JD Howlette Law Sues Prince George's County For Violation Of Homeowner's Fifth Amendment Rights

By JD Howlette Law

PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, Maryland, May 22, 2023 - Today, we announced the filing of a federal civil rights lawsuit against Prince George's County for implementing policies and customs that deprived native Prince Georgian, Garnell Walls, of the beneficial use of his property in Brandywine. In 1978, Walls purchased land in Brandywine with the intent of building a single-family residence on it. At the time, he had a soil test performed to ensure the lot was suitable for development. Following his retirement, Walls began the process of obtaining the necessary permits and inspections to construct his dream home.

According to the complaint, Walls diligently pursued all necessary permits, inspections, and certifications required by the Prince George’s County Department of Permitting, Inspections and Enforcement (DPIE) to construct the single-family residence. And DPIE representatives repeatedly assured Walls that he would be able to obtain a waiver to install an interim well and septic system on the lot since connecting to public water and sewer lines was not feasible. DPIE knew that Walls would be required to expend more than $2 million simply to connect his lot to the nearest public water and sewer lines.

After Walls had made it to the final stages of the pre-construction process, and despite satisfying the criteria to obtain a waiver for the interim system, the Agency suddenly claimed that it did not have the legal authority to issue Walls a waiver for the installation of the interim well and septic system on the lot. Instead, DPIE representatives provided Walls with two unrealistic choices: (1) Walls could pay the more than $2 million to connect to the nearest public water and sewer lines; or (2) Walls could wait until a developer eventually installed public water and sewer lines closer to his lot (a purely speculative option that could take several years, if not more than a decade). Rather than allowing Walls to temporarily install the well and septic system until connecting to public water and sewer became feasible, the Agency decided to effectively bar Walls from developing his lot altogether.

The complaint alleges that former DPIE Director, Melinda Bolling, acted with a deliberate indifference to Walls's rights by misinterpreting the law and denying him access to a waiver. The denial of the waiver, together with the ultimatum provided by DPIE, rendered Walls's property practically unusable and has caused him to suffer significant financial losses. To make matters worse, several of Walls's neighbors have well and septic systems installed on their lots due to the rural nature of the location.

The complaint charges DPIE with violating Walls’s Fifth Amendment rights, through its official policies or customs, by regulating his property into a state of economic inutility, effectively leaving him with no reasonable use of the property. In addition to compensatory damages, Walls's lawsuit seeks declaratory relief that the Director of DPIE has the legal authority to grant waivers for interim well and septic systems, and that Walls is eligible for such a waiver.