Monday, July 19, 2021

Maryland Courts Refuse to Allow Non-Economic Damages for Pets

 Anne Arundel Cty. v. Reeves, No. 68, 2021 Md. LEXIS 259 (June 7, 2021)

    Recently, the Court of Appeals of Maryland held that an owner of a beloved pet may not recover for non-economic damages such as mental anguish or the loss of companionship.

    In 2014, Officer Rodney Price was investigating a string of burglaries in Anne Arundel County when he was allegedly attacked by Michael Reeves’ dog, Vern. As a result, Officer Price shot Vern and caused his death.

    The Reeves’ ("dog owners") filed suit against Anne Arundel County and Officer Price for trespass to chattel, violation of Reeves’ constitutional rights for the unlawful shooting and seizure of Vern, and gross negligence. The jury in trial court decided that Officer Price did commit trespass to chattel, violated both constitutional rights regarding the unlawful shooting and unlawful seizure of Vern, and was grossly negligent. However, the jury decided not to award any damages for the violations of constitutional rights but did award a total of $1,250,000 in economic and non-economic damages for gross negligence. Additionally, the jury awarded $10,000 in economic damages for the claim of trespass to chattel.

    The circuit court decided to amend the amount in damages by reducing the award for trespass to chattel to $7,500 due to the limit set by Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 11-110 and decided to reduce the gross negligence award to $200,000. Afterward, the Court of Special Appeals held that CJP § 11-110 does not limit the amount of Reeves’ damages.

    The Court of Appeals decided damages are limited to $7,500 after reviewing the plain meaning and legislative history of CJP § 11-110. Because the statute defines compensatory damages as the fair market value of the pet and the reasonable and necessary cost of veterinary care, the Court of Appeals decided that meant damages were limited to these costs. Furthermore, the Court determined that the use of the word “means” indicates the list provided was complete and not illustrative.

    Additionally, the refusal to pass bills that amended the statute to allow for recovery of non-economic damages also indicated the General Assembly’s desire to limit compensatory damages. Therefore, the Court of Appeals decided to reverse the decision by the Court of Special Appeals.

    On the other hand, the dissenting opinion by Judge Hotten indicates that the majority erred in its decision to limit damages for the loss/injury of pets. Judge Hotten recognized the connection between pets and humans and how other states have protected this relationship by allowing non-economic damages for the loss/injury of pets. Judge Hotten points out the idiosyncrasy of no limit on compensatory damages on all other types of property except pets. As Judge Hotten states, a person can kill “a beloved family dog…and pay no more than $10,000 in damages” while a liar who “tricks a family into selling a painting…would face uncapped…damages.”

    This decision shows how Maryland courts still limit the amount in damages that can be recovered for the loss/injury of a pet, but Judge Hotten indicates how the value of pets in society has changed and how the courts should follow suit.

-Jocelyn Wang, Summer Associate

Monday, July 12, 2021

RSRM Welcomes Associate Towanda Luckett!

Mrs. Luckett graduated from the University of Baltimore School of Law in 2016, and graduated from University of Maryland Global Campus, formally University of Maryland University College, in 2011 with an MBA degree. 

While attending law school, Mrs. Luckett completed a summer semester abroad, studying Comparative Civil Liberties in Haifa, Israel. She was also a Rule 16, Student Attorney with the Juvenile Justice Project where she assisted juvenile offenders serving life prison sentences in preparing for parole hearings. Mrs. Luckett was employed as a paralegal by the University of Baltimore Innocence Project Clinic, while earning her Juris Doctorate as an evening student. 

Following law school, Mrs. Luckett worked as an Honors law clerk for the Office of the State's Attorney for Baltimore City in the Homicide Division. After being promoted, Mrs. Luckett served as an Assistant State's Attorney, prosecuting a variety of cases in the Juvenile, District and Circuit Courts, and concluded her tenure in the Special Victims Unit. 

In her leisure, Mrs. Luckett enjoys traveling with her husband, cooking, watching crime dramas, reading, cheering on the Baltimore Ravens, and spending time with her nieces and nephews. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Governor Hogan Appoints New Judges to Baltimore, and Carroll Counties

 Governor Larry Hogan recently announced multiple new judicial appointments to the Baltimore County District Court as well as the Circuit Court for Carroll County.


Judge Krystin Richardson was appointed to the Baltimore County District Court. Prior to her appointment, she served as an administrative law judge with the Office of Administrative Hearings since 2018, and prior to working as an ALJ, she served as an Assistant State’s Attorney in Baltimore County. Judge Richardson obtained her B.A. from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and her J.D. from the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law.


Judge Susan Zellweger, also appointed to the Baltimore County District Court, received her B.A. from the University of Delaware and her J.D. from the University of Baltimore School of Law. She served as a judicial law clerk to the Honorable Alfred L. Brennan in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, and has worked as a public defender in Baltimore County since 1998.


