Justia Maryland Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

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The Court of Appeals held that where a waiver of subrogation precludes liability to an injured party, a third-party defendant does not fall within the definition of a "joint tortfeasor" under the Maryland Uniform Contribution Among Joint TortFeasors Act (UCATA), Md. Code Cts. & Jud. Proc. 3-1401, and there is no statutory right of contribution. After a fire damaged a building, the owner, Upper Rock II, LLC, sued Red Coats, Inc. Red Coats filed a third-party claim against Gables Construction, Inc. (GCI) seeking contribution under the UCATA. Prior to construction, Upper Rock and GCI entered into a contract, which included a waiver of subrogation, requiring Upper Rock to transfer all risk of loss for fire-related claims to the insurer rather than holding GCI liable. Upper Rock and Red Coats settled. GCI moved for summary judgment, arguing that because it was not liable to Upper Rock, it was not a joint tortfeasor under the UCATA. The motion was denied. A jury concluded that Red Coats was entitled to contribution from GCI. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that GCI could not be liable to Upper Rock because the waiver of subrogation prevented liability, and without liability to the injured party, the UCATA does not provide for a right to contribution. View "Gables Construction v. Red CoatsGables Construction, Inc. v. Red Coats, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals reversed the order of the circuit court invalidating, on due process grounds, an order ratifying the sale of Prime Realty's vacant property, holding that Maryland Rule 3-124(o), which allows for substituted service of process on an LLC by service on the State Department of Assessments and Taxation (SDAT), satisfies a litigant's due process rights. The Mayor and City Council of Baltimore (the City) initiated a receivership action against Prime Realty Associates, LLC when property owned by Prime Realty fell into disrepair. The City attempted to serve Prime Realty's resident agent at the address on file with SDAT. When those attempts proved unsuccessful, the City made substitute service on SDAT pursuant to Maryland Rule 3-124(o). The property was subsequently sold, and the district court ratified the sale. Thereafter, Prime Realty moved to vacate the sale, arguing that its due process rights were violated because the City did not adequately serve Prime Realty. The district court denied the motion. On appeal, the circuit court vacated the sale of the property, holding that Prime Realty's due process were violated. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the method of substituted service upon SDAT prescribed by Maryland Rule 3-124(o) satisfies a litigant's due process rights. View "Mayor & City Council of Baltimore v. Prime Realty Associates, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed Defendant's conviction of attempted robbery with a dangerous weapon and other crimes, holding that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in admitting social media evidence because there was sufficient circumstantial evidence under Maryland Rule 5-901(b)(4) for a reasonable juror to find that Facebook profiles belonged to Defendant and to Defendant's alleged accomplice. During trial, a detective testified that Defendant unfriended his accomplice on Facebook the day after the attempted armed robbery, in which the accomplice was fatally shot. On appeal, Defendant argued that there was insufficient circumstantial evidence for a reasonable juror to find that the Facebook profile belonged to him and that he used his profile to unfriend the profile purportedly belonging to his accomplice. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that, under the circumstances, there was sufficient circumstantial evidence for the trial court to allow the Facebook-related evidence to be presented to the jury. View "Sample v. State" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Court of Appeals agreed with the judgment of the hearing examiner granting line-of-duty (LOD) retirement benefits to Petitioner, a retired Baltimore City police officer, based on a finding of fact that Petitioner suffered from memory loss and attention deficits as a result of a mild traumatic brain injury, holding that the hearing examiner did not err. Police officers are potentially eligible for two different levels of disability benefits - a less substantial non-line-of-duty (NLOD) level of benefits or a more substantial LOD level of benefits. Benefits for NLOD disability may be awarded on the basis of a mental or physical incapacity, but benefits for LOD disability can only be awarded based on a physical incapacity. Petitioner suffered from memory loss and attention deficits as a result of a concussion in the course of his duties. The hearing examiner granted Petitioner LOD disability benefits, concluding that he was permanently physically incapacitated. The court of special appeals reversed, concluding that Petitioner's incapacities were mental rather than physical. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Petitioner was entitled to LOD benefits. View "Couret-Rios v. Fire & Police Employees' Retirement System of City of Baltimore" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the Court of Special Appeals reversing the judgment of the circuit court granting Petitioner's motion to correct an illegal sentence after Petitioner's earlier filed petition for credit had been granted and his commitment record was adjusted to reflect credit for time served, holding that the trial court did not impose an inherently illegal sentence because the failure to award credit is not an illegality that lies within the sentence itself. In his motion to correct an illegal sentence Petitioner argued that the amendment to his commitment record applying the appropriate credits for time served was of no legal force in the absence of a hearing. Thus, Petitioner argued, his original sentence was still in effect, and that sentence constituted an illegal sentence. The trial judge found that the original sentence was indeed illegal and that the later amendment was insufficient to correct the illegal sentence because the required hearing was not held. The Court of Special Appeals reversed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the trial court erred in granting the motion to correct an illegal sentence because it was not the appropriate mechanism for challenging the failure to award credit against a sentence. View "Bratt v. State" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the Court of Special Appeals affirming the circuit