September 2022 Maryland Certiorari Grant

The Maryland Court of Appeals granted certiorari in one case following its September 22 conference.

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Prominent Black Attorney Denied the Same Relief Granted to Former White Governor

By Megan E. Coleman

On September 7, 2022, the Fourth Circuit issued an order denying reconsideration en banc of Kenneth Ravenell’s petition for reconsideration of the three-judge panel’s affirmance of the district court’s denial of his motion for bail and stay of sentence pending appeal.

Judge Wynn issued a dissenting opinion, joined by Judges Motz, King, and Thacker, questioning why the full court refused to reconsider the denial of Mr. Ravenell’s motion for release pending appeal when the court was willing to reconsider the denial of former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell’s motion for release pending appeal.

Kenneth Ravenell was a prominent African American attorney in Baltimore who argued cases all over Maryland, the United States, and before the United States Supreme Court. In December, 2021, Mr. Ravenell was convicted of federal conspiracy to commit money laundering. In June, 2022, he was sentenced to 57 months in federal prison.

Mr. Ravenell filed an appeal in which he alleged that the district court committed reversible error by refusing to instruct the jury on the statute of limitations because the government was required to prove that the alleged money laundering conspiracy “continued into” the applicable limitations period.

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August 2022 Maryland Certiorari Grants

Today, the Maryland Court of Appeals granted review in two civil cases and two criminal cases.

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Maryland Court of Appeals, in Irwin Industrial, Confirms Alternative Grounds for Summary Judgment, Typically Remain Unavailable to Argue in Appeals

By Michael Wein

The Court of Appeals’s recent decision in Irwin Industrial Tool Company v. Pifer (May 31, 2022, J. Watts) had as the main certiorari issue, on “[w]hether it was reversible error for the [Court of Special Appeals] to reverse the authenticity threshold applied by the Circuit Court for the admissibility of items purchased from the internet.”[i]  This encompassed about 36 pages of the 44-page unanimous decision authored by Judge Watts.  The case also featured the effective but tricky usage of demonstrative evidence at oral arguments, beginning at the 41st minute of the oral argument webcast.

However, Question Presented Two, on “[w]hether it was reversible error for the [Court of Special Appeals] to ignore the alternative grounds for summary judgment encompassed in the Circuit Court’s Order[,]” while only a few pages long, had important applications, beyond the case.  The ultimate decision confirms a reluctance by Maryland appellate courts to decide issues for the first time on appeal, especially when the trial court declines to clearly rest their decision on these alternative grounds.

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Appellate Practice Seminar in St. Mary’s County

The St. Mary’s County Bar Association will be holding an appellate practice seminar on August 5.

Date: Friday, August 5, 2022, 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Location: St. Mary’s County Courthouse, 41605 Courthouse Drive, Leonardtown, MD 20650

Panelists:
Judge Jonathan Biran, Court of Appeals
Chief Judge E. Gregory Wells, Court of Special Appeals
Judge Kevin Arthur, Court of Special Appeals
Senior Judge James Kenney, Court of Special Appeals
Diane Feuerherd, Miller, Miller & Canby
Steve Klepper, Kramon & Graham

Longtime readers will note that the event is heavy on Maryland Appellate Blog editors and alumni. Beyond Diane (blog manager) and Steve (editor-in-chief), Judges Biran and Arthur were both with the blog before joining the bench.

To RSVP for the event, email smc.bar.association@gmail.com.

July 2022 Maryland Certiorari Grants

The Maryland Court of Appeals today granted review in two criminal appeals.

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SCOTUS 9-0 on arbitration waiver standard.

By Brad McCullough

Much attention is given to the chasm that often exists between the Supreme Court’s rival factions and the divergent views espoused by the Justices, particularly in controversial hot-button issues. (That chasm was especially wide, and that attention reached a fever pitch, over the past week.) But not all cases before the Supreme Court involve such bitter divisions. In late May, the Court reached a 9-0 decision that resolved a split among the circuits in a case involving the Federal Arbitration Act. In an opinion authored by Justice Kagan, the Court held that a party waives her right to arbitration if she acts inconsistently with that right, even in the absence of prejudice to the opposing party. Morgan v. Sundance, Inc., No. 21-328 (U.S. May 23, 2022).

