The Underlying Case
I’m glad you kept reading, you law scholar you! Anyway, these are the facts. A lead paint case is filed in Baltimore City Circuit Court pertaining to a property where Plaintiff used to live. The property had long since been rehabbed and sold. Therefore, Plaintiff could not just walk in the door to do the lead-paint testing, that he claimed he needed for his lawsuit. As a result, Plaintiff sends a letter to the current owner, asking if he can stop by for some “non-invasive environmental testing” of the property. The owner does not respond, which prompts the plaintiff to file a complaint to perpetuate the evidence. Specifically, he seeks an “equitable bill of discovery,” which would grant him a right of access to the property. The current owner does not respond to the motion but appears at a hearing pro se. The court denies the motion, because the current owner’s privacy interests outweighs the Plaintiff’s need to conduct testing.
This makes little sense to me. How burdensome is it to have your property tested? I can’t figure out why the property owner would fight it either. Plaintiff agrees and appeals to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, alleging that the trial court abused its discretion by denying the complaint/request/petition.
Equitable Bill of Discovery
The Court spent a decent amount of time talking about what a bill of discovery was in the first place. Unlike the Federal Rules and most State Rules of Civil Procedure, the Maryland rules do not have a specific mechanism that parties can use to gain entry upon the land of another to inspect potential evidence. Without such a mechanism, parties can effectively be denied the right of access to the courts.
An equitable bill of discovery is (you guessed it) a equitable remedy that has been used for hundreds of years. The problem is that the Plaintiff was not seeking the bill of discovery against the defendant in his lead paint case; he was seeking it against a third party. All of the Maryland authority that he cited provided a means to gain a right of access to the opposing party, not a third party. This scuppered a lot of what he had in his brief. Still, the court recognized that he intended to seek a pure “equitable bill of discovery,” which is traditionally used against non-parties.