The Maryland Court of Appeals yesterday ruled that Montgomery County acted legally when it installed a new landfill in Laytonsville, despite a citizen-backed 1978 charter amendment barring landfills from residential neighborhoods.

Ruling on the lawsuit initially brought by angry Laytonsville residents, the court said that county officials were forced to open the landfill to be in compliance with a Maryland state order that the overflowing Gude Drive dump in Rockville be shut down.

That long-awaited decision from the state's highest court removed the last unresolved legal question hanging over the controversial and costly garbage dump at Laytonsville. That decision also now clears away the only remaining obstacle to a settlement between the Laytonsville residents and the county government.

"The key to the lock getting these 2,000 people out of bondage has been handed down," said Harold O'Flaherty, president of the Greater Laytonsville Civic Association (GLAYCA). GLAYCA had initially filed the suit, but later favored settling the issue out of court. However, one other party to that lawsuit--former state Del. Robin Ficker who authored the anti-dump ballot amendment--had refused to agree to the terms of the settlement worked out between GLAYCA and the county, leaving the settlement offer in limbo and angering the citizens.

The county government had agreed to step up testing of well water around the landfill, and to pay $95,000 to the financially-strapped civic association to help cover legal costs, in exchange for the citizens dropping their lawsuit. It was believed to be the largest settlement of its kind between a local government and a civic group.

Ficker had said he would not sign the agreement until the appeals court ruled on the validity of his ballot initiative, which won 70 percent of the vote across the county. The county opened the landfill in spite of Ficker's initiative, claiming it was unconstitutional.

The court yesterday left open the question of whether Ficker's initiative was valid and whether the county had violated it. Instead, the court chose the narrowest possible path, deciding only that in the specific case of the Laytonsville dump, the county had no choice but to obey the state order.

"The court did some sly tap dancing around the central issue in this case," Ficker said yesterday. "They declined to rule on my charter amendment. . . . They took the easy way out." Ficker said he will now sign the agreement.

O'Flaherty, the GLAYCA president who in April angrily shoved Ficker away from a podium while calling him a "turkey," yesterday said; "The Court of Appeals has ruled the Ficker amendment null and void," he said. "We as a community will be in a much better position to deal with the county. This has made Ficker impotent."