Arent Fox Wins Court of Special Appeals Ruling in Belward Farm Case
Washington, DC — On November 21, a three-judge panel of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled that Johns Hopkins University’s proposed development of the former Belward Farm in Montgomery County is in full compliance with the university’s agreement with its former owners and is not limited “in terms of scale or density or ownership structure.” Arent Fox LLP Complex Litigation partner James H. Hulme represented Johns Hopkins, leading a team that included partner Donald B. Mitchell and associate Leah C. Montesano.
In its unanimous opinion, the court affirmed last year’s ruling by a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge. The appeals court stated that “the operative contract frames [Johns] Hopkins’ development rights solely and unambiguously in terms of permissible uses,” while adding that the contract “does not limit the scale or density of the development, nor preclude leasing.”
“We are pleased that the court agreed with our argument that the contract, which was negotiated in 1988 with counsel assisting each side, was not ambiguous,” said Mr. Hulme. “It is critical that once again a court has accepted our argument that the evidence does not support the development restrictions that the plaintiffs claimed.”
In 1989, Elizabeth Beall Banks and two siblings sold 140 acres of land called Belward Farm to the university. The transaction represented both a sale and a gift, as the $5 million paid by Johns Hopkins was less than the overall value of the farm at the time. The property became known as the “Belward Research Campus of The Johns Hopkins University.” Thirty acres of the property were developed in the late 1990s as a life sciences research park.
Several years ago, the property was rezoned as part of Montgomery County’s plans to create a life sciences center in the area. Johns Hopkins announced plans that would provide for up to 4.5 million square feet of research and development space for a multitude of uses that include Johns Hopkins, government, and private industry.
In the lawsuit, the heirs of Miss Banks and her siblings argued that documents were ambiguous and that Johns Hopkins' proposed use and development was inconsistent with the restrictions in the deed. In response, Arent Fox argued that the deed and contract were not ambiguous and that there was no basis for the additional limitations and restrictions claimed by the plaintiffs.
“Johns Hopkins is pleased that the position we have maintained throughout the case has been affirmed by the court,” the university said in a statement. “The university will develop the land in full compliance with its obligations under its agreement with Elizabeth Banks and her relatives. As we have always been, we are grateful to Miss Banks and her relatives.”
Mr. Hulme has more than 33 years of experience handling jury and bench cases involving real estate, intellectual property, securities, commercial, insurance, bankruptcy, environmental, and First Amendment issues.
Strategic, aggressive, and innovative, Arent Fox’s Complex Litigation group has been recognized by Chambers USA for its “streamlined” approach that delivers “quality” results. With more than 125 litigators, the practice boasts a deep bench and international reach while having extensive experience in bet-the-company cases before federal and state courts and regulatory agencies. The group is especially proficient at managing parallel litigation in multiple jurisdictions and represents clients in matters that include intellectual property, health care, life sciences, trade, automotive, insurance and human rights abuses.