SOS challenged the agencies' decision to replace a segment of North Carolina Highway 12 (NC-12) with a bridge across the Pamlico Sound. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of the agencies' motion for summary judgment, holding that they did not violate the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or the Department of Transportation Act (DTA) when they approved the bridge. In this case, the agencies were not required to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement to consider the alignment of the Jug-Handle Bridge or to consider beach nourishment alternatives; the agencies adequately considered the effects of construction traffic as a result of the Jug-Handle Bridge in the 2016 record of decision; and the agencies' choice of the Jug-Handle Bridge was not impermissibly predetermined. The court also affirmed the district court's denial of SOS's motion to amend its complaint. View "Save Our Sound OBX, Inc. v. North Carolina Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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In 2004-2006, Pulte purchased 540 acres of Clarksburg land, then governed by the 1994 Master Plan, which divided development into four stages. In the fourth stage, the area containing Pulte’s land was to be developed into residential communities. Pulte’s land was designated as a receiving property for Transferable Development Rights (TDRs) and was zoned for one-acre lots. Pulte could increase the allowable density to two units per acre by purchasing TDRs from agricultural properties in other Montgomery County areas, which would restrict future development of the agricultural property. Pulte invested 12 million dollars in TDRs. Under the Plan, there were prerequisites to Stage 4 development. All had occurred by 2009. The Plan stated that Stage 4 developments can proceed once public agencies and the developer have complied with all “implementing mechanisms,” which included Water and Sewer Plan amendments. Pulte submitted its Water and Sewer Request to the County and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission in 2009, with a $10,000 filing fee. The County never acted on Pulte’s application. In 2012, Pulte submitted a Pre-Application Concept Plan to the Commission, which rejected the plan. The agencies refused to meet and stopped responding to Pulte’s communications but reopened the Plan to study the watershed in which Pulte’s land is located and ultimately imposed regulatory changes that severely reduced the number of dwellings Pulte could build and imposed additional costly burdens. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Pulte’s due process, equal protection, and regulatory taking claims, stating that federal courts are not the appropriate forum to challenge local land use determinations. Pulte had no constitutional property interest in developing its land as it had contemplated, and local authorities had a plausible, rational basis for their actions. View "Pulte Home Corp. v. Montgomery County" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of a suit challenging Rockville's zoning ordinance that prohibited the construction of self-storage facilities within 250 feet of property on which a public school is located. Plaintiffs argued that the enactment amounted to a denial of their due process and equal protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. The court held that Siena did not have a constitutionally protected property interest in using its property to develop a storage facility. The court explained that the very nature of Siena's conditional site plan approval defeated any claim that Siena had a nondiscretionary entitlement to a building permit. Because Siena never satisfied the conditions of obtaining a requisite site plan approval, it was not eligible for a building permit. Even if Siena had a protected property interest here, the enactment of the zoning text amendment would still fall short of a substantive due process violation. In this case, the enactment represented nothing more than the ordinary exercise of a state's residual police power in land use and zoning, in which the state has long maintained a primary and sovereign interest. The court rejected Siena's remaining claims, including the Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claim, and affirmed the judgment in all respects. View "Siena Corp. v. Mayor and City Council of Rockville" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff was arrested for failing to confine his leafleting to an area designated for protest activities, as set forth in a protocol formulated by Baltimore's legal department in 2004, he filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the protocol. The Fourth Circuit addressed a challenge to the same protocol previously, Ross v. Early, 746 F.3d 546 (4th Cir. 2014), where the court affirmed the district court's decision to uphold the protocol. In this case, the district court dismissed the complaint because the court had already considered the constitutional claim in Ross. The court vacated, holding that, in Ross, the parties entered into a stipulation that dictated the level of constitutional scrutiny, but the parties to the instant case did not. Furthermore, the district court in the instant case did not consider an intervening relevant Supreme Court decision, McCullen v. Coakley, 134 S. Ct. 2518 (2014), and did not have the benefit of another, Reed v. Town of Gilbert, 135 S. Ct. 2218 (2015). Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Lucero v. Early" on Justia Law