Governor Hogan appointed Brian DeLeonardo to the Circuit Court for Carroll County. He obtained his B.S. from Towson University and his J.D. from the University of Baltimore School of Law. He began his career serving as a law clerk for the Honorable Charles E. Moylan, Jr. in the Court of Special Appeals, followed by working as an Assistant State’s Attorney in Carroll County. Judge DeLeonardo also worked with the Office of the Attorney General and served as managing partner of DeLeonardo, Smith & Associates handling criminal and civil matters. Since 2014 until his appointment, he served as the State’s Attorney for Carroll County.

 

Congratulations to Maryland’s new judges!

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

A Preliminary Decision from the Maryland Insurance Administration Does Not Constitute A “Final Decision” For the Purposes of Collateral Estoppel

 David Boyd, et ux. v. The Goodman-Gable-Gould Company, No. 2139, September Term 2019. Opinion by Eyler, James R., J.

    After a fire destroyed the home of David Boyd and Penny Coco-Boyd (collectively “the Boyds”) in 2016, they gave notice of their loss to their homeowners’ insurer, State Farm Fire and Casualty Company (“State Farm”). The Boyds subsequently engaged the services of Goodman-Gable-Gould Co. (“GGG”), a public adjuster, to adjust their claim with State Farm. A public adjuster is an independent insurance professional that a policyholder may hire to help settle an insurance claim in exchange for a percentage of any proceeds collected on the policyholder’s behalf.

    The Boyds eventually became dissatisfied with GGG’s services and filed a complaint against GGG with the Maryland Insurance Administration (“MIA”), alleging that GGG engaged in fraudulent and dishonest practices, displayed incompetence, and wrongfully withheld monies. The MIA ultimately issued a preliminary decision in favor of GGG. Although the Boyds were entitled to challenge the Commissioner’s preliminary decision under Maryland Code Ann., Insurance § 2-210, the Boyds elected not to request an administrative hearing to contest that determination.

    While the MIA complaint was pending, the Boyds initiated a declaratory judgment action in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, seeking a declaration that they had a right to terminate their contract. In response, GGG moved for summary judgment on the basis that, since the Boyds did not file an administrative appeal within thirty (30) days, the preliminary decision issued by the MIA became a “final decision.” According to GGG, the Boyds were collaterally estopped from pursuing their claims in the circuit court since they pursued claims premised on the same core facts before the MIA. The court agreed with GGG and held that, since the Boyds chose not to contest the MIA’s preliminary decision in favor of GGG, the Boyds had been afforded “every opportunity to pursue their claims” administratively and were estopped from doing so in the circuit court.

    In reviewing the circuit court’s ruling on appeal, the Court of Special Appeals cited to Baston v. Shiflett, 325 Md. 684, 705 (1992), which held that “the decision of an administrative agency may have preclusive effect if the agency decision was the product of a quasi-judicial proceeding.” In making that determination, the Court employed a three-part test for deciding the preclusive effect of agency decisions. An agency decision can have preclusive effect if: (1) the agency acted in a judicial capacity; (2) the issue presented to the fact finder in the second proceeding was fully litigated before the agency; and (3) resolution of the issue was necessary for the agency’s decision. Exxon Corp. v. Fischer, 807 F.2d 842, 845-46 (9th Cir. 1987) (citing Batson, 325 Md. at 701).

    The Court next looked to Md. Code Ann., Ins. § 2-214(a), which provides that the MIA Commissioner acts in a quasi-judicial manner when holding a hearing on a challenge to its preliminary decision. In this case, since the Boyds never requested a hearing pursuant to Md. Code Ann., Ins. § 2-210, the Boyds action before the MIA never amounted to a quasi-judicial proceeding.

    Since the MIA Commissioner’s preliminary determination in favor of GGG was not deemed to be a “judicial proceeding,” the three-part Baston test was not satisfied, and the Court held that the Boyds were not collaterally estopped from pursuing concurrent relief in the circuit court.

-John Thompson, Associate Attorney

Monday, June 28, 2021

Congratulations to John Thompson on his Recent Trial Win!

 


    John's client was falsely accused of running a red light, thereby causing a three-car collision. One of the drivers involved in the collision, Plaintiff, alleged injuries due to the accident. 

    Plaintiff's mother testified at trial that she arrived at the scene following the collision and heard John's client say that he was "trying to beat the light." 

    John's client and the third driver involved in the accident testified that John's client had a green light when he entered the intersection. 

    Plaintiff testified that she had not yet entered the intersection when John's client ran the red light and struck her vehicle, Plaintiff provided photographs of her vehicle, which she indicated were taken at the location of the impact. Those photographs were contradictory to Plaintiff's testimony, as her vehicle was positioned in the middle of the intersection. 

    Based on this inconsistency, the Court found John's client's version of the accident to be more credible than Plaintiff's, and therefore the Court entered judgment in favor of him. 

