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Maryland’s Intermediate Appellate Court dismisses appeal as moot because a trial court on reversal and remand would be unable to fashion different legal outcome
Prince George’s County v. Columcille Building Corporation
Available at: http://www.mdcourts.gov/opinions/cosa/2014/2355s12.pdf
In Prince George’s County v. Columcille Building Corporation, Maryland’s intermediate appellate court held that Prince George’s County (the “County”) could not seek review of a judgment entered in favor of a company that had used two (2) of the County’s police officers as security guards, because the County’s appeal was moot. In particular, the County’s appeal was moot because there was no remedy that the Court could grant, given the procedural posture of the lawsuit against the County. In reaching its decision, the Court of Special Appeals held that remand of the case could only result in judgment being entered in the same way. Further, the County would not be able to pursue a claim of contribution on remand because the County neither filed a cross-claim in this case, nor was it a joint tortfeasor under the Uniform Contribution among Joint Tort-Feasor’s Act (“UCATA”). Exercising its authority under the Maryland Rules, the Court dismissed the County’s appeal as moot.
This lawsuit arose out of a shooting that occurred in the parking lot of a building owned by Columcille Building Corporation (“Columcille”). Columcille arranged with the County to provide two (2) off-duty police officers — Sergeant Gregory Sanders and Corporal Ashli Tims — to provide security for a party held on December 29, 2007. While performing their roles as security officers, Sgt. Sanders and Cpl. Tims observed Donte Guzman fire a gun into a parked car. Sgt. Sanders and Cpl. Tims discharged their firearms at Mr. Guzman, injuring him. Mr. Guzman was charged, but later acquitted by a jury on all criminal counts against him. Mr. Guzman, in turn, filed suit against several defendants, including the County, Columcille, Sgt. Sanders, and Cpl. Tims, alleging various common law torts. Mr. Guzman alleged that both the County and Columcille were responsible for the officers’ tortious actions under respondeat superior. The County did not file a cross-claim against Columcille.
At trial, Columcille moved for judgment at the close of the defendants’ case, which the trial court granted. The trial court ruled that, as a matter of law, Columcille had no employment relationship with Officers Sanders and Tims, and therefore could not be liable for their actions. The County did not object, and judgment was entered in Columcille’s favor. The jury ultimately awarded a verdict in Mr. Guzman’s favor against the County, Sgt. Sanders, and Cpl. Tims. The County noted a timely appeal, seeking review of the judgment in favor of Columcille, only; the County did not seek review of the judgment against itself. At oral argument, Mr. Guzman’s attorney represented that, if the Court reversed the judgment in favor of Columcille, then Mr. Guzman did not intend to litigate his claims against Columcille.
The Court of Special Appeals dismissed the County’s appeal. The Court held that this case was moot because there was no effective remedy that the Court could grant; therefore dismissal was appropriate. The Court held that, if it were to reverse the judgment in favor of Columcille, the County would have no legal right to litigate Mr. Guzman’s claims against Columcille, or litigate a non-existent cross-claim. Given that Mr. Guzman’s counsel represented that Mr. Guzman would not be pursing claims against Columcille, the lower court would have no choice but to re-enter judgment in favor of Columcille.
Further, the Court stated that the County would not be entitled to relief through a post-trial motion for contribution. The Court looked to Maryland Rule 2-614, which provides:
MD. RULE 2-614. The Court noted that the UCATA provides the right of contribution amount joint tortfeasors. The trial court held, as a matter of law, that Columcille was not a joint tortfeasor with the County. Therefore, under Rule 2-614, the only way that the County could maintain an action for contribution was if it had filed a cross-claim against Columcille — which it did not — or, had “discharged the judgment by payment or has paid more than a pro rata share of the judgment.” Id. As there was no indication in the record that the County had paid any part of the judgment, the County was foreclosed the option to file a post-trial contribution claim.
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