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Maryland Court of Appeals holds that the docketing of a voluntary dismissal did not trigger the 30-day time to file an appeal

Hoib v. Progressive American Insurance Company
___ Md. ___ (Nov. 20, 2014)

by Wayne C. Heavener, Associate
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (www.semmes.com)

Available at: http://www.mdcourts.gov/opinions/coa/2014/4a14.pdf

In Hoib v. Progressive American Insurance Company, the Maryland Court of Appeals held that a stipulation of dismissal did not serve as a final judgment, such that its docketing would trigger the 30-day time limit to file an appeal. In particular, the Court held that a stipulation of dismissal did not serve as a “separate document” under MD. RULE 2-601 because it is neither signed by the court nor the court’s clerk, and that the stipulation’s docketing did not, therefore, serve as a final judgment. Writing for the Court, Judge Robert N. McDonald held that plaintiffs’ appeal of summary judgment entered in favor of a defendant was not untimely, even though the plaintiffs appealed more than thirty (30) days after claims against a lone co-defendant were voluntarily dismissed.

This case arises out of a dispute regarding uninsured motorist coverage under two (2) insurance policies that covered the occupants of a car, which was involved in a fatal car accident. The vehicles’ occupants (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) brought a declaratory judgment action against Progressive American Insurance Company (“Progressive”) and Erie Insurance Exchange (“Erie”) in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County. Plaintiffs all maintained an action against Progressive, but only one (1) of the Plaintiff, the Estate of Virginia Hiobs (“Hiobs”), alleged a claim against Erie. Progressive filed a motion for summary judgment as to all claims against it, which the Circuit Court granted in 2009. The Court’s Order was docketed on October 7, 2009. The Court’s Order resolved all claims against Progressive; Hiob’s claims persisted against Erie. In 2011, Hiobs filed a “Line of Dismissal” (the “Voluntary Dismissal”), in which Hiobs voluntarily dismissed its claims with prejudice against Erie. The Voluntary Dismissal was docketed on January 10, 2011 as “Voluntary Dismissal (Partial) as to Erie Insurance Exchange.”

At the same time that the Voluntary Dismissal was filed, Plaintiffs filed a “Motion to Reduce Order of October 7, 2009 to Final Judgment.” The Court granted the motion, and signed an order stating that “final judgment is entered” on February 8, 2011. The Court’s Order was not docketed, however, until February 15, 2011. Before the Court’s Order was docketed, but 36 days after the Voluntary Dismissal had been docketed, Plaintiffs filed a notice of appeal. Finally, on February 25, 2011, the clerk made a docket entry indicating that a final judgment had been issued. On appeal to the Court of Special Appeals, the Court did not reach the merits of Plaintiff’s claim, finding that the appeal had not been timely noted. The Court held that the 30-day time limit to file a notice of appeal began running on the day that the Voluntary Dismissal was docketed on January 10, 2011.

The Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that the docketing of the trial court’s Order granting final judgment, rather than the docketing of the Voluntary Dismissal, started the 30-day clock for filing a notice of appeal on the entry of summary judgment. Maryland Rule 8-202 requires that a “notice of appeal shall be filed within 30 days after entry of the judgment or order from which the appeal is taken.” MD. RULE 8-202 (a). Maryland Rule 2-601 states that “Each judgment shall be set forth on a separate document.” MD. RULE 2-601 (a). The Court held that the Voluntary Judgment was not a “separate document” under Rule 2-601. Important to the Court was the fact that the Voluntary Dismissal was made without participation or approval of the Circuit Court, and, therefore, could not evidence the Court’s intent to enter judgment. The Court noted that Rule 2-601 requires a final judgment to be signed by either the court or the court clerk. As such, the Voluntary Dismissal was deficient, on its face, to constitute a “separate document” under Rule 2-601.

The Court further held that, even assuming the Voluntary Dismissal constituted a “separate document,” it would not have begun the 30-day time period because the Voluntary Dismissal was docketed incorrectly. In particular, the Court held that the docket entry — “Voluntary Dismissal (Partial) as to Erie Insurance Exchange” — was ambiguous as to whether a judgment had been entered because it did not specify whether the dismissal was with or without prejudice. Because the docket entry did not give an indication of finality to the public, it was deficient under the Rule to trigger the 30-day appeal period.


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