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Law Prohibiting Landfills Adjacent to Waterways is not an Unconstitutional “Special Law”

Md. Dep’t of the Env’t v. Days Cove Reclamation Co., Inc.
No. 1725 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. August 30, 2011)

by Gregory L. Arbogast, Associate
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (

In Maryland Department of the Environment v. Days Cove Reclamation Co., Inc., the Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld an emergency measure passed by the General Assembly, which prohibited the construction and operation of rubble landfills within four (4) miles of Unicorn Lake in Queen Anne’s County. As a result, the Days Cove Reclamation Co. (“Days Cove”) was unable to construct a rubble landfill on its property.

In 1995, Days Cove leased a parcel of land in Queen Anne’s County with the intention of constructing and operating a rubble landfill. Initially, Queen Anne’s County approved the construction of the landfill. After its initial approval, Queen Anne’s County spent a significant amount of time and resources attempting to withdraw its approval, including litigating multiple lawsuits. The courts, however, resolved these lawsuits in Days Cove’s favor.

After the resolution of the lawsuits with Queen Anne’s County, the Maryland General Assembly enacted an emergency measure which, in part, prohibited the construction of a rubble landfill within four (4) miles of Unicorn Lake. Days Cove’s property fell within four (4) miles of Unicorn Lake. The statute also prohibited the construction of rubble landfills in certain parts of Prince George’s County.

Days Cove challenged the emergency measure as an unconstitutional “special law.” The Maryland Constitution prohibits the enactment of “special laws,” which relate to a particular person or thing of a class. Special laws can be distinguished from general laws in that general laws apply to all persons or things of a class. Days Cove attempted to argue that the emergency measure was a “special law” because, after Queen Anne’s County could not revoke its consent to Days Cove’s landfill, Queen Anne’s County banned all future rubble landfills. Therefore, Days Cove was the only person or thing in a class that was permitted to operate a landfill in Queen Anne’s County. The emergency measure banned all persons or things from operating rubble landfills within four (4) miles of Unicorn Lake, but Days Cove was the sole entity to whom that law applied. Days Cove also attempted to argue that the intent of the Legislature was to prohibit Days Cove from constructing a landfill, which is unconstitutional.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals held that the emergency measure was not a “special law” within the meaning of the Maryland Constitution. The Court found that the law applied to all companies that wished to construct a landfill in Queen Anne’s County, and it was immaterial that Queen Anne’s County had an ordinance prohibiting any future permits. Furthermore, the Court held that it would not speculate as to the ill-intent of the Maryland Legislature. Instead, the Court only assessed whether, on its face, the emergency measure was constitutional. The Court found that, on its face, the emergency measure was constitutional; and therefore, the Court upheld the measure.