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Valle v. Valle

Court of Appeals of Maryland

June 26, 2013

LAWRENCE LA VALLE
v.
JANET LA VALLE

Bell, C.J. [*] Raker Harrell Battaglia Greene, Wilner, Alan M. (Retired, specially assigned) Cathell, Dale, R. (Retired, specially assigned) J.J.

OPINION

Bell, C.J.

The sole issue in this case is whether a court may extend a domestic violence protective order, pursuant to a motion timely filed during the term of the order, without also holding a hearing on the motion during the term of that order. We will answer this question in the negative, and conclude that Maryland Code (1984, 2006 Repl. Vol.) § 4-507 (a) of the Family Law Article ("FL")[1] permits a domestic violence protective order to be extended only upon a motion filed and a hearing on that motion held prior to the expiration of that order. In short, we hold that a court that is petitioned to extend a protective order is required, prior to expiration of the order, to hold a hearing to determine whether to extend that order.

I.

This case arose out of a domestic altercation between the petitioner, Lawrence La Valle, and his wife, the respondent, Janet La Valle. Following the dispute, which occurred on the evening of May 25, 2006, the respondent filed, in the District Court of Maryland, sitting in Montgomery County, a Petition for Protection from Domestic Violence against the petitioner. On May 30, 2006, the District Court issued a Temporary Protective Order pending a hearing, after which, on June 21, 2006, a Final Protective Order, effective until October 10, 2006, [2] was issued against her husband. The order granted the respondent exclusive use and possession of the parties' marital home, and custody of the parties' minor son.[3]

On September 14, 2006, prior to the expiration of the protective order, the respondent filed a motion, pursuant to FL § 4-507 (a), to extend the protective order. Supra note 1. The court scheduled a hearing on the motion for October 3, 2006, [4] two days after expiration of the protective order. On September 29, 2006, the petitioner opposed the motion to extend the order on the grounds that there was no factual basis on which to extend the order, and that FL § 4-507 (a) (1) allows extension only during the term of the original order.

At the October 3 hearing, the petitioner repeated the arguments raised in his opposition and, noting the status of the order, that the original protective order had expired, further argued that, at that time, pursuant to FL § 4-507, the court lacked the authority to grant an extension. Nevertheless, rejecting the petitioner's arguments, the District Court extended the protective order until March 1, 2007.[5]

The petitioner appealed that judgment to the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, which, after having held a de novo review, affirmed the District Court, and concluded that the requirement that a protective order be modified only during its term was satisfied if the request for an extension was filed prior to the expiration of the order.

Thus, concurring with the District Court, the Circuit Court reasoned that, so long as a motion to extend a protective order is filed during the term of the protective order, that protective order may be extended, irrespective of when a hearing and argument on the motion is held; that they actually occur after the protective order has expired does not affect the validity of the extension.

The petitioner noted an appeal of that judgment to the Court of Special Appeals. Simultaneously, the petitioner filed, in this Court, a Petition for Writ of Certiorari. The intermediate appellate court transferred the "appeal" to the Court of Appeals pursuant to Maryland Rule 8-132.[6] We granted the petitioner's petition for certiorari on April 11, 2007. La Valle v. La Valle, 398 Md. 314, 920 A.2d 1058 (2007). We shall reverse.

I.

The respondent asserts that the matter before us is now moot, because the protective order in question expired in March, 2007, prior to the Court's grant of certiorari, the following month. The petitioner disagrees, however, explaining that, even though the order did expire, "the effects of both extensions may endure beyond the life of the protective order in question even as extended." We agree with the respondent, that the question with which we are presented is moot.

This Court ordinarily does not render judgment on moot questions. State v. Ficker, 266 Md. 500, 506–07, 295 A.2d 231, 235 (1972). A case is considered moot when "past facts and occurrences have produced a situation in which, without any future action, any judgment or decree the court might enter would be without effect." Hayman v. St. Martin's Evangelical Lutheran Church, 227 Md. 338, 343, 176 A.2d 772, 775 (1962). See Ireland v. Shearin, 417 Md. 401, 406, 10 A.3d 734, 757 (2010); Office of the Pub. Defender v. State, 413 Md. 411, 422, 993 A.2d 55, 62 (2010); Suter v. Stuckey, 402 Md. 211, 219, 935 A.2d 731, 736 (2007) (citing Dept. of Human Resources v. Roth, 398 Md. 137, 143, 919 A.2d 1217, 1221 (2007); Attorney Gen. v. A.A. County School Bus, 286 Md. 324, 327, 407 A.2d 749, 752 (1979)). Accordingly, in Ficker, we stated that, "[a]ppellate courts do not sit to give opinions on abstract propositions or moot questions, and appeals which present nothing else for decision are dismissed as a matter of course." 266 Md. at 506–07, 295 A.2d at 235. The protective order at issue here expired by both its original and extended terms prior to the grant of certiorari by this Court. As such, although, as the petitioner argues, some consequences of the protective order may persist beyond its expiration, this appeal is nonetheless moot, because a decision by this Court would be without effect as to those consequences.

There is a limited exception to the mootness doctrine, however, which provides that "where a case, while technically moot, presents a recurring matter of public concern which, unless decided, will continue to evade review, we have nonetheless considered the case on its merits." Office of the Pub. Defender, 413 Md. at 423, 993 A.2d at 62 (citing In re Julianna B., 407 Md. 657, 665-66, 967 A.2d 776, 780-81 (2009); Suter, 402 Md. at 220, 935 A.2d at 736; Arrington v. Dep't of Human Res., 402 Md. 79, 91-92, 935 A.2d 432, 439-40 (2007); Anne Arundel County Sch. Bus Contractors Ass'n, 286 Md. at 328, 407 A.2d at 752; Lloyd v. Bd. of Supervisors of Elections of Baltimore City, 206 Md. 36, 43, 111 A.2d 379, 381-82 (1954). Indeed, if a matter's "recurrence will involve a relationship between government and its citizens, or a duty of government, and upon any recurrence, the same difficulty which prevented the appeal at hand from being heard in time is likely again to prevent a decision, then Court may find justification for deciding the issues raised by a question which has become moot, particularly if all these factors concur with sufficient weight." Lloyd, 206 Md. at 43, 111 A.2d at 382. Since this Court has consistently recognized "protection from ...


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