Archive | Policy & Procedure RSS for this section

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.

Read More…

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?

Read More…

Congress Considers Creating New Federal Appellate Seats, and the Usual Political Arguments Emerge.

By John Grimm

The House Judiciary Committee recently held a hearing to consider creating additional federal judgeships, including the addition of new appellate-court seats.[1] The hearing revealed bipartisan concern that rising caseloads—and the growing backlogs they produce—threaten litigants’ access to the courthouse. At the appellate level, courts have grappled with increasing workloads by giving more power to staff attorneys to manage low-profile cases. Witnesses also cited curtailed oral arguments and a proliferation of unpublished decisions as casualties of appellate court overload.

Read More…

The Singular “They” Reaches the White House, But Not the Appellate Courts

By Steve Klepper (Twitter: @MDAppeal)

Within hours of his inauguration, President Biden signed his Executive Order on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation. The Executive Order began:

Every person should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear, no matter who they are or whom they love. Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports. Adults should be able to earn a living and pursue a vocation knowing that they will not be fired, demoted, or mistreated because of whom they go home to or because how they dress does not conform to sex-based stereotypes. People should be able to access healthcare and secure a roof over their heads without being subjected to sex discrimination. All persons should receive equal treatment under the law, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation.

Focus on the first sentence. It uses the singular “they,” instead of “he or she,” to refer to an indeterminate person. That’s no coincidence in an order addressing discrimination based on gender identity.

The phrase “he or she” rests on the erroneous assumption that everyone is either a “he” or a “she.” Non-binary individuals do not identify as men or women. The easy fix is to write in plain English and use the singular “they,” just like the White House does.

I’ve written on this issue before—urging judges to abandon “he or she” and expressly embrace the singular “they” (in the same way they endorsed the “cleaned up” parenthetical). My proposal made no headway, so far as I can tell. The phrase “he or she” continues to appear regularly in Maryland appellate opinions. In the words of Arlo Guthrie, however, “I’m not proud … or tired.”

Read More…

Can Maryland Courts Affirm Summary Judgment on Alternative Grounds?

By Derek Stikeleather

Law is complicated. I often need to remind myself that, if law was easy to understand and apply, no one would need attorneys. To efficiently analyze legal problems and resolve cases, courts and practitioners naturally rely on general legal rules and principles. Such analytical shortcuts are invaluable—when they fit the case—because they provide clear, correct guidance. But for any general legal rule, the proverbial devil is not so much in the details as in the exceptions to the rule.

Practitioners must be able to not only recognize and recite general legal rules but also identify each rule’s limits to know when to ask appellate courts to reject the general rule and apply an exception. This article examines one general rule that shapes Maryland appeals from orders entering summary judgment: Do not affirm summary judgment on grounds different from those the trial court relied on.

Maryland’s appellate courts are quick to cite the general rule that they will not affirm summary judgment on grounds that differ from the trial court’s reasons. The general rule aligns with the principle of limiting appellate courts to reviewing final judgments rather than preempting trial courts and creating their own alternative final judgments. The reasoning holds that if a trial court improperly granted summary judgment, any alternative basis for summary judgment should initially be resolved by the trial court. Affirming summary judgment on alternative grounds would effectively end a plaintiff’s case without an affirmed adverse ruling from the trial court.

Read More…

Maryland’s COA and COSA should become SCOA and COGA

By Steve Klepper (Twitter: @MDAppeal)

Before COVID cut the 2020 Session short, the Maryland General Assembly was once again considering a constitutional amendment to change our highest court’s name from the Court of Appeals of Maryland to the Supreme Court of Maryland. As for our intermediate appellate court, the Court of Special Appeals, proponents were considering one of two alternatives—the Maryland Appellate Court or the Appellate Court of Maryland. The name-change movement appeared to be gaining real traction, and I would expect to see renewed proposals.  

The legal historian in me likes the link to the Court of Appeals’ storied past, just like I love the judges’ red robes. But the name is confusing. In nearly all states, the highest court is called the “Supreme Court of [state],” and the intermediate appellate court is called the “Court of Appeals of [state].” Those names are descriptive and intuitive.

