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Issues That May Be Raised For The First Time On Appeal

By Megan Coleman

Every appellate attorney is familiar with the rule that the appellate courts will not consider arguments raised for the first time on appeal. My experience doing criminal appeals informs me that I better make sure my issues were raised below, otherwise I can expect the Office of the Attorney General to begin their response brief with an argument that the issue was not preserved and therefore should not be considered on appeal. 

Where an issue was not raised below, normally the only recourse is to ask the appellate court to exercise plain error review pursuant to Maryland Rule 8-131(a). That is an uphill battle that usually results in the appellant rolling backwards a long way down.

However, there are certain issues that may properly be raised for the first time on appeal. Appellate attorneys reviewing the trial record should keep a lookout for these issues as they may be dispositive to the appeal.

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Problems with Modern Electronic Legal Research—“Googlization” versus “Boolean Logic”

By Michael Wein

About every two to three years, Westlaw and Lexis representatives contact my office about renewing my existing (and not inexpensive) legal database subscription or switching to the other company.  I have used legal databases since college, though which one I prefer is not the subject here.  What’s comparably new is both companies for about the past decade, have boasted their new legal database systems now have a sophisticated algorithm search comparable to Google, for every appellate (and most Federal District Court cases), to quickly and correctly locate the best cases on the topic.  This conceivably makes Boolean logic or just regular “keyword” searching, unnecessary or obsolete.  As explained below, though there are some advantages, depending on the market audience, it is not necessarily these algorithms are superior, particularly when it comes to locating more obscure appellate caselaw, to help win a case.

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The importance of non-pattern jury instructions

By Brad McCullough

Maryland’s appellate courts strongly encourage lawyers and trial judges to rely on pattern jury instructions, observing that pattern instructions “have been put together by a group of distinguished judges and lawyers who almost amount to a ‘Who’s Who of the Maryland Bench and Bar.” Green v. State, 127 Md. App. 758, 771 (1999). Thus, “generally the pattern jury instructions suffice and trial judges usually may rely on them.” Bayne v. State, 98 Md. App. 149, 160 (1993). But lawyers should not be complacent and simply rely on pattern instructions without thinking whether other non-pattern instructions could buttress their cause. In an opinion by Judge Stuart Berger, writing for a panel that included Judge Kevin Arthur and Senior Judge Robert Zarnoch, the Court of Special Appeals reversed a judgment where the trial judge refused to give requested non-pattern jury instructions that correctly stated the law, were supported by the evidence, and were not fairly covered by instructions the court actually gave. Six Flags America, L.P. v. Gonzalez-Perdomo, Case No. 1620, Sept. Term 2019 (Dec. 16, 2020).

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Court of Special Appeals Bats .500 in Appeal of Planning Board Actions

By Alan B. Sternstein

At some time during their ownership, real property owners are likely to be concerned with local or state regulatory proceedings related to nearby property. These proceedings take various forms, from rezoning requests, to requests for variances from zoning requirements or special zoning uses, to requests for approval of preliminary subdivision or development plans. This blog writer has had first-hand experience with many of these actions, as a member for years of a board of zoning appeals and, at other times, as counsel representing property owners.

Two administrative law aspects of the decision of the Court of Special Appeals in West Montgomery Co. Citizens Ass’n v. Montgomery Co. Planning Bd., No. CSA-REG-0579 2019 (“West Montgomery”), bear comment, at least from the perspective of this blog writer’s experience. First is the content of the written support that regulatory bodies are required to provide by statute, regulation or law for their decisions approving or disapproving the administrative actions they take. Second, in the case of real property proceedings, is whether these regulatory bodies have the authority to require, as a condition of approvals within their jurisdiction, compliance with private agreements between applicants for actions and nearby property owners related to such administrative actions.[1]

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The Court of Appeals Addresses When Rap Lyrics are Evidence of Crime in Montague v. State

By John Grimm

Two weeks ago, the Court of Appeals decided Montague v. State, which presented the question of whether rap lyrics that allegedly bore a resemblance to the facts of a murder could be admitted as substantive evidence against the defendant. The Court held that when lyrics bear a sufficient nexus to the facts of the case, the risk of unfair prejudice does not outweigh their probative value, and they can be admitted as evidence of the defendant’s guilt. While on some levels the Court’s decision reflects a pretty standard application of the abuse-of-discretion standard and basic principles of relevancy, Judge Watts’ dissent points out some significant flaws in the majority’s holding.

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COSA holds church trustees could fire pastor

By Brad McCullough

The Supreme Court, in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrisey-Berrau, recently addressed religious institutions’ authority to make personnel decisions, and the extent to which those decisions are subject to government regulation, secular law, and ultimately judicial oversight. Last month, in Vaughn v. Faith Bible Church of Sudlersville, Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals faced similar issues. James Vaughn was the pastor of a newly-formed Baptist Church—until the church’s board of trustees fired him, due in part to his leaving a gun unattended at the church, his opposition to forming a church school and camp, and his lack of organizational skills. Vaughn responded by suing the church, but the Circuit Court for Queen Anne’s County sided with the church, concluding that the trustees acted within their authority when they voted to fire him. Vaughn pressed on, appealing that decision. He fared no better, however, with the appellate court in Annapolis than he had with the trial court in Centreville.

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Not A Child, Not Yet An Adult: Why Maryland’s Laws Pertaining To Juveniles Charged With Felony Murder Have Not Kept Pace With Evolving Standards

By Megan Coleman

Maryland, like every other state in the country, has a juvenile court system set up to promote the welfare of juveniles, to develop the character of the juvenile to become a productive member of society, and to instill public safety and protection of the community. See Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article (C.J.) § 3-8A-02.

