On the “Maryland Supreme [sic] Court”

By Steve Klepper

“‘Sullivan & Gilbert’? Who are they?” – W.S. Gilbert, Topsy-Turvy (1999)

As the 2013-14 federal law clerks get to work, I’ll provide a quick note of caution. If you’re referring to a state appellate court, you need to get the name right. Your busy judge and the opinion publishers may fail to catch an error that will be immortalized on Westlaw.

In Maryland, we have two state appellate courts. Our high court is the Court of Appeals, and our intermediate appellate court is the Court of Special Appeals. Yes, it’s confusing. So it’s understandable, if a little irking, when a decision from an outside jurisdiction speaks of the “Maryland Supreme Court” or “Supreme Court of Maryland.” See, e.g., Ponzi v. Fessenden, 258 U.S. 254, 264 (1922) (Taft, C.J., falling victim to Ponzi’s lesser-known scheme to change our high court’s name).

But a published decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit? Or of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland? How in the name of Erie R.R. v. Tompkins can this happen?

I count nine instances of published Maryland federal decisions that refer to the “Maryland Supreme Court”:

  1. Laurel Sand & Gravel, Inc. v. Wilson, 519 F.3d 156, 164 (4th Cir. 2008) (Gregory, J., joined by the Baltimore-based Niemeyer, J.)
  2. Penn-Am. Ins. Co. v. Lewis, 395 F. Supp. 2d 250, 254 (D. Md. 2005) (Motz, J., likely earning the derision of Fourth Circuit Judge (and former Court of Special Appeals Judge) Motz)
  3. Kamaki Skiathos, Inc. v. Essex Ins. Co., 396 F. Supp. 2d 624, 627 (D. Md. 2005) (Motz, J., twice in one day)
  4. Columbus-Am. Discovery Grp. v. Atl. Mut. Ins. Co., 974 F.2d 450, 464 n.5 (4th Cir. 1992) (Russell, J., getting a pass because he was 86 years old at the time)
  5. Fischbach & Moore Int’l Corp. v. Crane Barge R-14, 632 F.2d 1123, 1126 (4th Cir. 1980) (Bryan, J., getting half a pass because he was 81 years old)
  6. W. Md. Ry. Co. v. E. Cement Gun Co., 231 F. 620, 627 (4th Cir. 1916) (Woods, J., dissenting in obscurity)
  7. Joseph R. Foard Co. of Balt. City v. Maryland, 219 F. 827, 835 (4th Cir. 1914) (Woods, J., who has never before been mentioned this much on the internet)
  8. Maryland v. Miller, 194 F. 775, 781 (4th Cir. 1911) (Waddill, J., then a U.S. District Judge sitting by designation, before getting promoted to the Fourth Circuit)
  9. City of Baltimore v. Maryland, 166 F. 641, 645 (4th Cir. 1908) (Waddill, J., how did he get promoted with this repeat sloppiness?)

The two Judge Motz opinions came down on October 27, 2005, placing them at the beginning of some unfortunate clerk’s term. Not a good way to start the year.

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