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Death of adult with Down syndrome shows difference between federal and Maryland interlocutory appeals

By Michael Wein

A Washington Post article dated September 13, 2017, discussed the upcoming oral arguments and the expectation was that it could “takes months” for a decision, in the death of Robert Ethan Saylor, an adult with Down Syndrome, who after refusing to leave a movie theater, to watch a second showing of Zero Dark Thirty, lead to his tragic death by sheriff deputies in Frederick, Maryland. The Fourth Circuit didn’t think months were necessary, and in a one-page opinion, two weeks later, affirmed Federal Judge William Nickerson’s 65-page decision finding genuine disputes of material facts. Read More…

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The End of Frye-Reed

By Derek Stikeleather

Maryland’s Frye-Reed era appears to be ending. Last month, in Savage v. State,[1] the Court of Appeals handed down a significant decision on “the proper scope for the threshold evaluation of expert scientific evidence” under Maryland’s “Frye–Reed” test. Although the Frye-Reed test, as originally envisioned, would preclude only opinions based on novel scientific methodologies that were not “generally accepted as reliable within the expert’s particular scientific field,”[2] its scope has greatly expanded in recent decades. The Savage opinion highlights that Frye-Reed now precludes opinions, even those based on methodologies that are both (1) not novel and (2) generally accepted, if the reasoning behind the opinion is simply unreliable. Under Savage, the Frye-Reed inquiry requires trial judges—regardless of whether the expert’s underlying methodology is well-established and valid—to examine “whether the expert bridged the ‘analytical gap’ between accepted science and his ultimate conclusion in a particular case.”

How did we get here and where are we headed? Read More…

Benisek v. Lamone – an End Run for No Gain in Redistricting Challenges?

By Alan B. Sternstein

A three-judge panel of the federal district court for Maryland recently concluded another round in the longstanding legal fight over the state’s 2011 congressional redistricting plan and, in particular, the plan’s restructuring of Maryland’s Sixth Congressional District. In a 2-1 decision, the panel denied plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction against use of the redistricting plan in the upcoming 2018 midterm congressional elections. Benisek v. Lamone, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 136208 (Aug. 24, 2017) (“Benisek II”).[1] In Benisek v. Lamone sub nom. Shapiro v. McManus, 203 F. Supp. 3d 579 (D. Md. 2016) (“Benisek I”), the same district court panel denied defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ second amended complaint. Read More…

Clear and present danger: An abused spouse can hire a contract killer and argue imperfect self-defense.

By Brad McCullough

When is a threat of mortal harm so imminent that a preemptive attack is justified or at least understandable? No, this is not a discussion of the nuclear threat posed by North Korea and the possibility of preemptive military action by the Trump administration. Instead, this is a look at the recent decision of the Court of Appeals in Porter v. State, No. 88, Sept. Term, 2016 (Md. Aug. 7, 2017), a murder case involving battered spouse syndrome and imperfect self-defense. This is a very interesting case, made even more interesting by how the members of the Court split. We sometimes see appellate courts split along liberal versus conservative lines, or between Democratic appointees and Republican appointees. But here, the Court split along gender lines, with the four female judges forming the majority and the three male judges in dissent. And that split reflected diametrically opposed views of what constitutes a threat of imminent harm. To the majority, a threat of inevitable harm can constitute a threat of imminent harm. But to the dissent, only a contemporaneous threat can constitute imminent harm. Read More…

Judge Niemeyer’s dissent is the real headline in Maryland political gerrymandering case

By Steve Klepper (Twitter: @MDAppeal)

Today, a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland stayed proceedings in Maryland’s political gerrymandering case, Benisek v. Lamone, pending the Supreme Court’s decision in the Wisconsin political gerrymandering case, Gill v. Whitford. The real headline, though, is Fourth Circuit Judge Paul Niemeyer’s dissent, which could have real implications for Gill. Read More…

A Procedurally Unusual En Banc Opinion from the Fourth Circuit

By Steve Klepper (Twitter: @MDAppeal)

Last Friday, in United States v. Chamberlain, the Fourth Circuit issued a unanimous en banc opinion overruling its precedents on “the pretrial restraint of a defendant’s innocent property pursuant to the federal criminal forfeiture statute.” The ruling was not a surprise, in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Luis v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 1083 (2016).

But the ruling was a procedural oddity. Read More…

Marking #WomanJusticeDay in Maryland

By Steve Klepper (Twitter: @MDAppeal)

Over at the Twitter machine, Tracey Heinhold (@theinhold), Jack Metzler (@SCOTUSPlaces), and others are posting today with the hashtag #WomanJusticeDay to recognize the 126 women serving on states’ highest courts. Maryland is among the 11 states with female-majority supreme courts. The current female majority on the Court of Appeals of Maryland is four-to-three; it was briefly five-to-two before the retirement of Judge Lynne Battaglia.

Coincidentally, Steve Lash (@Steve_Lash) notes, from behind the paywall at The Daily Record, that the Court of Appeals “split along gender lines” this week in Porter v. State.  Read More…

With All Administrative Speed

By Steve Klepper (Twitter: @MDAppeal)

The June 21 opinion of the Court of Appeals of Maryland in National Waste Managers, Inc. v. Forks of the Patxuent Improvement Association illustrates a serious problem with judicial review of state administrative decisions. The process takes a long time, often to accomplish very little. Read More…

Court of Appeals leaves unanswered how no-contest clauses reduced four decades of estates and trusts case law

By Michael Wein

Maryland estates and trusts law does not get its fair share of reported appellate decisions. The vast majority of estates and trusts cases are handled quickly and adroitly by the orphans’ court or, in some counties, the circuit court. Few cases are seriously litigated on appeal, and even fewer are decided by the Maryland appellate courts. A survey reveals that only 2 out of the 97 cert petitions granted by the Court of Appeals in the 2016 term fell under the category of “Estates and Trusts.”[1] In 2015, there were none.[2]

One of the two Court of Appeals cases from the 2016 term, Vito v. Grueff, was heard at oral argument on March 31, 2017. Vito highlights the lack of wills and estates case law in Maryland.

Read More…

The Final Judgment Rule: It ain’t over ’til it’s over

By Karen Federman Henry

Just when you think you know all of the rules for determining when a final judgment exists, they shift a bit.[*] The March 24 decision of the Court of Appeals in URS Corp. v. Fort Myer Construction Corporation interpreted the separate document requirement in Md. Rule 2-601 to allow a waiver of the requirement when doing so does not prejudice a party and preserves a party’s right to appeal. In some respects, the Court has returned us to some of the uncertainty that accompanied its decision in Houghton v. County Commissioners of Kent County, 305 Md. 407 (1986).

The elements of a final judgment sound simple—when all of the issues have been decided and the parties are effectively “out of court,” the time to appeal starts to run. Read More…