Breached NDA renders a $20 million verdict, but only a $1 judgment

By Brad McCullough

In the last few years, we’ve heard a lot about non-disclosure agreements or “NDAs.” They are commonly used to protect against disclosure of confidential business information or financial data and similar types of highly sensitive information. Sometimes the question arises, what happens if someone breaches an NDA? In a recent Maryland case, the answer had a whipsaw-like quality, as a jury returned a $20,000,000 verdict only to see the trial judge reduce the award to $1. In an opinion written by Judge Steven Gould, and joined by fellow panelists Judge Gregory Wells and Senior Judge James Eyler, the Court of Special Appeals affirmed that drastic reduction. Adcor Indus, Inc. v. Beretta U.S.A. Corp., No. 0118, Sept. Term, 2019 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. April 1, 2021).

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Court of Appeals Clears Baltimore City Excise Tax on Clear Channel’s Billboards

By Alan B. Sternstein

In Clear Channel Outdoor, Inc. v. Dep’t of Finance, No. 9, September Term, 2020 (decided Mar. 15, 2021), the Court of Appeals recently affirmed the January 2020 decision of the Court of Special Appeals, which had ruled that Baltimore’s excise tax on billboards did not violate the First Amendment or Article 40 of the Maryland Constitution. Clear Channel Outdoor, Inc. v. Dep’t of Finance, 244 Md. App. 304, 223 A.3d 1050 (2020). An April 15, 2020 post on this Blog previously discussed the decision of the Court of Special Appeals. The decision of the Court of Appeals, though affirming the Court of Special Appeals, provides important clarification with regard to assessing the constitutionality of speech constraints effected by regulation of the means, as opposed to the content, of speech.

Specifically, in reaching its decision, the Court of Special Appeals implied that regulation which limited or burdened only the means of communication was without First Amendment significance.  As will be reviewed in this post, the April 15, 2020 post argued otherwise, in principle and discussing relevant Supreme Court precedents.  In reaching its decision, the Court of Appeals was clear that such regulation, though impacting only the noncommunicative, means of speech, also required First Amendment attention.

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April 2021 Maryland Certiorari Grants

On Friday, the Court of Appeals of Maryland (which will probably be renamed the Supreme Court of Maryland in 19 months) granted review in three appeals, all criminal, to be argued in September.

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Maryland appellate courts likely getting new names, maybe new building

By Steve Klepper (Twitter: @MDAppeal)

As Steve Lash reported at The Daily Record on Wednesday, the 2022 general election ballot will include a proposed constitutional amendment under which the Court of Appeals of Maryland would become the Supreme Court of Maryland, its members would be called “Chief Justice” and “Justice,” and the Court of Special Appeals would become the Appellate Court of Maryland.

Although the election is 19 months away, the amendment is overwhelmingly likely to win approval on November 8, 2022. By my count, 29 constitutional amendments have gone before Maryland voters since 1994, and voters have approved all but two. Nearly all have received at least two-thirds (67%) support. The only amendments to fail were controversial proposals to raise the judicial retirement age to 75 in 1994 (which came close to passage with 48% of the vote), and to allow “quick take” condemnation of property for redevelopment in Prince George’s County in 2000 (which garnered only 38% support). Only one other amendment came close to rejection—a 2002 amendment relating to emergency legislative powers won 50.6% approval.

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Affording Strong Deference to Police Training and Experience has Fourth Amendment Implications

By Megan E. Coleman

As a practicing criminal defense attorney, it is noticeable that far too often prosecutors in stop and search cases are able to win suppression hearings based in large part on the officer’s training and experience rather than the actual substance of the observations. Prosecutors simply establish the officer’s background and then extract an opinion that in the particular case the officer believed, based on his training and experience, that what he observed was consistent with a drug transaction or a furtive movement. Add in a fact that the officer had been tailing the defendant because of a tip received by a known reliable informant and the order denying the motion to suppress gets signed, sealed, and delivered to the defendant.

This is precisely what occurred in the Fourth Circuit in United States v. Tremayne Drakeford, No. 19-4912 (decided Mar. 26, 2021) (Opinion by Thacker, J., joined by Gregory, C.J., with Wynn, J. concurring). An experienced law enforcement officer witnessed what he believed was a “hand-to-hand” drug transaction between Appellant and others, after he had been alerted by a confidential informant (CI) whom he had used approximately 50 times before, that Appellant was a suspected drug dealer. With that information officers stopped and frisked Appellant, yielding the recovery of drugs from Appellant’s sweatshirt pocket. The district court denied Appellant’s motion to suppress the drugs.

