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Salvage Auto Site Shutdown Upheld

A property owner who operated a salvage automobile wholesaling business on a parcel adjacent to Andrews Air Force Base’s CERCLA Superfund site, and whose business was cited for numerous county code violations, loses an appeal of the dismissal of its due process and state law claims against Prince George’s County, Md., for shutting down the salvage business pursuant to a consent order; the 4th Circuit says the owner failed to prove oral contracts under Maryland law.

We affirm the district court’s summary judgment for the county on the owner’s claim of violation of two oral contracts. We agree that no consideration in favor of the county existed to support a valid oral contract that predated the consent orders. Because the first-in-time of the two alleged oral contracts predates the county’s filing of its two enforcement actions against the owner, the owner’s agreement to enter into the consent orders to settle the enforcement action cannot serve as consideration for such alleged oral contract.

The second alleged oral contract suffers from a different, but nonetheless fatal problem. The owner relies on parol evidence to contradict the deadlines for its compliance with its obligations under the consent orders with an open-ended period of time for compliance. The controlling Maryland substantive law bars admission of the owner’s evidence of a prior agreement to vary or contradict the terms of the written consent order to establish consideration for the second-in-time alleged oral contract. The existence of an integration clause in a contract is not a prerequisite to application of the parol evidence rule.

Here, the bottom line is that, pursuant to the written zoning consent order, the owner plainly and unambiguously agreed that if it did not take the corrective actions ordered in the zoning consent order within 90 days of Sept. 3, 1993, the county would have the authority to take all action necessary to enter onto the property to execute the order, remove the occupants and close down the operation of the business. The effect of the owner’s claim alleging breach of the second oral contract and its offer of deposition testimony and other evidence is to directly contradict the plain and unambiguous language of the zoning consent order. Summary judgment on the contract claims is affirmed.

The district court disposed of the owner’s due process claim on the basis that the owner had not forecast sufficient evidence that it had a property interest protected by the 14th Amendment. The record is undisputed that by the end of October 2002, the county had legitimately revoked any and all outstanding permits it had issued to the owner because of the owner’s violation of numerous county code provisions. The owner’s failure to establish a constitutional violation at all under the Due Process Clause entitled defendant county officials to qualified immunity on count 1.

Finally, we uphold the district court’s dismissal of counts 2, 4 and 5, on the basis that the owner failed to comply with the notice requirements of the Maryland Local Government Tort Claims Act and failed to show good cause for its noncompliance.

Judgment for the county affirmed.

Huggins, t/a SADISCO of Md. v. Prince George’s County, Md. (Hamilton) No. 10-2366, June 27, 2012; USDC at Greenbelt, Md. (Williams) Matthew W. Sawchak for appellant; William W. Wilkins for appellees. VLW 012-2-141, 22 pp.

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