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Baltimore Transit Co. v. Mezzanotti

Decided: November 15, 1961.

BALTIMORE TRANSIT COMPANY
v.
MEZZANOTTI



Appeal from the Superior Court of Baltimore City; Harlan, J.

Brune, C. J., and Henderson, Prescott, Horney and Marbury, JJ. Prescott, J., delivered the opinion of the Court.

Prescott

The plaintiff-appellee instituted suit against the defendant-appellant for personal injuries, incurred as a result of allegedly negligent conduct on the part of defendant's employee, when the plaintiff attempted to board one of its buses. After the defendant had filed a general issue plea, the plaintiff propounded certain interrogatories to the corporate defendant, which answered all of them except four, and, to these four, it flatly refused to reply. The plaintiff excepted to the sufficiency of the answers (in reality the failure to answer) pursuant to Maryland Rule 417 c 1, and the trial court sustained the exceptions, and ordered the defendant to answer. Again the defendant refused to answer, and filed a notice to stay execution of the court's order requiring it to answer the interrogatories, under the purported authority of Maryland Rule

819. The court refused to stay the operation of its order, and, instead of invoking the sanction of Maryland Rule 422 d (contempt), the court, upon motion of the plaintiff, entered a judgment by default against the defendant, pursuant to Maryland Rule 417 d. The appellant then moved to strike out the judgment by default. This motion was denied, as the defendant had not, and did not, answer the interrogatories. The appellant then took the deposition of the plaintiff, who refused, upon advice of counsel, to answer questions concerning the happening of the accident, since the default judgment had already been entered. Again, at the extension of the judgment by default, the appellant attempted to cross-examine the plaintiff upon the issue of liability, which the court declined to permit. It, thereupon, made a proffer of a "factual and meritorious defense," which was rejected by the court because of the default judgment.

After considering the above litigious and somewhat protracted maneuvering, including, as it does, an assumption by the defendant of the calculated risk of a default judgment against it, the rather innocuous nature of the interrogatories, to which answers were refused, will, doubtless, cause surprise to many. These interrogatories, which we designate as a, b, c and d, were:

(a) State the names and addresses of all persons who investigated plaintiff's injuries and damages for you.

(b) Give a concise statement of the facts as to how you contend the occurrence took place.

(c) If you contend that the plaintiff acted in such a manner as to cause or contribute to the occurrence, give a concise statement of the facts upon which you rely.

(d) If you contend that a person not a party to this action acted in such a manner as to cause or contribute to the occurrence, give a concise statement of the facts upon which you rely.

They are, obviously, framed, in almost verbatim language, in accordance with suggested "Form of Interrogatories" 11, 17,

18 and 19 on page 40 of Niles, Discovery Digest for Maryland (see also Code (1960 Cum. Supp.), Vol. 9, p. 55).

Interrogatories of the nature here involved are governed, largely, by Maryland Rule 417, (all future references to "Rules" will relate to Maryland Rules, unless otherwise stated) which, in turn, refers back to Rule 410 for the scope of the interrogatories permitted, so we shall set forth these rules in part.*fn1

We do not deem it necessary nor desirable, at this time, to make an extended or elaborate statement concerning our discovery rules. It will suffice to say that it is clear they are broad and comprehensive in scope, and were deliberately designed so to be. One of their fundamental and principal objectives is to require the disclosure of facts by a party litigant to all of his adversaries, and thereby to eliminate, as far as possible, the necessity of any party to litigation going to trial in a confused or muddled state of mind, concerning the facts that gave rise to the litigation. If all of the parties have knowledge of all of the relevant, pertinent and non-privileged facts, or the knowledge of the existence or whereabouts of such facts, the parties should be able properly to prepare their claims and defenses, thereby advancing the sound and ...


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