Weems v. County Commissioners of Calvert County, 397 Md. 606 (2007)

For details, see the opinion: Weems v. County Commissioners of Calvert County (PDF).

Teri Spradlin represented Thomas I. Weems, Jr. and other similarly situated plaintiff/appellant landowners in an appeal from the decision rendered by the Circuit Court for Calvert County in favor of Calvert County. Plaintiff/Appellants filed a declaratory judgment action in the circuit court against the County Commissioners, seeking a declaration as to the westerly terminus of a public easement; a declaration as to the ownership of an area known as Leitch’s Wharf; and a declaration that §15-201 of the Calvert County Code—as it pertains to Leitch’s Wharf—is unconstitutional because it constitutes a taking of Appellants’ property without just compensation.

The case, later described by the Court of Appeals as a “litigation odyssey,” continued for over five years as the trial court ruled in favor of the County and Teri Spradlin represented the landowners in the appellate courts of Maryland. In the first appeal, the Court of Special Appeals remanded the case back to the trial court for additional facts without affirming or reversing the lower court’s prior decision. On remand, the circuit court again held in favor of the County and Ms. Spradlin’s clients again appealed from the unfavorable decision. The Court of Appeals, on its own motion, issued a writ of certiorari.

A 1958 Deed conveyed approximately 110 acres on the Patuxent River known as “Leitch’s Wharf and known as part of God’s Graces or Leitch’s Wharf Farm” to plaintiff/appellants. Section 15-201 of the Calvert County Code provided in relevant part: “(a) The public shall have an easement or right-of-way over any roads or ways in Calvert County leading to. . .Leitch’s Wharf; and (b) The purpose of this easement or right-of-way is solely for access to the wharves and landings and enjoyment of the wharves and landings by the public.”

The Court of Appeals held in favor of the landowners, stating “The property described as Leitch’s Wharf is clearly private property . . ., yet §15-201 gives to the public a right-of-way and use easement to appellants’ private property. That §15-201 encourages members of the public to use appellants’ property is clearly established. As a result of this statutorily mandated right-of-way, the Sheriff’s Department has declined . . . to force trespassers off of the property. The injury created by §15-201 is clearly shown by the evidence in the record of this case.”

Accordingly, the Court of Appeals held in favor of Ms. Spradlin’s clients and ruled that it is unconstitutional for the government to give the public the right to use the private property of a landowner without that landowner’s permission. As applied to Leitch’s Wharf, §15-201 of the Calvert County Code “is unconstitutional in that it improperly and seriously interferes with appellants’ rights to exclude others from their property without compensating them for the taking of that right.”