CASSANDRA PARKER, ET AL.
WILLIAM HAMILTON, ET AL.
Argued: February 2, 2017
Court for Dorchester County Case No. C15-022407
Barbera, C.J., Greene, McDonald, Watts, Hotten, Getty,
Rodowsky, Lawrence F. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned) JJ.
9, 2015, Appellant Cassandra Parker (acting individually and
as the Personal Representative of the Estate of her son,
Craig Junior Parker), and her grandchild, Appellant Z. (Mr.
Parker's son, who, by that time was five years old),
filed survival and wrongful death actions against Appellee
William Stevens Hamilton, arising out of the death of Craig
Junior Parker. The wrongful death claims were dismissed by
the circuit court as time-barred under Maryland Code, §
3-904 of the Courts & Judicial Proceedings Article
("Cts. & Jud. Proc."). Whether the claims were
timely depends on the applicability of two provisions-Cts.
& Jud. Proc. § 5-201,  which provides that the time
period for bringing a wrongful death action that accrues in
favor of a minor plaintiff is tolled during the period of
minority, and Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-203, which
If the knowledge of a cause of action is kept from a party by
the fraud of an adverse party, the cause of action shall be
deemed to accrue at the time when the party discovered, or by
the exercise of ordinary diligence should have discovered the
shall hold that both provisions apply. Cts. & Jud. Proc.
§ 5-201 operates to toll a minor plaintiff's
wrongful death claims during the period of his or her
minority. Thus, the circuit court erred in dismissing the
minor Appellant's wrongful death claims as untimely.
Furthermore, the circuit court erred in failing to consider
that the time limitation to file a wrongful death action is
tolled when the defendant engages in fraudulent conduct that
prevents the plaintiffs from bringing a wrongful death action
within three years from the date of death, pursuant to Cts.
& Jud. Proc. § 5-203. Appellants' amended
complaint sufficiently pled fraud in order to invoke Cts.
& Jud. Proc. § 5-203.
following facts are alleged in Appellants' Amended
about August 22, 2009, Mr. Hamilton shot and killed Mr.
Parker. At the time, Mr. Parker was thirty-eight years old,
and worked as a farmhand for Mr. Hamilton. Mr. Parker was
survived by his mother, Cassandra Parker and his son, Z.,
born on November 17, 2009-Appellants in this matter.
Appellants allege that Mr. Hamilton buried Mr. Parker's
remains in order to conceal his wrongdoing.
9, 2015, Cassandra Parker (acting individually and as the
Personal Representative of the Estate of her son, Mr. Parker)
and her minor grandchild, Z. (Mr. Parker's son), filed a
complaint in the Circuit Court for Dorchester County against
Mr. Hamilton arising out of the wrongful death of Mr. Parker.
Appellants thereafter filed an amended complaint in which
they added William Vogel, Jr. as a defendant. The amended
complaint included counts of: (1) wrongful death based on
negligence, (2) a survival action based on negligence, (3)
wrongful death based on gross negligence, (4) a survival
action based on gross negligence, (5) wrongful death based on
battery, (6) a survival action based on battery, and (7)
Hamilton filed a motion to dismiss with prejudice, or in the
alternative, motion for summary judgment. The circuit court
held a motions hearing, after which it issued a written
opinion granting the motion to dismiss as to the wrongful
death claims, and denying the motion as to the survival
claims of Mr. Parker's estate.
filed a motion for reconsideration, which was denied without
a hearing. Appellants filed a timely appeal to the Court of
Special Appeals. This Court granted certiorari before the
Court of Special Appeals' consideration of the direct
appeal. Parker v. Hamilton, 450 Md. 664, 150 A.3d
819 (2016). Appellants' brief presents three questions for
I. Did the trial court improperly ignore Md. Code, Cts. &
Jud. Proc. § 5-201 when it determined that the wrongful
death claims of the minor plaintiff were not tolled until the
age of majority?
II. Does the trial court's decision that the minor
plaintiff's wrongful death claims were not tolled during
his minority violate Article 19 of the Maryland Declaration
III. Did the trial court err when it determined that the
defendant's fraudulent concealment of a murder failed to
toll the plaintiffs' wrongful death claims under Md.
Code, Cts. & Jud. [Proc.] § 5-203?
STANDARD OF REVIEW
parties contest the appropriate standard of review. Mr.
Hamilton argues that the circuit court granted a motion to
dismiss, not a motion for summary judgment-and therefore,
this Court should not consider evidence outside of the
pleadings. In response, Appellants argue that while the
circuit court's order was not clear as to whether it
granted a motion to dismiss or a motion for summary judgment,
the circuit court referred throughout the opinion to evidence
and testimony received at the motions hearing, which was
beyond the four corners of the complaint. Appellants assert
that by considering evidence outside of the scope of the
pleadings in rendering its ruling, the motion to dismiss was
converted to one for summary judgment pursuant to Maryland
Rule 2-322(c). During oral argument before this Court,
counsel for Mr. Hamilton contended that the circuit court
conducted a discrete review of the wrongful death actions, as
a motion to dismiss, and only considered evidence outside of
the pleadings as it pertained to the remaining causes of
section of the circuit court's opinion entitled
"Wrongful Death Claims- Condition Precedent[,
]" the circuit court concluded, "Because the
Complaint was not filed until June 9, 2014, long after the
three-year time deadline of August 22, 2012, the wrongful
death claims, Counts 1, 3, and 5, must be dismissed."
The dismissal of the wrongful death claims was grounded in
(1) the application of the time limitation in the wrongful
death statute as a condition precedent and (2) the rejection
of Appellants' argument regarding the retroactivity of
Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 3-904(g), which creates an
exception to the condition for wrongful death actions based
on criminal homicides. Based on these grounds for dismissal,
we determine the review of the wrongful death causes of
action was limited to the pleadings.
outlined the applicable standard of review pertaining to
dismissals for failure to state a claim upon which relief can
be granted as follows:
In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a
cause of action pursuant to Maryland Rule 2-322(b)(2), a
trial court must assume the truth of all well-pleaded
relevant and material facts in the complaint, as well as all
inferences that reasonably can be drawn therefrom. Stone
v. Chicago Title Ins. Co., 330 Md. 329, 333, 624 A.2d
496, 498 (1993); Odyniec v. Schneider, 322 Md. 520,
525, 588 A.2d 786, 788 (1991). To this end, the facts
comprising the cause of action must be pleaded with
sufficient specificity. Bald assertions and conclusory
statements by the pleader will not suffice.
[Cont'l] Masonry Co. v. Verdel Constr.
Co., 279 Md. 476, 481, 369 A.2d 566, 569 (1977).
Further, while the words of a pleading will be given
reasonable construction, when a pleading is doubtful and
ambiguous, it will be construed most strongly against the
pleader in determining its sufficiency. Hixon v.
Buchberger, 306 Md. 72, 75, 507 A.2d 607, 608 (1986);
Read Drug & Chem. Co. v. Colwill Constr. Co.,
250 Md. 406, 416, 243 A.2d 548, 555 (1968). Dismissal is
proper only if the alleged facts and permissible inferences,
so viewed, would, if proven, nonetheless fail to afford
relief to the plaintiff. Morris v. Osmose Wood
Preserving, 340 Md. 519, 531, 667 A.2d 624, 630 (1995).
On appeal, a reviewing court must determine whether the trial
court was legally correct, examining solely the sufficiency
of the pleading.
Bobo v. State, 346 Md. 706, 708-09, 697 A.2d 1371,