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The Majority, Concurring, and “Controlling” Opinions in the Supreme Court’s Decision of New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n Inc. v. Bruen

By Michael Wein

Last week, two blockbuster United States Supreme Court decisions were issued in Bruen and Dobbs.  This Post discusses the first,  New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n, Inc. v. Bruen, 2022 WL 2251305, (U.S. June 23, 2022), published last Thursday.  Bruen primarily involved whether and to what extent the Second Amendment applied to New York’s very strict requirements for qualified applicants to obtain a carry permit, for gun possession outside the home. 

The label “majority opinion” and written by the Court’s primary author may not be considered the “controlling” opinion by the other federal or state courts. As discussed and previously examined in a prior Blog Post from 2013, the “Marks Rule” from Marks v. United States, 430 U.S. 188 (1977), guides how to identify the actual holdings in a “split” decision with multiple opinions; this Post dates back to Maryland’s consideration of comparative negligence in Coleman, and described the non-obvious difficulty in simply assuming or accepting the label given to what’s listed as the “Majority” Opinion.[i]  The Blog Post noted,

This construction [in Coleman] would comport with the definition [under Marks] of what is a “majority” opinion—in particular, that any opinion that is the “broadest rule” that has a “majority” of the judges, is to be construed as the majority opinion.   The Supreme Court has shown some creativity in this regard [for example, such as]  McConnell v. FEC, 540 U.S. 93 (2003), in making fractured rulings on the constitutionality of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, issued three majority opinions for the different sections of the legislation.

The Supreme Court has displayed creativity similiar to McConnell in the recent Bruen case, though unlike Coleman, it’s not on the incorrect label being given, but what’s actually the nuanced “controlling” decision on application.  Broadly speaking, there is a Majority Opinion and authorship on Bruen, by Justice Thomas, which is controlling on the Constitutional impact, but for right now, the effect is limited.   This is a bit opaque on first glance, but was also noticed by some news outlets such as the Washington Post, which wrote articles focused on the Justice Kavanaugh Concurrence, joined by Chief Justice Roberts.  

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Supreme Court limits relief from final judgments after appellate deadlines pass

By Derek M. Stikeleather

Maryland appellate practitioners have few options when clients need post-judgment relief but can no longer access an appellate court. But federal and state procedural rules still provide various, limited bases—and often more generous deadlines—for seeking relief from a court’s final judgment or order after the deadline for noticing an appeal has passed. Such rules are crucial—but different—in state and federal practice when, for whatever reasons, a litigant has not filed a timely notice of appeal. The Supreme Court recently addressed the issue in Kemp v. United States, construing Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b). Kemp v. United States, No. 21-5726 (June 13, 2022).

Federal Rule 60(b) and the Kemp decision

Section (b) of Rule 60 covers every other reason for altering a final judgment or order, besides clerical mistakes, oversights, and omissions, which section (a) addresses. Rule 60(b)(1) allows a litigant to move to alter a final judgment “within a reasonable time”—but only within one year—after entry of judgment because of “mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect.” See Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(c)(1). Following five subsections that list various reasons for relief from a final judgment, Rule 60(b)(6) allows trial courts to re-open judgments for “any other reason that justifies relief” if the litigant moves “within a reasonable time.” Subsection (1), thus, gives litigants up to a full year, if reasonable, to seek amendment of a final judgment while subsection (6) allows such motions at any “reasonable time.” (Section (a) imposes no time limit.)

The controlling subsection of Rule 60(b) was crucial to the legal fate of Mr. Kemp, who was convicted of various federal crimes in 2011 and whose procedural odyssey captured the Supreme Court’s attention. He and seven codefendants appealed their convictions and sentences, but the Eleventh Circuit affirmed. Mr. Kemp did not appeal further, but two of his codefendants did, ultimately without success.

More than a year after his appeal ended—but within a year of the final judgment ending his codefendants’ appeal—Mr. Kemp moved the Florida federal trial court to vacate his sentence under Section 2255. The trial court erroneously found Mr. Kemp’s Section 2255 motion, which had to be filed within one year of the judgment of conviction becoming final, was untimely. Almost two years later, Mr. Kemp moved the same court to re-open his proceedings under Rule 60(b). The timeliness of the Rule 60(b) motion turned on whether the trial court’s erroneous dismissal of the Section 2255 motion (because finality ran from the co-defendants’ final judgment on appeal not Mr. Kemp’s) was a “mistake” under subsection (b)(1) or an “other reason that justifies relief” under subsection (b)(6).