court's judgment denying the petitions for writs of actual innocence filed by David Faulkner and Jonathan Smith under Md. Code Ann., Crim. Proc, 8-301, holding that new trials were warranted for both Smith and Faulkner. More than a dozen years after Adeline Wilford was murdered and the case had gone cold, the Maryland State Police reopened the investigation and charged Faulkner and Smith with burglary, murder and related offenses. Both Smith and Faulkner were convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Several years later, Smith and Faulkner filed petitions for writs of actual evidence, contending that, if newly discovered evidence had been provided to their juries, there was a substantial or significant possibility that the juries would have reached different results. The lower courts denied relief. The Court of Appeals reversed and ordered new trials for both petitioners, holding that, in light of the newly discovered evidence discussed in this opinion, Smith and Faulkner were entitled to new trials. View "Faulkner v. State" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals held that, under exhaustion of administrative remedies jurisprudence, a landowner may not withhold a claim alleging an unconstitutional taking arising from the application of a zoning regulation from the administrative agency's consideration and present the claim to a jury in a separate action invoking the court's original jurisdiction. This appeal arose out of litigation between Maryland Reclamation Associates, Inc. (MRA) and Harford County, Maryland (the County) in connection with MRA's efforts to construct and operate a rubble landfill on property located in Harford County. Earlier litigation concluded with a 2010 Supreme Court opinion upholding all the factual determinations and legal conclusions of the Harford County Board of Appeals (the Board). After losing on each substantive claim, MRA filed a separate inverse condemnation case alleging an unconstitutional taking. The jury found that MRA's inability to operate a rubble landfill was a regulatory taking and awarded MRA damages. The court of special appeals concluded that the takings claim was barred by the statute of limitations. The Court of Appeals affirmed but on other grounds, holding that MRA's takings claim should b dismissed based on MRA's failure to raise this constitutional issue in any administrative proceeding. View "Maryland Reclamation Associates, Inc. v. Harford County, Maryland" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed Defendant's conviction for, among other charges, unlawful possession of a regulated firearm by a person who had previously been convicted of a predicate offense, holding the indictment provided Defendant with sufficient notice of the crime charged in that count and adequately described the specific conduct on which that charge was based. While the relevant count of the indictment accurately stated information about a prior conviction that prohibited Defendant from possessing a firearm, it inaccurately referred to that conviction as a crime of violence. The error went unnoticed in the circuit court. On appeal, Defendant argued that the additional language in the firearms count meant that he was not charged with a crime and that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate that count. The Court of Special Appeals affirmed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) the firearm count charged a cognizable crime and showed the jurisdiction of the trial court; and (2) to the extent the drafting error in the indictment could be a basis for objection, Defendant waived any objection by failing to raise it below. View "Shannon v. State" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In these two cases arising from two instances of police misconduct the Court of Appeals held that the police officers were acting within the scope of their employment, and therefore, the City of Baltimore was responsible for compensating the plaintiffs. The officers in these cases were members of the Baltimore City Police Department's now-defunct Gun Trace Task Force. Members of the task force engaged in a wide-ranging racketeering conspiracy, resulting in the officers being convicted in federal court. These two cases arose out of instances in which the officers conducted stops and made arrests without reasonable articulable suspicion or probable cause. The plaintiffs and the officers agreed to a settlement of the lawsuits. As part of the settlements, the officers assigned to the plaintiffs the right to indemnification from the City. Thereafter, the plaintiffs sought payment of the settlements by the City. In both cases, the parties entered into a stipulated settlement of undisputed material facts. The Supreme Court held (1) the stipulations in both cases established that the officers' conduct satisfied the test for conduct within the scope of employment; and (2) therefore, the City was responsible for compensating the plaintiffs for the officers' actions by paying the settlements that the plaintiffs and the officers reached. View "Baltimore City Police Department v. Potts" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals held that the statute of limitations begins to run on an underinsured motorist claim when the insurer breaches the contract to provide underinsured motorist benefits by denying the insured's claim, thereby breaching the insurance contract. Margaret Shilling was injured in an automobile accident with Barbara Gates, an underinsured motorist. Gates was insured by Agency Insurance Company of Maryland (Agency) under a policy that provided up to $20,000 per person in bodily injury coverage. Shilling was insured by Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company under a policy that included uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage in the amount of $300,000 per person in bodily injury coverage. After Agency and Shilling settled Shilling sued Nationwide seeking the balance of unpaid damages not covered by Agency's $20,000 settlement. Nationwide moved to dismiss, arguing that the claim was time barred under the three-year statute of limitations set forth in Md. Code Ann. Cts. & Jud. Proc. A 5-101. The circuit court granted the motion to dismiss. The court of special appeals ultimately reversed, holding that the suit was not time-barred. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the statute of limitations begins to run upon the insurer's breach of the insurance contract, which occurs when the insurer refuses to pay underinsured motorist benefits. View "Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. v. Shilling" on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law