Justia U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use
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In 2008, Zito purchased a beachfront house and lot on Nags Head (a barrier island). In 2016, the house burned down. The lot is governed by North Carolina’s Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA): buildings with less than 5,000 square feet must be set back at least 60 feet or 30 times the local rate of erosion, whichever is farther, from the vegetation line. Buildings of less than 2,000 square feet built before June 1979 fall under a grandfather provision, requiring a setback of only 60 feet from the vegetation line. The Zito property qualifies for the grandfather provision but is set back only 12 feet from the vegetation line. In 2018, the coastline by the property eroded at an average rate of six feet per year. Experts indicate that coastal erosion and rising sea levels could cause the property to be underwater by 2024. The permit officer denied Zito’s application to rebuild The Coastal Resources Commission denied a variance, informing Zito of the right to appeal in state superior court.Zito filed suit in federal court, arguing that CAMA’s restrictions amounted to an unconstitutional taking. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The Commission qualifies as an arm of the state subject to the protection of sovereign immunity; the Eleventh Amendment bars Fifth Amendment taking claims against states in federal court where the state’s courts remain open to adjudicate such claims. View "Zito v. North Carolina Coastal Resources Commission" on Justia Law

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Skidmore’s West Virginia home sits 70-80 feet west of Norfolk’s railroad track, across Loop Creek. In 2001, Norfolk installed a culvert to drain surface water from its tracks into Loop Creek near Skidmore’s home. According to Skidmore, the water streaming from the culvert caused soil erosion and threatened the foundation of her home. Skidmore sued Norfolk in state court, alleging negligence, private nuisance, and trespass.Norfolk obtained a survey and deeds revealing that, in 1903, Norfolk obtained a right of way extending across Loop Creek, over part of the land on the other side. Part of Skidmore’s house sits atop the land over which the right of way runs. Norfolk asserted an affirmative defense that Skidmore lacked standing because she had no right to exclude Norfolk from the land. Skidmore amended her complaint to add claims for adverse possession and prescriptive easement (quiet title claims). Norfolk removed the case to federal court, arguing that the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act completely preempts the quiet title claims. The district court dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.The Fourth Circuit vacated. While 49 U.S.C. 10501(b) “entirely displaces” Skidmore’s quiet title claims, a conclusion that complete preemption applies means that the court has jurisdiction over ostensibly state-law claims. On remand, the court must convert Skidmore’s quiet title claims into claims under the Termination Act and may permit Skidmore to amend her complaint to clarify the scope of her Termination Act claims. View "Skidmore v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's ruling that three local zoning ordinances are constitutional under the Takings Clause and the Due Process Clause, and that Clayland's equitable claims are moot. In this case, Bill No. 1214 reduced the permissible density of residential properties from four units per acre to one unit per two acres and prohibited subdividing any existing parcel into more than one additional lot. Bill No. 1229 established seven tier classifications related to "the type of subdivision and the kind of wastewater treatment system planned for each subdivision type." Bill No. 1257 extended Bill No. 1214's restrictions on Village Center zones (including the decreased density of residential units and the limitations on new subdivisions) until Talbot County "adopt[ed] . . . comprehensive rezoning and land use regulations regarding density . . . pursuant to the County's comprehensive plan."The court concluded that Bill Nos. 1214 and 1257 do not constitute a taking where the balance of the Penn Central factors ultimately favors the County. The court explained that Bill Nos. 1214 and 1257 were public-benefit regulations that did not deprive Clayland of all development potential and—most significantly, and perhaps even decisively—did not divest Clayland of any vested rights. The court also concluded that Bill Nos. 1214, 1257, and 1229 do not constitute a substantive due process violation. Finally, the court concluded that Clayland's equitable claims are moot. View "Clayland Farm Enterprises, LLC v. Talbot County" on Justia Law

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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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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

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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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North Carolina filed suit against Alcoa, seeking a declaratory judgment that North Carolina owns a 45-mile segment of the riverbed of the Yadkin River in North Carolina. The district court ruled as a matter of law that Alcoa successfully proved its title to 99% of the relevant segment under North Carolina's Marketable Title Act, N.C. Gen. Stat. 146-79, and to the remaining 1% under the doctrine of adverse possession. The court concluded that the district court did not clearly err in its factual finding that the Yadkin River was not navigable at statehood and did not err in concluding, as a matter of law, that Alcoa has good title to the riverbed. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "North Carolina v. Alcoa Power Generating, Inc." on Justia Law