Articles Posted in Maryland Courts

Published on:

efilingUPDATE: As of October 14, 2014, electronic filing is mandatory  for attorneys in Anne Arundel County.   Here is the rule.   In the online seminar, the court clerk said that all filings are electronic as of today, So, I think that if you have a case pending, all your pleadings must be e-filed from here.  She also indicated there would be a 30 day grace period so maybe mandatory is a strong word.   I think you are better off staying away from Google Chrome – my favorite – and sticking with use Internet Explorer or Firefox for your browser.  Below is the original blog post I wrote on this back in July.

We have been hearing for some time about the Maryland Electronic Courts (MDEC) project that will eventually allow for electronic filings, allowing Maryland lawyers to get the same modern conveniences of electronic filing that we have enjoyed in federal court for quite some time. This type of integrated case management system — between circuit, district, and appellate courts – will really change the practice of law on an administrative level and will hopefully allow us to speed past some of the filing related bottlenecks we have in pushing cases forward.

No more paralegals and couriers jumping  into their cars and racing to the courthouse to meet filing deadlines.  We don’t do a ton of the “last minute rush” stuff here but it does happen occasionally.  I have the courier bills to prove it which always annoy me to no end. Anne Arundel County somehow got picked to kickoff the e-filing program. Starting Monday, September 15,2014, lawyers can register for e-filing to get ready for the MDEC’s launch in Anne Arundel County.  As of October 14, 2014,  it is not going to be optional for lawyers.

Continue reading →

Published on:

But she caught me on the counter (It wasn’t me)
Saw me banging on the sofa (It wasn’t me)
I even had her in the shower (It wasn’t me)
She even caught me on camera (It wasn’t me)
She saw the marks on my shoulder (It wasn’t me)
Heard the words that I told her (It wasn’t me)
Heard the scream get louder (It wasn’t me) – Shaggy (2000)

U.S. District Court Judge Paul Grimm granted summary judgment for Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority last week in a slip and fall, no impact bus accident case in Hall v. WMATA. A slip and fall no collision”the door shut on me” bus accident case in federal court?  I know it sounds bad, sure. But it gets worse.

Continue reading →

Published on:

complaint

Update: Stop the presses.  This rule has already been repealed.

We have a new rule in Maryland: Rule 1-322.2:

Rule 1-322.2 shall take effect and apply to all actions commenced on or after July 1, 2014, and insofar as practicable to all actions then pending.

(a) Certificate Required. Every pleading or paper filed in an action on or after July 1, 2014 shall contain either:

(1) a certificate of compliance with Rule 1-322.1 that is signed by an individual who is (A) the party filing it or an attorney for the party, or (B) if the paper is filed by a nonparty, the person filing it or the person’s attorney, employee, or agent; or

(2) in an affected action under Title 20 of these Rules, a certificate that complies with Rule 20-201 (f)(1)(B).

Cross reference: For the definition of “affected action,” see Rule 20-101.

(b) Action by Clerk. The clerk shall not accept for filing any pleading or other paper requiring a certificate under section (a) of this Rule unless the pleading or paper contains the certificate.

Source: This Rule is new.

Continue reading →

Published on:

leadpaintThe Maryland Court of Appeals just affirmed a lead paint verdict against the Baltimore Housing Authority.  This is yet another case where a governmental entity sought refuge of the Local Government Tort Claims Act.   Thankfully, the Baltimore Housing Authority could not avail causing brain damage to a child via this loophole, at least not in this case.

Facts of Case

The plaintiff lived in a Baltimore Housing authority for two years after her birth in 1995.   She was exposed, she alleged, to chipping and peeling lead based paint.  Her lead level was 13 mcg/dl.  When I defended these cases in the ’90s, we would have rolled our heads at that number.  Now we know better.   A level like this can cause real injury and can bring a large jury verdict in Baltimore.

The story from here is familiar.  The plaintiff’s mom noticed classic lead-related injuries manifested themselves early: attention issues,  delays in learning to read, and behavioral problems.  Plaintiff’s experts testified that she lost 5-7 IQ points.

The Baltimore Housing Authority put on its usual witnesses – Patrick Connor, Joseph Scheller, Joel Morse, etc. – to argue that the girl was not injured by lead-based paint.

The jury did not buy in,  awarding $160,000 in future lost wages (which seems low) and $1.1 million in non-economic damages. Under Maryland’s cap for non-economic damages, this portion of the award was reduced to $530,000.  Why so low?  The injuries occurred in 1995 when the cap was much lower. Continue reading →

Published on:

jurorsIn Pearson v. State, the Maryland Court of Appeals earlier this month addressed the important question of which voir dire questions, if requested, must be asked of prospective jurors.  Why am I writing about it?   It might have important ramifications on civil personal injury jury cases.

