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Scarfield v. Muntjan

Court of Appeals of Maryland

July 24, 2015

FRANK D. SCARFIELD, SR., et al.
v.
PETER A. MUNTJAN, et al.

Argued: May 6, 2015

Court for Baltimore City Case No.: 24-C-10-009292

Barbera, C.J. [*]Harrell Battaglia Greene Adkins McDonald Watts, JJ.

OPINION

Adkins, J.

The right to a trial by jury in civil proceedings is enshrined in the Maryland Declaration of Rights[1] and further guaranteed in Maryland Rule 2-511[2]. But the Legislature and Courts may impose reasonable limitations on that right. One such limitation is found in Maryland Rule 2-325, which provides that a party's failure to demand a jury trial within 15 days after service of the last pleading directed to the issue constitutes a waiver by that party of a jury trial. An exception to this waiver rule applies when a party files an amended complaint, asserting a new substantive issue and demanding a jury trial. Under such a circumstance, the new claim may revive a previously waived jury trial. In this case, we must determine whether an amended complaint in which a party demanded a jury trial but added only one new count, which was dismissed for failure to state a claim, revives a previously waived jury trial.

FACTS AND LEGAL PROCEEDINGS

This case arises from a dispute between a tenant, Peter A. Muntjan, and various actors associated with his landlord, Frank D. Scarfield.[3] Muntjan, an artist, leased from Scarfield a 3, 000 square foot unit at 7101 Sollers Point Road (Building #8) for use as an art studio. After Scarfield filed a Complaint alleging that Muntjan had held over on his lease, the District Court of Maryland, sitting in Baltimore County, ordered that a Writ of Possession be issued and ordered the Sheriff of Baltimore County to execute the writ no sooner than 12:00 p.m. on December 19, 2007. At that time, a constable of Baltimore County executed the writ and evicted Muntjan from the property.

Three years later, on December 20, 2010, Muntjan, representing himself, filed a complaint in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, alleging one count for Trover and Conversion ("Count I") and another for Invasion of Privacy ("Count II"), related to the 2007 ejectment and repossession. Scarfield filed a motion to dismiss Count II, which the Circuit Court granted on September 21, 2011, on statute of limitations grounds. On October 7, 2011, Scarfield filed his answer to Count I, without requesting a jury trial. Over four months later, on February 24, 2012, Muntjan filed a jury demand. Then, on April 16, 2012, he filed an Amended Complaint reasserting Counts I and II and adding a third for Abuse of Process ("Count III"). Included with his Amended Complaint was a jury demand.

Scarfield filed a motion to strike both Muntjan's Amended Complaint and his jury demand. The Circuit Court denied the motion to strike the Amended Complaint, but made no ruling as to the jury demand. Scarfield later filed a motion to dismiss Counts II and III for failure to state a claim and orally renewed his motion to strike the jury demand. Regarding the jury demand, Scarfield argued that an amended complaint is not a pleading under Maryland Rule 1-202. Thus, he asserted, because Maryland Rule 2-325 requires that a jury demand be filed within 15 days after service of the last pleading filed, Muntjan's jury demand filed with his Amended Complaint was ineffective.

In ruling on the motion to strike the jury demand, the Circuit Court first observed that an amended complaint is a pleading. To permit a plaintiff to amend a complaint to demand a jury trial at any time would defeat the "orderly process" laid out in Rule 2-325 (a) and (b), it reasoned. Recognizing what it saw as one possible exception where an amendment is permitted to add completely new claims that would not result in prejudice were a jury demand to be entertained, the Circuit Court concluded that the only new count-Abuse of Process-"is certainly related to the same . . . events" as Count I. The Circuit Court reasoned Muntjan could not revive the jury demand for the previous counts in this way because it would permit Muntjan to "resurrect a demand that [he] had already waived by not making it with the original complaint."[4]

Muntjan appealed to the Court of Special Appeals, presenting eight questions for review. Muntjan v. Scarfield, No. 1065, Sept. Term, 2012, Slip Op. at 1–2 (Md. Ct. Spec. App., Aug. 5, 2012). The intermediate appellate court, in an unreported opinion, made two rulings relevant to this appeal.[5] First, the panel unanimously held that the Circuit Court correctly dismissed Count III, stating: "Because Mr. Muntjan's claim for abuse of process is based on initiation of the eviction process, as opposed to abuse of the process after process was issued, his amended complaint did not state a cause of action for abuse of process." Id. at 34.

Second, the divided panel held that the Circuit Court erred in denying Muntjan's jury demand. Restricting itself to the Circuit Court's reasoning in denying the jury demand, the Court of Special Appeals held first that "for a plaintiff to revive a once-waived right to a jury trial based on the filing of an amended complaint, the amended complaint must raise a new issue, i.e., a claim that is based on a set of facts different from those relied on in support of the original claims." Id. at 22–23. Second, it held that "the amended complaint in this case raised a new issue [because] Muntjan's claim for Abuse of Process was based on a separate set of facts involving appellees' purpose in initiating the eviction." Id. at 23. Thus, with respect to some aspects of Count I, the Court of Special Appeals held that Muntjan was entitled to a remand for a jury trial.[6]

Dissenting as to the jury demand, Judge Rodowsky (specially assigned) considered the Circuit Court "right, . . . but for the wrong reason." Muntjan v. Scarfield, No. 1065, Sept. Term, 2012, Slip Op. at 3 (Md. Ct. Spec. App., Aug. 5, 2012) (Rodowsky, J., dissenting). Agreeing that Count III failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, Judge Rodowsky reasoned that Count III "did not present a claim at law triable of right and the gears of Rule 2-325 were not engaged." Id. at 3. His dissent also questioned the practical implications of entertaining Muntjan's jury demand, observing that, under the Majority's holding, "the right to demand a jury ...


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