In Maryland, the law recognizes distinctions between juveniles and adults, and in many criminal cases, provides juveniles with the benefit of having their criminal case heard in juvenile court, or at the very least, provides the juvenile with the opportunity to have a hearing to determine whether the case may be transferred to juvenile court.

But for a certain subset of juveniles, namely 16 and 17-year-olds charged with first-degree murder, the law treats these children as though they are adults, providing no opportunity for these juveniles to have a hearing to determine whether their cases would be appropriate to transfer to juvenile court.

It may seem absurd to think that society would permit an almost 18-year-old to be subject to juvenile court jurisdiction for only three plus years (as jurisdiction of the juvenile court terminates at age 21), for committing the crime of first-degree murder.

However, there may be legitimate (and constitutional) reasons for giving all juveniles, the opportunity to have their case transferred to juvenile court. Alternatively, if 16 and 17-year-olds charged with first-degree murder are still required to be charged in adult court, there may be valid (and again constitutional) reasons for mandating special sentencing practices before a court may impose a life with the possibility of parole sentence upon a juvenile.

These reasons should become even more apparent in the context of a juvenile charged with first-degree felony murder, an offense which has drawn worldwide criticism not just in the context of charging a juvenile, but in its application to adults as well.

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A Maryland Guide to Judicial Recusal

By Derek M. Stikeleather

Recusal standards for appellate judges rarely trend on social media. But the recent nomination of Seventh Circuit Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the United States Supreme Court has spawned widespread popular debate over whether she should recuse herself from deciding any cases involving the results of the 2020 Presidential election. Regrettably, most media soundbites on the issue offer little more than partisan excerpts of her supporters saying that she should not recuse herself and her critics arguing that she should. Few delve into the controlling rules and standards.

Ultimately, a Justice Barrett recusal seems unlikely for one simple reason: At the Supreme Court, the recusal decision rests exclusively with the Justice herself and is not subject to further review. Thus, absent any unambiguous precedent that requires her recusal or a statement from Judge Barrett that she plans to recuse herself from election cases, she appears unlikely to do so.

While I have nothing special to add to the arguments for or against a potential Justice Barrett recusal, the uproar prompted me to look more closely at Maryland’s standards for recusing appellate judges. Here’s what I found:

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Court of Appeals reviews moot appeal from a non-final judgment – In re O.P.

By Brad McCullough

As we know, courts typically refrain from deciding cases that do not present real, live justiciable controversies. Where the passage of time has erased the dispute that once existed between the parties, a court will generally dismiss that case as being moot. That’s not always the case, however, as there are narrow exceptions to that general proposition. We also know that appellate courts generally have jurisdiction only over appeals from final judgments, i.e. orders or judgments that adjudicate all claims against all parties. But again, there are exceptions to this general rule.

Recently, in an opinion authored by Judge Robert McDonald, the Court of Appeals decided a moot case in an appeal taken from a non-final judgment: In re O.P., No. 26, Sept. Term, 2019, 2020 WL 4726601 (Aug. 14, 2020). Due to the public interest presented by the litigation—and the fact that the litigation presented a controversy capable of repetition, yet evading review—the Court considered the case even though it had become moot. And because the appeal conclusively determined an important issue separate from the merits of the action that would be effectively unreviewable if the appeal had to await entry of a final judgment, review was allowed under the collateral order doctrine.  

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Plank v. Cherneski: Court of Appeals Nails Down a Loose Plank in Maryland Tort Law

By Alan Sternstein

The Court of Appeals expressly held in Kann v. Kann, 344 Md. 689, 510, 690 A.2d 509, 510 (1997), that “allegations of breach of fiduciary duty, in and of themselves, do not give rise to an omnibus or generic cause of action at law that is assertable against all fiduciaries.” Ever since, Maryland’s lawyers and courts have labored under the maxim that “Maryland does not recognize a separate tort action for breach of fiduciary duty.” Int’l Brotherhood of Teamsters v. Willis Corroon Corp., 369 Md. 724, 727 n.1, 802 A.2d 1050, 1051 n.1 (2002) (dictum). Yet, since Kann, lawyers have sought and courts have granted and affirmed relief for breaches of required standards of conduct in various fiduciary relationships. See, e.g., Shenker v. Laureate Education, Inc., 411 Md. 317, 983 A.2d 408 (2009) (corporate directors and minority shareholders); Della Ratta v. Larkin, 382 Md. 553 (2004) (general partner and limited partners); Ins. Co. v. Miller, 362 Md. 361, 765 A.2d 587 (2001) (insurance company and agent of company). With its recent decision in Plank v. Cherneski, Misc. No. 3, Sept. Term 2019 (Md., July 14, 2020) (“Slip Op. at ___”), the Court of Appeals, after exhaustively surveying and scrutinizing relevant Maryland state and federal decisions in the 23 years since Kann, has exposed the emptiness of the maxim rejecting a generic cause of action for breach of fiduciary duty. Despite the 23 year wait, however, Judge Booth’s 79-page unanimous opinion for the court leaves no suspense for the end, stating on page 2:

This Court recognizes an independent cause of action for breach of fiduciary duty. To establish a breach of fiduciary duty, a plaintiff must demonstrate: (1) the existence of a fiduciary relationship; (2) breach of the duty owed by the fiduciary to the beneficiary; and (3) harm to the beneficiary.

Slip Op. at 2.[1]
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