In a refreshing opinion (at least for any defense attorney), the Fourth Circuit not only reversed the district court’s denial of the motion to suppress, but the majority and concurring opinions cogently educated the police, the prosecutor, and the suppression court that the Fourth Amendment requires more than rote reliance on an officer’s training and experience.

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What is a “Daubert issue” in Maryland?

By Derek M. Stikeleather

After Maryland’s much-publicized adoption of the Daubert standard for expert testimony in its final opinion of last term, Rochkind v. Stevenson, 471 Md. 1, 38 (2020), many practitioners are left wondering, “what is a ‘Daubert issue’?” The question has greater urgency because the Rochkind opinion made Daubert immediately effective and applicable to all “cases that are pending on direct appeal [on Aug. 28, 2020] . . . where the relevant question has been preserved for appellate review.”[i]

The short, technical answer is that every expert opinion presents a “Daubert issue” because Daubert applies Rule 5-702, which applies to all expert testimony. Daubert presents no comparable dichotomy between cases that present “Frye-Reed issues” and those that do not. The salient question for practitioners is not whether Daubert applies to an opposing expert’s opinion —it does—but whether the opinion merits a formal challenge in the form of Daubert briefing and a possible hearing. The fact that Daubert now applies to all expert testimony does not mean that one should always—or even typically—file Daubert briefs. Although countless expert opinions would withstand Daubert inquiry and be admissible, it will never be true that Daubert simply does not apply to an expert opinion, as was once true for some opinions under Frye-Reed.

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Supplemental Authority Letters and Other Unwritten Maryland Appellate Rules

By Steve Klepper (Twitter: @MDAppeal)

Ever since this blog launched in 2013, I’ve received fairly regular calls and emails asking about arcana of Title 8 of the Maryland Rules, governing procedure in the appellate courts. Perhaps the most frequent question is how to notify a Maryland appellate court of new on-point authorities.

In the federal appellate courts, the answer is simple. You file a Rule 28(j) letter:

Citation of Supplemental Authorities. If pertinent and significant authorities come to a party’s attention after the party’s brief has been filed—or after oral argument but before decision—a party may promptly advise the circuit clerk by letter, with a copy to all other parties, setting forth the citations. The letter must state the reasons for the supplemental citations, referring either to the page of the brief or to a point argued orally. The body of the letter must not exceed 350 words. Any response must be made promptly and must be similarly limited.

Maryland Rule 8-504, our equivalent of the federal Rule 28, lacks any provision for supplemental authorities. Does that mean supplemental authorities are forbidden? Or must you move for leave? Do the supplemental authorities take the form of a letter or a supplemental brief?

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Mercer v. Thomas B. Finan Center: Cuckoo’s Nest Redux?

By Alan B. Sternstein

The Court of Special Appeals reported decision in Mercer v. Thomas B. Finan Center, September Term, 2019, No. 1398 (Md. App. decided Jan. 28, 2021) (“Mercer”), addressed procedural requirements applicable in the context of the administration of antipsychotic drugs against a patient’s will. More particularly, the issue was whether an institutionalized mental health patient was denied procedural due process, when, at the start of an administrative hearing regarding the involuntary administration of antipsychotic drugs, the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) declined to conduct an on-the-record colloquy to confirm that the patient had knowingly and voluntarily waived his statutory right to counsel.

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March 2021 Maryland Certiorari Grants

On Friday, the Court of Appeals granted review in four cases, all civil. It has assigned two cases to the current Term, meaning they will be argued this spring, and two for the next Term, meaning they will be argued this fall.

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An expert witness fails to bridge the “analytical gap.”

By Brad McCullough

The Court of Special Appeals recently decided Matthews v. State, No. 3280, Sept. Term, 2018 (Feb. 25, 2021), a case where two homicide victims were killed by shotgun blasts delivered at close range. The sole issue at trial was the identity of the shooter. Writing for a panel that included Senior Judge Paul Alpert and Judge Kathryn Graeff, Judge Douglas Nazarian observed: “The story of this case is complicated and hard to follow.” Those complications were due largely to the cast of characters who served as trial witnesses.

The case is the first reported opinion dealing with the reliability of expert testimony issued after the Court of Appeals’ decision in Rochkind v. Stevenson, 471 Md. 1 (2020). But the panel’s application of Md. Rule 5-702(3)—with its requirement that an expert witness not fall into an “analytical gap”—did not depart from pre-Rochkind jurisprudence, confirming that even before Rochkind’s adoption of the Daubert standard, Maryland courts strictly applied Rule 5-702’s mandate that expert testimony be based on a sufficient factual basis. Unlike the case as a whole, the facts regarding the “analytical gap” issue luckily are not complicated.

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