The facts of this case are simply.  Pearson is  indicted and convicted for a narcotics offense.  On appeal, he argues that he has been denied a fair trial because he was not permitted to ask certain questions during voir dire.  Pearson claims that the trial court committed reversible error when it refused to ask the venire panel:

  1. if any member of the panel, or any member’s family, friend, or acquaintance had ever been the victim of a crime; and
  2.  if any member of the panel was ever a member of a law-enforcement agency or “kn[e]w anyone who is employed” by a law-enforcement agency.   Both requests had been denied by the trial court.
  3. Do any of you have strong feelings about [the crime with which the defendant is charged]?

Maryland only allows questions to be presented during voir dire if the question is “reasonably likely to reveal specific cause for disqualification.”  Maryland only recognizes two specific instances that comprise specific cause for disqualification: (1) a statute disqualifies a prospective juror or (2) a collateral matter is reasonably liable to have “undue influence over a prospective juror.”  Under the second category, which this case addressed, a matter has undue influence if it addresses biases that create a “demonstrably strong correlation” with a mental or emotional state that will improperly influence a juror’s decisions. Continue reading →

Published on:

new maryland appellate opinion

New Uninsured Motorist and Jury Awarded Zero in Pain and Suffering Damages Opinion

Last week in Keller v. Serio, the Maryland Court of Appeals took yet another look at two issues that have been reoccurring leitmotifs in Maryland appellate opinions: (1) to what extent can we talk about uninsured motorist coverage in an uninsured motorist case and (2) whether a jury can award zero damages when all of the facts suggested otherwise.  Keller is a motor vehicle negligence action instituted solely against the at-fault driver.   Negligence was conceded and the issues at trial were confined to causation and damages. GEICO, although not a party to the action, realized the possibility that, as the plaintiff’s insurer, the plaintiff might get a verdict in excess of the liability coverage.  GEICO intervened in the case.  At trial, GEICO did the “UM potted plant defense” of just sitting at the trial table and doing absolutely nothing.   Plaintiff’s counsel alluded to GEICO during opening statements, but thereafter did not mention the insurer, its policy, or anything about UM policies. At the close of the trial, plaintiff’s counsel sought an instruction clarifying for the jury (a) how UM policies work and how they should not influence an award of damages and (b) clarify any confusion that may have resulted from GEICO’s presence at the trial.   The trial court refused the instruction.   The jury returned $29,355.69 in economic damages, yet $0 in noneconomic damages. That, folks, is what you call a bad verdict.  Plaintiff argued that such a breakdown of damages is inconsistent, illogical, and evidence that the trial court’s failure to give the UM instruction was reversible error.   No one can argue with the former part of that sentence.   It is completely illogical to say someone incurred nearly $30,000 in medical bills and did not suffer unless the evidence was that the Plaintiff was made of stone.  The question is whether it warrants nullifying the jury’s verdict and whether the uninsured motorist mess played out appropriately.  The Maryland high court said no and yes and shot down the plaintiff”s appeal.

Continue reading →

Published on:

The U.S District Court for Maryland made a noteworthy ruling in Jackson v. Johnson, a Maryland auto tort case that is interesting case that involves federal diversity law and interesting plaintiffs’ lawyers tactics in finding their preferred venue for the case.

Plaintiffs' Venue Tactics on Full Display

Plaintiffs’ Venue Tactics on Full Display

The Battleground

Venue is key. It is this way everywhere. But it is particularly so in Maryland.  In this state, plaintiffs want to be in Baltimore City or Prince George’s County.  Some people kid themselves that “in the right case” another venue can be better.  But this is mostly delusional.  

Conversely, you really do not want be in some of these ultra conservative counties on the Eastern Shore.  Can plaintiffs win tough case there?  Absolutely. We have.  But you really want to choose the path of least resistance and you don’t get that in those counties.

But, for some lawyers in some cases, the worst case scenario for an auto tort case is federal court.  Why?  I mean, the federal courthouses make most county courthouse look downright pedestrian.  But, alas, this is not a beauty contest.

The first problem many auto tort lawyers have is that it is not in their wheelhouse.  Very few garden variety accident claims find their way into federal court. The federal courts make you jump though a lot of hoops with respect to Rule 26 disclosures and other obligations.  Some of these obligations are evidentiary.  As a breed, plaintiffs’ lawyers think the federal rules of evidence are are more exactly both in letter and in application.  Another basis for the reluctancy of Plaintiffs’ attorneys  is if you are a lawyer on the Eastern Shore, you really don’t want to track all the way to Baltimore.  (Insurance companies don’t care.  They will just hire a lawyer in Baltimore or Greenbelt.  Or not.  Either way.)

The Big Issue in Jackson

Plaintiff filed suit in Washington County.  This is not a place where plaintiffs’ lawyers crawl past other jurisdictions to sue there.  Still, Plaintiff sued for $75,000 because it wanted to fly just shy of the jurisdictional amount that would invoke federal jurisdiction if there was diversity of citizenship which there was in this case.  To satisfy diversity jurisdiction, there must be (1) diversity of citizenship and (2) the matter in controversy must exceed the sum or value of $75,000.  Citing the plain language of 28 U.S.C. 1332(a), the court held that alleging exactly $75,000 in damages should be considered a claim not in excess of $75,000, precluding subject matter jurisdiction.