The near-unanimous Supreme Court held that “a judge’s errors of law are indeed ‘mistake[s]’ under Rule 60(b)(1).” It affirmed the Eleventh Circuit’s holding that Mr. Kemp’s Rule 60 motion was untimely because it was controlled by subsection (1), which covers “mistake,” and not subsection (6)’s “any other reason that justifies relief.” Although the Court described subsection (6) as a “catchall,” it explained that it applies only when subsections (1) through (5) provide no basis for relief. Even then, only “extraordinary circumstances” merit reopening a final judgment. Mr. Kemp had tried to parse “mistake” to apply only to factual errors by someone other than the judge and not obvious legal errors, such as misreading Section 2255’s triggering date for the running of limitations. The Court held that “mistake” included any legal error by the judge and was not limited to “obvious” ones, as even the prevailing Government had argued.

Post-judgment relief in Maryland

Maryland has similar rules on post-judgment relief but with some crucial distinctions. First, in ordinary post-trial appellate practice, Maryland Rules 2-532 and 2-533 require parties to file any motions for JNOV or a new trial within ten days after entry of judgment. After bench trials, Rule 2-534 sets the same 10-day deadline for motions to alter or amend the judgment. (Mercifully, the federal rules committee recognized the 10-day deadline’s deleterious impact on the quality of post-trial briefing and revised Federal Rules 52 and 59 to allow 28 days for such motions.)

Second, Rule 2-535 provides various procedural options under the trial court’s “Revisory power” to change its judgment even after the 10-day deadline for JNOV and new trial motions has passed and—in some instances—even after the 30-day deadline to notice an appeal has passed. For jury trials, the parties have 30 days after entry of judgment to seek any judgment-altering relief that would be available under Rule 2-534. Md. R. 2-535(a). The parties also have 30 days to seek “a new trial on the ground of newly-discovered evidence that could not have been discovered by due diligence in time to move for a new trial” under Rule 2-533. Md. R. 2-535(c) (emphasis added).

When more than 30 days have passed since the entry of judgment, Rule 2-535 limits Maryland litigants to even fewer options to seek judgment-altering relief from the trial court. These can be the motions of last resort if no appeal was timely filed. Unlike parties in federal court, state-court parties may move “at any time” for the trial court to “exercise revisory power and control over the judgment in case of fraud, mistake, or irregularity.” Md. R. 2-535(b) (emphasis added). Recall that Mr. Kemp had only a year, and only if reasonably timed, to move on the grounds of “mistake” under Federal Rule 60(b)(1). His Rule 60(b) motion would not have been per se untimely in Maryland state court under Rule 2-535(b). Similarly, a Maryland trial court may sua sponte or on motion of any party correct “clerical mistakes in judgments, orders, or other parts of the record.” Md. R. 2-535(d) (emphasis added). As in federal court, if an appeal has been docketed, clerical mistakes can be corrected only “with leave of the appellate court.” Id.

Of course, the best avenue for post-judgment relief is a timely appeal if timely post-trial motions have been denied. If that window has closed, procedural options are limited. But not all is necessarily lost.

The Skirts Requirement: Dress Code Gender Discrimination in Charter Schools

By Megan E. Coleman

On June 14, 2022, the Fourth Circuit published Bonnie Peltier v. Charter Day School, Inc., a 10-to-6 en banc opinion authored by Senior Judge Keenan. When a North Carolina charter school imposed a dress code requiring that girls wear skirts to school, the full court signed on to tackle two issues related to gender equality in the schools. First, are charter schools “state actors” that must provide equal protection to its students under the constitution? Second, are dress codes categorically exempt from Title IX’s prohibition against gender discrimination?

On its face, the questions seem innocuous. But under the surface, this 103-page slip opinion quickly unveils a raucous caucus of diverging views on gender stereotypes, debating whether the dress code exemplifies chivalry or just mere chauvinism.

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