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Promising New Changes for Civil Litigation in Maryland

           The Maryland General Assembly has recently certified multiple proposed constitutional amendments for the November 8, 2022 ballot. These proposed amendments, if successful, will cause some major changes to civil litigation in the State of Maryland.

The Maryland General Assembly recently passed Senate Bill 670 (SB670). SB670, if successful on the ballot, will change the maximum amount in controversy in which a party can bring a civil suit without a jury trial from $15,000 to $25,000.

The bill was first read during Senate Judicial Proceedings on February 3, 2021 and in its initial reading it stated the amount in controversy as being raised to $30,000.  It was then amended in the House on April 9, 2021, and the amount in controversy was changed to $25,000. The bill then went back to the Senate and was passed on April 12, 2021 with the House Amendment. The bill was then enacted under Article II, Section 17(c) of the Maryland Constitution – Chapter 598 on May 30, 2021. It is now certified to appear on the Maryland Ballot on November 8, 2022 as a constitutional amendment.

This proposed amendment will have a large impact on civil litigation in Maryland if it succeeds. By raising the amount in controversy in which parties may sue without a jury trial, there may be a reduction in the number of civil jury trials, and an increased amount of bench trials. This would alleviate some of the burden on both the Maryland Courts and the parties to civil litigation as jury trials are often more time consuming and costly as compared to bench trials. The change will mean that only parties to litigation with an amount in controversy over $25,000 may demand a jury trial.

In addition to SB670, the upcoming November 8, 2022 ballot will contain a vote regarding name changes to both of Maryland’s Superior Courts. Currently Maryland’s initial appeals court is named the Maryland Court of Special Appeals and Maryland’s Superior Court is named the Maryland Court of Appeals. The proposed changes would change the Maryland Court of Special Appeals’ name to the Appellate Court of Maryland and change the Maryland Court of Appeals’ name to the Supreme Court of Maryland. Chief Judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals Mary Ellen Barbera stated that the current Court names have caused “confusion from beyond the borders of our state as lawyers, law students and litigants research, contact and even file papers with the wrong court. That same confusion persists among Marylanders.”[i] The proposed name change will ideally alleviate the confusion that Chief Judge Barbera addresses.  

As we approach the November 8, 2022 ballot, it will be important to watch for these proposed changes and how they affect the future of civil litigation in Maryland.


-Kari Martiniano, Law Clerk



[i] Danielle E. Gaines, General Assembly Passes Bill to Rename Maryland’s Top Court, Maryland Matters (April 6, 2021), https://www.marylandmatters.org/blog/general-assembly-passes-bill-to-rename-marylands-top-court/.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Congratulations to Two Associates on their Recent Trial Wins!


Congratulations to Associate Benjamin Beasley on his recent jury trial win! Mr. Beasley's client was falsely blamed for causing an accident. The plaintiff claimed that his truck was pushed and forced off the side of the road while Mr. Beasley's client was allegedly involved in street racing. At the time of the incident, Mr. Beasley's client was driving a rental vehicle in the area of the accident that matched the description of the purportedly at-fault vehicle. Mr. Beasley's client adamantly denied any involvement in the alleged accident. 

A witness claimed to have witnessed the event and took photographs of the at-fault vehicle. At the time of the lawsuit, however, both the witness and the plaintiff "lost" the photos. 

At trial, Mr. Beasley highlighted glaring inconsistencies in the witness' and the plaintiff's version of events, as well as perceived biases on the part of the witness. Mr. Beasley corroborated his wrongfully accused client's version of events with business records and testimony from the rental car company that showed that there was no damage to the rental vehicle when it was inspected and ultimately returned and that the tags on the rental car did not match the witness' description of the at-fault vehicle. 

The jury deliberated for nearly an hour, but ultimately returned a verdict finding that Mr. Beasley's client was not liable. 

___________________________________________________________________________________


Congratulations to Associate Ashley Bond on her recent trial win! Ms. Bond represented an insurance company who allegedly breached their contract with their insured by failing to pay uninsured motorist benefits. 

The insured, Plaintiff, contended that she was entitled to uninsured motorist benefits as she was involved in a hit-and-run accident, and she sustained injuries from that accident. 

Plaintiff, however, could not recall details of the vehicle that struck her nor the circumstances surrounding the accident. Furthermore, Plaintiff's version of events changed when she described the accident to emergency responders and medical providers. 

To make matters worse, at trial, Plaintiff testified that she saw the unidentified vehicle enter the intersection and head in her direction, yet she decided to step off the curb and cross the street at that same time. 

After a rigorous cross-examination of the Plaintiff, Ms. Bond argued that given Plaintiff's inconsistencies, Plaintiff was not credible, and even if she was, she would be contributorily negligent. 

The Court agreed with Ms. Bond and ruled in favor of the Defendant.