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Five Common Errors Out-of-State Attorneys Make When Filing Complaints in Maryland Circuit Court

Despite many similarities in the procedural and substantive rules applied in state courts across the country, many states, including Maryland, impose particular requirements that out-of-state attorneys or those not familiar with local practice often miss when filing new complaints. At a minimum, these failures can create unnecessary legal fees, in addition to the potential for an awkward telephone call with a client explaining why the clerk’s office just returned the complaint you thought had been filed. A complaint that is rejected for filing, moreover, can be more than just embarrassing if you are not able to file a corrected complaint before the statute of limitations runs. And, even if accepted for filing, the five common errors identified below almost always lead to unnecessary motions practice, increased cost, and a bad first impression with the court and opposing counsel.

1. Failing to Plead the Specific Amount of Damages Sought.

I frequently see Complaints filed in Maryland Circuit Court where the ad damnum clause -- the portion of the Complaint setting forth the specific relief requested -- seeks an award for money damages in a commercial case using the boilerplate expression “in an amount to be determined at trial.” Pursuant to Maryland Rule 2-305, however, a complaint seeking an award of money damages under $75,000 must allege the precise amount sought. While the plaintiff does not need to provide the precise amount sought for a claim seeking a money judgment in excess of $75,000, Maryland 2-305 still requires the pleader to state that the claim exceeds $75,000. Simply alleging that you will prove the amount of your damages at trial is insufficient.

2. Pleading Causes of Action that Maryland Law Does Not Recognize.

Quite often, attorneys not familiar with local practice also will assert claims that Maryland law simply does not recognize as independent causes of action. They include claims for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and equitable estoppel, none of which are valid as standalone claims. In addition to the fact that alleging these non-existent claims creates an easy target for a motion to dismiss, more generally, complaints that contain an excessive number of counts may be counter-productive. As Judge Bloom of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals noted in Kirgan v. Parks, 478 A.2d 713, 720 (1984) when referring to the “kitchen sink” style of pleading, “[s]uch pleadings inspire no confidence; they suggest that the pleader is not sure what his cause of action is but hopes that if he includes enough allegations the finished product will probably contain at least one cause of action somewhere within it.” Thus, before filing a complaint in Maryland state court, make sure to research whether Maryland law recognizes the claims you are attempting to allege.

3. Failing to File Certification Under Maryland Rule 1-313 for Maryland Attorneys Who Do Not Maintain an Office in Maryland.

While members of the Maryland Bar obviously are allowed to file Complaints in Maryland state courts, in an often-overlooked provision, Maryland Rule 1-313 requires that Maryland attorneys who do not maintain “an office for the practice of law in this State” must file a certification along with the first pleading they sign that they are admitted to practice law in Maryland. Thus, if you are a Maryland attorney practicing law in an office located in the District of Columbia, for example, you must certify that you are a member of the Maryland Bar. Accordingly, be sure to file a Rule 1-313 certification along with your Complaint.

4. Failing to File a Civil Case Information Sheet.

Even though Maryland 2-111(a) sets forth the straightforward requirement that plaintiffs file a civil information sheet along with the complaint, many attorneys fail to do so. The failure to file a civil cover sheet, however, can have a significant impact on how the case is scheduled and set for trial, because the standard Maryland civil cover sheet contains a section entitled “Track Request” pursuant to which the plaintiff designates the estimated length of trial. If filled out, the circuit court clerk’s office will use the plaintiff’s selection of the estimated length of trial to assign it to a particular track, and issue a scheduling order for that track, which provides dates for certain events, for example, the close of discovery or the date of the pre-trial conference. If the Track Request is left blank, the clerk’s office may simply assign the case to a track without consideration of the length of time you feel is necessary to try the case. Thereafter, re-setting the case to a more appropriate track can take unnecessary time and effort, often requiring the attorney to file a separate motion. It is far easier to select the appropriate track at the outset.

5. Failing to File Comparison Copy of Complaints When Filing Amended Complaint.

When filing amended complaints in Circuit Court, attorneys frequently fail to include comparison (i.e., “redline”) copies as required by Maryland Rule 2-341(e). This rule is intended to help the recipient of amended complaint figure out what has been amended so as to facilitate the response, and failing to include a comparison copy will likely be met with a phone call from opposing counsel or the local clerk’s office asking you to provide one.

Bill Goldberg is a litigator in the Bethesda, Maryland law firm of Lerch, Early & Brewer, Chtd. He represents businesses and individuals in commercial and business litigation in federal and state courts across Maryland, including breach of fiduciary duty claims, contractual disputes, business torts, trade secrets and partnership dissolutions. Bill often serves as local counsel for out-of-state firms and clients. For more information about filing complaints in Maryland, and other litigation matters, contact Bill at (301) 907-2813 or email him at wagoldberg@lerchearly.com.

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