By Michael Wein
Appealable final judgments have been described as a legal quagmire that for “the past forty or fifty years … no one issue has been the subject of more opinions than the question of whether a trial court order is appealable …” Brewster v. Woodhaven Bldg. & Dev. Inc., 360 Md. 602, 623 (2000). Going further, the Court of Appeals noted “[n]either the Code nor the Rules define when an order or ruling is sufficiently final to qualify as a judgment…’[W]hether a ruling is final’ … is frequently so close a question that decision of that issue either way can be supported with equally forceful arguments, and that it is impossible to devise a formula to resolve all marginal cases coming within what might well be called the ‘twilight zone’ of finality”) Circuit City Stores, Inc. v. Rockville Pike Joint Venture Ltd. P’ship, 376 Md. 331, 347 (2003), quoting in part, Gillespie v. United States Steel Corp., 379 U.S. 148, 152 (1964)). The solution for the “marginal” and/or inadvertent non-final judgment cases being actually decided on the merits by the Maryland appellate courts, with reasonable continuing predictability for the vast majority of appeals that do not have these concerns, may be found in a Federal Rule and legal interpretation, and recent developments support a similar Rules adoption. Read More…
At noon today, the Court of Appeals of Maryland hit a major milestone. For the fourth straight year, the Court of Appeals met its case management standard of deciding every single case in the same term in which it was argued. By August 31 of each year, the Court of Appeals issues its opinion in every case argued since September 1 of the previous year. This standard was the first major reform that Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera announced when she took over as Chief Judge in 2013. At the time, the Court had just issued multiple opinions that had taken years to decide. Four years later, Chief Judge Barbera is now four-for-four.
By Michael Wein
The Maryland judiciary website posted last Wednesday about the Syed case guidelines for the public and news media interested in attending oral arguments. As noted in the detailed order by new Chief Judge Patrick Woodward, oral arguments are being held in Courtroom 1 on the second floor of the Courts of Appeal Building in Annapolis (the larger of the two courtrooms regularly used by the Court of Special Appeals). Courthouse security is taking significant protections against recording devices, and limited seating is being provided to the public and media.
This post is not about the Syed case, specifically. But the circumstances of the Syed oral arguments expose a lack of proper public access to any of the intermediate appellate court’s oral arguments, in noted contrast with the Court of Appeals. Syed is quite obviously a highlighted, media-interest case, which poses an opportunity to discuss what procedures Maryland’s intermediate appellate court should consider, in at least the future, to accommodate public interest in specific, important oral arguments.
British playwright Noel Coward memorably observed that coming across a footnote is like going downstairs to answer the doorbell while making love. Although this quip has left my mind’s eye with an image it can’t un-see every time I consider dropping a footnote, it has not banished footnotes from my legal writing. But the vivid quote and a recent Maryland federal-court opinion have prompted me to consider more carefully when and when not to use footnotes.
By Michael Wein
In a report released online on Wednesday, the Maryland Rules Committee recommended to the Maryland Court of Appeals that attorneys be no longer prohibited from advertising themselves as “specialists.” This was proposed as an amendment to Rule 19-307.4, Communication of Fields of Practice. (If you’ve never heard of Chapter 19, which now incorporates the Maryland Lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct (MLRPC), you’re in good company, as the reorganization only took effect on July 1.) A briefing on why this change has been suggested can be found in my previous extensive write-up two years ago on this Blog.
By Michael Wein
One of the consequences of the greater availability and ubiquity of legal opinions online is that authors can directly hyperlink to sources, including other online decisions, and thus provide immediate access to the source material. This has led to the unintended consequence of “link rot” in appellate decisions — that is, the inclusion of links that are no longer valid. As noted in a 2013 New York Times article, at that time, 49 percent of links in online U.S. Supreme Court decisions were inoperative.
Although the Court of Appeals of Maryland’s Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure meets regularly, and the Court routinely considers proposed changes to the Maryland Rules, their activities impact the appellate rules with less frequency than a blue moon.* In September, however, the Court of Appeals adopted a number of modifications to the appellate rules that will apply to practitioners beginning January 1, 2016.
Update (9/8/2015): I have since learned that the grant in Davis v. Stapf was not an “own motion” grant. Rather, before the Court of Special Appeals filed its opinion, the plaintiff filed a petition asking the Court of Appeals to consider Davis v. Stapf along with a similar case (Manal Kiriakos v. Brandon Phillips, Case No. 20, September Term, 2015) where certiorari was granted in March. Still, it remains interesting that the Davis v. Stapf opinion prompted the Court of Appeals to grant certiorari outside of its normal conference schedule.
Yesterday saw unusual and fast action by the Court of Appeals of Maryland in a major case on liability for serving alcohol to minors. In an August 26 opinion in Davis v. Stapf, the Court of Special Appeals ruled against the estate of a 17-year-old passenger killed in an auto accident following a party. The decedent, who riding in the bed of a pickup truck, and the 22-year-old driver were both intoxicated. The panel majority (in an opinion by Judge Graeff and joined by Chief Judge Krauser) found that the party’s host, who served the minor alcohol in violation of Criminal Law § 10-117(b), owed no statutory duty of care to the minor that could result in tort liability. Judge Nazarian concurred, believing that the fact the minor was not the driver cut the chain of causation.
In the past 10 years, Maryland’s appellate courts have labored to get the message to practitioners that Md. Rule 8-414 (“[o]n motion or on its own initiative, the appellate court may order that an error or omission in the record be corrected”) is not a way for a party to get stuff into the appellate record that wasn’t presented to the lower court. This conclusion, firmly articulated in Beyond Sys., Inc. v. Realtime Gaming Holding Co., LLC, 388 Md. 1, 10 n. 9 (2005), has been reiterated in a handful of opinions since — including Li v. Lee, 210 Md. App. 73, 94-96 (2013), which explained that even evidence created after the lower-court proceedings are over can’t be added to the record via Rule 8-414. Basically, if it wasn’t in front of the lower court, it’s not an 8-414 error or omission in the record, because it’s not supposed to be in the record.