Attorneys for Frederick County have asked a judge to throw out a lawsuit aimed at blocking the sale of a county-owned nursing home and assisted living center.
A motion for summary judgment filed last week argues that county commissioners have the authority to make policy decisions, such as whether to privatize Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center and Montevue Assisted Living. The document submitted to Frederick County Circuit Court also asserts that a 185-year-old deed does not bar the county from disposing of the facilities.
The court has not yet scheduled a hearing on the motion, but an attorney representing the county said they want to resolve the lawsuit expeditiously.
“We’re hopeful of getting the issues decided as quickly and fairly and completely as possible,” said Kurt Fischer, an attorney with Venable LLP.
Fischer’s law firm has received $13,206.60 so far to represent the county in two cases involving Citizens and Montevue, according to county attorney John Mathias.
The 54-page motion for summary judgment filed by Fischer and Mathias details the county’s defense against the suit filed by those who want Citizens and Montevue to stay in public hands.
The document explores at length the type of decision the commissioners made June 25 when they voted to sell the two facilities to Aurora Health Management. The $30 million sale to Aurora, a for-profit company based in Millersville, has not been finalized.
The county’s attorneys argue that the vote was legislative in nature and not quasi-judicial, or more similar to decisions made by the courts. The difference would determine the scope of the court’s review, Fischer said.
“The core decision whether to sell the facilities involved a determination as to how the County General Fund should be appropriated to care for low income and disadvantaged persons and to provide other essential services,” the motion states.
Because the underlying debate had to do with policy considerations, selling Citizens and Montevue falls into the realm of a legislative decision, one for which judges have a more limited oversight role, Fischer said.
The county also argues that a deed for the property is no obstacle to the sale.
In 1828, Elias Brunner sold the county 88 acres for about $5,313, with the deed for the transaction stating that the land was “for the Benefit of the Poor of said County, and to and for no other use, intent or purpose whatsoever.”
Montevue, a 75-bed facility, provides reduced-cost assisted living care to residents who can’t afford to pay full price. Plaintiffs in the case have argued that because the prospective buyers are under no obligation to continue caring for indigent residents, the sale violates the deed.
The motion filed last week by county attorneys argues that there is no such restriction on the property and that the deed language simply reflects the anticipated use of the land.
“It is an entirely unreasonable interpretation of the 1828 Deed to suggest that the government would pay market value for a property and then hamstring its ability to sell the property in perpetuity, even if it later determines that the project should be altered or abandoned and the government’s investment devoted to other public purposes and projects,” the motion argues.
The lawsuit against the county was filed in August, the second case launched to challenge the sale of Citizens and Montevue.
The plaintiffs are preparing a response to the motion for summary judgment. While she declined to comment on specifics of the motion, the plaintiffs’ attorney said they “vigorously oppose” the county’s arguments.
“I think their motion is premature, and I don’t think they’re entitled to summary judgment,” said Leslie Powell, who is representing the plaintiffs in the case.
Both sides are due in court Dec. 16 to debate the county’s request to dismiss the first case filed by sale opponents. Fischer said he hopes to argue the motion for summary judgment at the same hearing, but the court has not yet decided whether to grant that request.
Follow Bethany Rodgers on Twitter: @BethRodgersFNP.