Our courts’ names, while nowhere near as confusing as New York’s, are confusing to Marylanders and non-Marylanders alike. There’s nothing intuitive about a system where we call our highest court the Court of Appeals and our intermediate court the Court of Special Appeals. I often have to remind my clients (lawyers and laypeople alike) which court is which. My very first post on this blog collected instances of Maryland federal courts accidentally referring to the Court of Appeals as the Maryland Supreme Court. And when I Tweet about Maryland appeals, I usually refer to the Court of Appeals as the “Maryland high court,” largely to avoid confusion.

But I have concerns about the proposed names, as a matter of practice and historical continuity. My proposal would be to rename them as follows:

  • The Supreme Court of Appeals of Maryland
  • The Court of General Appeals of Maryland
Read More…

Appellate Courts’ “Undying Appreciation” for Useful Record Extracts

By Steve Klepper (Twitter: @MDAppeal)

Maryland Court of Appeals Judge Robert McDonald is known for thorough, scholarly opinions, which earned him the MSBA Section of Litigation’s Harrell Award for Judicial Excellence in 2019. He is not known for hyperbole. As a result, this footnote in one of his recent opinions, MVA v. Geppert, was striking:

In presenting the relevant materials to us, the parties have distributed them over four separate appendices and a copy of the record extract that was filed in the intermediate appellate court. This suggests that there may have been a lack of cooperation between counsel. We will not attempt to assign blame for this situation and, in any event, we have reviewed the original record for purposes of this opinion. We simply note that future litigants will earn the undying appreciation of an appellate court if they can successfully consolidate relevant materials from the record in an agreed-upon record extract, as encouraged by Maryland Rule 8-501.

When Judge McDonald says litigants have an opportunity to earn an appellate court’s undying appreciation, he means it. And if you attend continuing legal education events where Maryland appellate judges speak, you’ll hear strong opinions from the judges regarding the record extract (our state-practice equivalent of the Joint Appendix). When I lectured alongside appellate judges in conjunction with the release of the fifth edition of Appellate Practice for the Maryland Lawyer, the judges often would perk up when I discussed the record extract.

Below I’ll address six key ways that advocates can make record extracts more helpful to appellate judges.

Read More…

“This is the Way”— A Practical Roadmap Towards Constitutional Electoral College and Redistricting Reform.

By Michael Wein

Following last week’s election results, with Pennsylvania and Arizona decided and declared by all media outlets, President-Elect Joseph Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris’ will be Inaugurated on January 20, 2021.  Considering the divisiveness of the 2020 election, it is unsurprising there has been significant online discussion of the present Electoral College system.   This is also unsurprising, as two of the last six Presidential elections have gone to the candidate who did not win the popular vote nationwide. Two pending Federal Circuit Court of Appeals cases are strong Certiorari candidates to the Supreme Court, tackling Electoral College reform not through a transition to popular vote, but rather, a more accurate transition to the traditional Congressional District allocation method approved by Framers such as James Madison, and currently employed only in Maine and Nebraska.

Read More…

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:

Read More…

The Singular “They” in Legal Writing

By Steve Klepper (Twitter: @MDAppeal)

There are few writing conventions as cumbersome as “he or she.” It’s not natural English. If you were to see the silhouette of a backlit person on the street, would you ask, “Who is he or she?” Or, like a normal person, would you ask, “Who are they?”

Nevertheless, teachers and professors drilled into me that the singular “they” was barbarism. The one exception was a common phrase like “to each their own,” because “to each his or her own” was an awkward bridge too far. “He or she” was necessary to be both inclusive and grammatically correct, even as writing otherwise moved in the direction of natural language.

This issue arises frequently in legal writing, which often involves discussions about a hypothetical individual, such as the “reasonable person.” I’ve used tricks to avoid the “he or she” problem. “If a Marylander wishes to apply for a license, he or she must first do X,” easily becomes “If Marylanders wish to apply for licenses, they must first do X.” But that work-around can be awkward, especially when overused.

It’s also a cop out. My family (traditional and chosen) includes non-binary people who use they/them pronouns. It’s important to non-binary people that we use their correct pronouns. It can cause them genuine distress to insist on using binary pronouns.

I’m sure some will read this post and cry “political correctness!” When it comes to legal writing, however, it’s a matter of legal correctness. Read More…