E-Alert Case Updates
The Time to File an Appeal in Maryland Begins to Toll Upon Resolution of All Claims, Regardless of Whether “Final Judgment” is Entered on the Docket
Hiob, et al. v. Progressive American Insurance Company, et al.
In this case, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals was asked to decide whether the voluntary dismissal of the last remaining defendant qualified as a final judgment under MD RULE 2-601, triggering the thirty (30) day period for filing a notice of appeal under MD RULE 8-202(a). In answering in the affirmative, the Court determined that the appeal was untimely and accordingly dismissed it.
The suit arose out of an automobile accident. On August 17, 2006, Deborah Hiob (“Mrs. Hiob”) was driving westbound on Liberty Road in Baltimore County. She had three (3) passengers in her car including her mother-in-law Virginia Hiob as well as two friends: Margaret Nelson and Laura Dusome. At some point, a pickup truck driven in the opposite direction by Raymond Strigle veered across the center line of the road and collided head-on with Mrs. Hiob’s vehicle. All four occupants of Mrs. Hiob’s vehicle sustained severe injuries, with Virginia Hiob and Laura Dusome dying from their injuries within the next two months.
Virginia Hiob owned an automobile insurance policy issued by Erie Insurance (“Erie”) and Mrs. Hiob owned an automobile insurance policy issued by Progressive American Insurance Company (“Progressive”). Each of the injured occupants of Mrs. Hiob’s vehicle as well as the estates of the two decedents (collectively, the “Plaintiffs”) filed suit against Progressive and Erie in Baltimore County circuit court. The Plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment that Progressive was liable to each of the injured parties for up to $250,000 under the terms of its policy. Progressive filed a motion for summary judgment, countering that it was liable for only an aggregate of $150,000. The court agreed with Progressive and granted its motion for summary judgment, but the case remained open because Erie was still a party.
The Plaintiffs reached a settlement with Erie and then voluntarily dismissed the case on January 10, 2011. Then, more than thirty (30) days later, the Plaintiffs filed a notice of appeal on February 15, 2011 to appeal the grant of summary judgment to Progressive. Ten (10) days later, on February 25, 2011, the court’s docket entry stated that the court’s order granting summary judgment was entered as a “final judgment” on February 8, 2011.
Before the appellate court, Progressive argued that the Plaintiffs’ voluntary dismissal of Erie on January 10, 2011 constituted a final judgment under MD RULE 2-601 and set the thirty (30) day clock ticking for filing a notice of appeal under MD RULE 8-202(a). Because the Plaintiffs filed their appeal more than thirty (30) days later on February 15, 2011, Progressive argued that the appeal was untimely and should be dismissed. The Plaintiffs countered that the docket entry showed that the circuit court treated February 8, 2011 as the date of entry of final judgment; and, therefore, the Court of Special Appeals should do the same.
Maryland’s intermediate court rejected the Plaintiffs’ argument and stated that the docket entry marking February 8, 2011 as the date of final judgment was inconsequential because once Erie was dismissed on January 10, 2011, there were no more defendants or claims before the circuit court. Thus, final judgment was entered on January 10, 2011, and the Plaintiffs’ appeal was untimely. In reaching its conclusion, the Court relied on Houghton v. Cnty. Comm’rs. of Kent Cnty., 305 Md. 407 (1986), where the plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed their case with prejudice, but the docket entry did not designate the action as a “judgment.” Three months later, the circuit court ordered that a “final judgment” be entered on the docket, and the plaintiffs noted an appeal the next day. Id. at 411. In that case, the Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal as untimely because it had been filed more than thirty (30) days after the entry of judgment. Id. at 413.
The Court of Special Appeals stated the word “judgment” does not need to appear on the docket for a final judgment to be entered. As long as the dismissal put the litigants and the public on notice that the claims had been resolved, it was a final judgment triggering the thirty (30) day requirement of MD RULE 8-202(a). Therefore, the Court dismissed the Plaintiffs’ appeal as untimely.
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