That should  be fatal to removal in any case where the amount plead in the ad damnum clause is not more than $75,000.   Defendants still thought the case should be removed to federal court.  Why?   Defendants are bugged, with some reason, that after a verdict above $75,000 the plaintiff could technically just amend their Complaint even after the verdict.  So, at a minimum, the defendant wanted the court to put a $75,000 cap on the case.

Court’s Ruling

The court ruled in an opinion by Judge Ellen Lipton Hollander that defendant had to prove that it was a “legal certainty” that the plaintiff would actually recover more than $75,000 if she prevailed.  Proving the value of damages to a legal certainty in a tort case is an impossible task.   Alternatively, the defendant argued that if the case is kept in state court, the award should be limited to $75,000 and not a penny more.  Again, the court disagreed and cited Maryland’s long standing policy of allowing post-verdict amendments to pleadings.

The court stressed that while a plaintiff in Maryland is permitted to amend the complaint post-verdict to accurately reflect the value of the damages, there is no rule that says a court must allow a plaintiff to amend the complaint post-verdict.  For the court, the fact that a post-verdict amendment request may be denied was sufficient to guard against plaintiff’s lawyers who deliberately request damages at or below $75,000 to avoid removal to federal court.  Since a plaintiff, the court argued, may or may not be permitted to amend the complaint post-verdict, he “under-claims” his damages to avoid federal court “at his own peril.”

Is this new law?  Not really.  Niles Barton & Wilmer, who defended the case, decided to fight this issue for reasons that escape me.  But I’m writing about the case because I think it raises issues of tactics and law that are interesting and important for every plaintiffs’ lawyer to consider.

Published on:

emailI don’t write about criminal cases on this blog for a reason: I know nothing about them.  But Donati v. State is a criminal case that teaches us a lesson in how to get an email into evidence at trial. In medical malpractice and product liability cases, this is something you often need to be able to do.

The Facts of Donati v. State

If I’m going to have to read a criminal case, I want some wacked out facts.  This case delivers.

Continue reading →

Published on:

Maryland appellate opinionsMark Mixter and James Farmer are two Maryland tort lawyers that just don’t like each other.   There are lots of attorneys that don’t like each other.   Lawyers are probably more confrontational and competitive than your average bear.  If you doubt this premise, go watch a lawyers’ league softball game.   So add this natural tendency with the intensity of litigation and people are going to find reasons to get upset unless you are ultra thick skinned.  (One resolution of mine in 2014 is to develop some thicker skin all the way around.)

When these two lawyers fight, it goes deeper and litigation apparently follows.  The Maryland Court of Special Appeals recently  affirmed the dismissed defamation, libel, slander and intentional inflection of emotional distress claim that one had filed against the other.  You can find the opinion in Mixter v. Farmer here if you are interested.  Something about someone writing a letter to other lawyers saying disparaging things or something.   I started to read – mostly out of prurient interest – but I realized I must have something better to do.  (So I wrote this point instead?)

This is apparently the second case between these attorneys that has found its way to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.   The last one involved a case that settled but one of lawyers became so mad that he sought and received a sanctions order against the other.   The appellate court reversed the order of sanctions.  So a whole lot of trees were burned and blood pressure was raised in a battle over a little more than $3,000.

I’m not real judgmental about this kind of stuff.   You rarely know what really happened in these battles and, typically, but not always, it takes two to tango.  The line between fighting for a principle and merely acting out of spite can sometimes be a fine and blurry line.  But it is such a waste of energy and resources for talented lawyers to spend their time sniping at each other, or worse, this.  Every time I want to start World War III over something that is ultimately stupid, I go home and kiss my wife and kids and get perspective on what really matters.

Published on:

The Maryland high court last week suspended an attorney indefinitely for failure to honor a lien against his client’s case. He does have a right to reapply to the bar after 6 months.

Two clients had small injury cases that collectively settled for a little over $25,000. The Food Employees’ Labor Relations Association and United Food and Commercial Workers’ Health and Welfare Fund had a lien on the case. Unlike almost every other non military lien holder, this union demands full payment of its lien without any reduction for attorneys’ fees.

It is a great strategy by the union in terms of getting all of its money back. It is a terrible strategy when it comes to helping its workers get compensation for their injuries. Because when most lawyers see these agreements, they run for the hills unless it is a catastrophic injury case. Why? Because it is hard for both the lawyer and the client to get paid. No one wants to take a case where no one walks away happy.

When I first started doing plaintiffs’ work, I couldn’t believe the union could do this. But there is a case square on point.

Anyway, the rest of the story writes itself. He does not pay the liens nor does he interplead the funds. He ignores request after request for payment of the lien for years. He finally puts his own money into it when I guess he realized it just was not going to go away.

Continue reading →