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Dismissal for Failing to Name all Parties in a Wrongful Death Case an Abuse of Discretion

Univ. of Md. Med. Sys. Corp. v. Muti
No. 42 (Md. February 21, 2012)

by Gregory L. Arbogast, Associate
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (

In a case about which Semmes has already blogged, and for which the Maryland Defense Counsel wrote an amicus brief, the Maryland Court of Appeals vacated a Court of Special Appeals ruling and reversed the trial court when it held that the trial court abused its discretion by dismissing a case for failing to name all interested parties in a wrongful death case. The Court of Appeals held that there should be some penalty for Plaintiff failing to comply with the explicit requirements of MD. RULE 15-1001(b), but that dismissal was too extreme.

University of Maryland Medical Systems, Corp. v. Muti arose out of a wrongful death medical malpractice claim. Elliot Muti suffered an acute myocardial infarction on January 20, 2005. Mr. Muti first went to Mercy Medical Center, but when the doctors determined that he had too much blockage for stenting, they sent Mr. Muti to the University of Maryland Medical System (“UMMS”) for coronary bypass surgery.

As part of the surgery, doctors intubated Mr. Muti, but blood in the catheter area prevented them from visualizing the trachea. Therefore, after the surgery, doctors extubated Mr. Muti; however, the doctors had to perform an emergency intubation. As a result of the intubation and extubation, Mr. Muti developed respiratory complications. A bronchoscopy revealed an injury to the anterior tracheal wall, which Plaintiffs allege was caused by medical negligence during the process.

Shortly after the bronchoscopy, Mr. Muti died as a result of pneumonia, ventricular tachycardia, and renal failure. Plaintiffs, Mr. Muti’s family, filed this wrongful death action claiming medical negligence.

During discovery, both counsel learned that Mr. Muti had an adopted son, who Mr. Muti had not contacted since 1977 and who was not joined as a Plaintiff in this action. Plaintiffs’ counsel claimed that he had no way of contacting Mr. Muti’s estranged son, but Defendant’s counsel filed a Motion to Dismiss for failure to join a necessary party.

MD. RULE 15-1001 requires that Plaintiffs join all interested parties in the wrongful death action. It is uncontroverted that Mr. Muti’s estranged son was an interested party, as he would have been entitled to benefits under the wrongful death statute. Therefore, the trial court dismissed Plaintiffs’ claims. The trial court found that Plaintiffs’ inability to contact the estranged son was immaterial. Plaintiffs appealed to the Court of Special Appeals, which remanded the case to determine whether the estranged son was prejudiced by the failure to be named. The parties cross-appealed to the Court of Appeals, and the Court of Appeals granted certiorari.

The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court. The Court of Appeals found that there was a violation of the Maryland Rules, but that the violation was certainly not an intentional attempt to shield the litigation from Mr. Muti’s estranged son. Moreover, since his son was over the age of majority and not financially reliant on Mr. Muti, he likely would not have had any viable damages and he was not prejudiced by the failure to name him as a party. Therefore, since the violation was a technical, rather than a substantive violation, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court abused its discretion by dismissing the case. The Court of Appeals remanded for the trial court to determine a more appropriate sanction.