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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.

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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…

Twombly-Iqbal “Plausibility” and Maryland’s Pleading Requirements

Kamil Ismail Guest contributor

In a pair of decisions from 2007 and 2009, the Supreme Court of the United States established what has become known as the Twombly-Iqbal standard for a federal complaint to state a claim. With Twombly-Iqbal now entrenched in federal court, practitioners may be wondering whether that standard’s “plausibility” requirement also applies to complaints in state court. A better question, though, may be whether such a requirement was ever lacking in state court. Read More…

Fourth Circuit Weighs “Exceptional Importance” and Possible En Banc Hearing on Travel Ban 2.0

By Derek Stikeleather

President Trump’s revised “travel ban,” which targets six predominantly Muslim nations, has drawn intense media scrutiny and legal challenges across the nation. The proceedings in the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Hawaii and Washington, have garnered the lion’s share of the media spotlight. But proceedings here in the Fourth Circuit may yield the first substantive appellate court decision on the travel ban’s constitutionality.

As often happens in high-profile appeals, unusual procedural questions have also arisen. Last week, the Fourth Circuit received briefing, which it had ordered from the parties just days earlier, “on the appropriateness of initial en banc review” by the entire court. This is atypical for many reasons. Read More…

Bd. of Liquor License Comm’rs for Balt. City v. Kougl: “But I didn’t know there was prostitution at my adult entertainment club.”

By Brad McCullough

In the film classic Casablanca, Captain Renault claimed he was “shocked – shocked – to find gambling going on” in Rick’s café. Similarly, in a case recently decided by the Court of Appeals of Maryland, Steven Kougl was shocked that prostitution was being solicited in his adult entertainment establishment, The Club Harem. But the court found it unnecessary to pass on the credibility of Kougl’s claims of innocence and lack of knowledge, holding that liquor board regulations made him strictly liable for the illicit activities at his club. Bd. of Liquor License Comm’rs for Balt. City v. Kougl, No. 43, Sept. Term, 2016 (Feb. 17, 2017).

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Fourth Circuit delves into the conundrum of willfulness

By Stuart Berman
Guest contributor

Veteran federal prosecutors and defense lawyers can pretty much recite in their sleep the standard jury instructions defining “knowingly” and “willfully.” In the commonly used Modern Federal Jury Instructions, knowingly means “to act voluntarily and deliberately, rather than mistakenly or inadvertently. A person acts knowingly if he acts intentionally and voluntarily, and not because of ignorance, mistake, accident, or carelessness.” Willfully means “to act knowingly and purposely, with an intent to do something the law forbids; that is to say, with bad purpose either to disobey or to disregard the law.” Simple enough, right? Read More…

Mitchell v. MVA: The Court of Appeals’ Reluctant Engagement with the Public Forum Doctrine

By Alan Sternstein

Braving to step into the “Stygian swamp that envelops the public forum doctrine,” Slip Op. at 19, the Court of Appeals in Mitchell v. Maryland Motor Vehicle Admin., 450 Md. 282, 148 A.3d 319 (2016) (“Mitchell”), successfully emerges from the swamp but leaves its way out as murky as the swamp it dared to enter. The Court affirmed the decision of the Court of Special Appeals, which, in turn, affirmed the Circuit Court’s judicial review of an Administrative Law Judge’s determination to uphold an action of the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (“MVA”). That action revoked vehicle license plates issued to the Appellant and bearing the Spanish word “MIERDA,” whose primary English meaning is the expletive “shit.” Heeding public forum analysis, though not without periodic pause, the Court’s opinion adopts essentially the reasoning of the Court of Special Appeals and holds that state-issued license plates are a nonpublic forum. Slip Op. at 2, 22. Consequently, MVA’s action passed muster under the standard discussed below and applicable to determining the constitutionality of government limitations on speech and expression in nonpublic forums. Read More…

Fourth Circuit invalidates police department’s social-networking policy as an impermissible prior restraint on speech

By Jonathan Biran

On December 15, in Liverman v. City of Petersburg, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued an interesting opinion dealing with public-employee speech in the digital age. In a unanimous opinion written by Judge Wilkinson (and joined by Judge Traxler and USDJ Hendricks), the Court sided resoundingly with two Petersburg (Virginia) police officers disciplined for having violated the social-networking policy of their Department by criticizing it in posted Facebook comments.

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Fourth Circuit Proves Infertile Ground for Heller Expansion

By Stuart Berman
Guest contributor

In its 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller[1], the Supreme Court revolutionized Second Amendment jurisprudence by holding unconstitutional the District of Columbia’s ban on possession of handguns in the home, as well as its requirement that all firearms in the home be stored in a manner that rendered them inoperable for immediate self‑defense. When the Court subsequently held in McDonald v. City of Chicago[2] that the Second Amendment applied to state and local governments, some observers predicted a string of decisions invalidating firearms prohibitions. Because the five states in the Fourth Circuit are home to a large population of firearms owners, and several of those states have loosened gun restrictions and even permitted “open carry” of weapons, firearms advocates had reason to hope the Fourth Circuit might to take the lead in reading Heller expansively. As a recent decision demonstrates, however, those hopes have not been fulfilled.

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Fourth Circuit asks only if arbitrators did their job – not if they did it well

By Brad McCullough

The Fourth Circuit recently reminded us that “[t]he scope of judicial review of an arbitration award ‘is among the narrowest known at law.’” UBS Fin. Servs., Inc. v. Padussis, slip op. at 6, No. 15-2148 (4th Cir. Nov. 22, 2016) (citation omitted). When reviewing arbitrators’ decisions, reviewing courts ask only “whether the arbitrators did the job they were told to do – not whether they did it well, or correctly, or reasonably, but simply whether they did it.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted) (citation omitted). A disgruntled UBS Financial Services likely wanted to borrow a phrase from Johnny Paycheck and tell the arbitrators to “take this job and shove it,” but its attempt to obtain relief from the arbitration decision fell on deaf judicial ears.[1]

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