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University of Maryland Medical System Corp. v. Kerrigan

Court of Appeals of Maryland

November 28, 2017

BRANDON KERRIGAN, a minor et al.

          Argued: September 6, 2017

         Circuit Court for Baltimore City Case No. 24-C-15-002333

          Barbera, C.J. Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, Hotten, Getty, JJ.


          Greene, J.

         The fundamental inquiry before us in this case is the proper application of the standard of appellate review to a trial court's order to transfer a case pursuant to Maryland Rule 2-327(c). Although the underlying facts of this case involve alleged medical malpractice, it is before us because of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City's grant of the Defendants' motion to transfer the case to Talbot County. The Court of Special Appeals reversed the hearing judge's grant of the motion to transfer, holding that the moving party failed to meet its burden of demonstrating that the convenience of the parties and the interests of justice supported transfer of the case from Baltimore City to Talbot County. Because we determine that the Circuit Court did not abuse its discretion when it concluded that the case should be transferred to Talbot County, we shall reverse the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals.


         As a result of the procedural posture of this case, the facts are queued up by the parties' pleadings. With the exception of limited factual findings by the Circuit Court related to the residency of the parties, the parties have not litigated the remaining allegations. We provide a summary of the allegations here for context only. Brandon Kerrigan and his parents, Kimberly and Michael Kerrigan, ("Respondents"), live in Bozman, a community located in Talbot County. Brandon, through his parents and with them in their individual capacities, filed a medical malpractice action in May 2015 against seven defendants: three medical systems, the University of Maryland Medical System Corporation, the University of Maryland Shore Regional Health, Inc. ("Shore Medical"), and Delmarva Radiology, PA, and four doctors in their individual capacities, Drs. David White, Dayanand Bagdure, Nicole Mallory, and Steven Sauter ("Petitioners"), in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.

         In August of 2013, Brandon, age fifteen, visited his Talbot County physician, Dr. Mark Langfitt, after experiencing shortness of breath and a prolonged period of dry coughing. Dr. Langfitt referred Brandon to Delmarva Radiology to receive a chest X-ray for further examination. Dr. Steven Sauter reviewed the X-ray results at Delmarva Radiology and diagnosed Brandon with atypical pneumonia. Thereafter, Dr. Langfitt prescribed Brandon five days of antibiotics.

         Brandon's symptoms persisted. He was admitted to the emergency room at Shore Medical, where an examination revealed indicators of potential heart failure. Dr. David White directed that Brandon receive intravenous fluids while Brandon waited to receive further testing to confirm the condition of his heart. Dr. White consulted with Dr. Dayanard Bagdure, of the University of Maryland Medical System Corporation, who agreed to treat Brandon after an emergency transfer, by helicopter, to the University of Maryland in Baltimore City. Brandon received fluids until he completed them during the helicopter ride, where he coded on his way from Talbot County to Baltimore City.

         Upon admission to the University of Maryland, Brandon's treating physicians changed his diagnosis from heart failure to septic shock. After arrival, Brandon received a second blood test, the results of which confirmed heart failure. At the University of Maryland, Brandon had received over four liters of IV fluids during a fourteen hour period before he received any diuretics. Four months after his admission, Brandon received a heart transplant.

         After the Kerrigans filed suit in May 2015, the seven Petitioners jointly filed a motion to transfer venue from Baltimore City to Talbot County, pursuant to Rule 2-327(c), and requested a hearing. After a lengthy hearing, the Circuit Court granted the motion to transfer and delivered an eight-minute oral decision from the bench. The hearing judge clarified that he had considered the motion on forum non conveniens grounds:

And, obviously, this is not a claim that the forum is improper. It's not a motion to dismiss for an improper forum.
It's a motion under the forum non conveniens analysis as to whether the case as it is and whether the factors balance heavily in favor of transfer to the suggested jurisdiction of Talbot County.
I have weighed those factors, and I do find that those factors do weigh strongly in favor of transfer. There are a number of things that I considered.

         The hearing judge explained that his first consideration in the balancing test was convenience to the parties and witnesses:

First, with respect to the balance of convenience of the parties and the witnesses, as counsel for the defendant has pointed out, seven of the ten named parties in the case, plaintiff and defendants, are in Talbot County.
I was struck by the fact and it was pointed out by defense counsel that plaintiffs actually must pass the Circuit Court for Talbot County on the way to the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.
I was unpersuaded by the exhibit and statistics presented by plaintiffs' counsel as to the witnesses. I don't find the fact that the transplant team is in Baltimore City is of significance.
The primary and key witnesses that would be testifying in this case - obviously, everyone has noted that it's hard to say who will actually testify. But you're not going to have 500 and some care providers who may have touched the treatment at some point testify at trial. But it's clear that the significant balance is in favor of those who would be inconvenienced significantly coming from Talbot County to Baltimore City.

         Next, the hearing judge explained that consideration of public interest, including the burden on the public, weighed in favor of transfer to Talbot County:

As to the statistical analysis with respect to the other prong, the public interest, I was not persuaded by the statistics as argued by plaintiffs' counsel. The numbers don't bear out in what I reviewed in the annual statistical abstract as to the courts' dockets.
Of course, I certainly am not saying that we're here in Baltimore City . . . looking to avoid having additional cases. We certainly can handle everything that comes at us, and we do. But the numbers do not support plaintiffs' position. The numbers, in fact, would weigh in favor - strongly in favor of the transfer.
With respect to the burden on the public, again, both with respect to the jury duty issue, clearly there's a heavier burden here in the city than in Talbot County, based on just the numbers submitted and the number of trials that are recorded as having taken place. . . .
[T]he other component of the public interest that I was considering was the question with respect to the parties' interest or the public's interest in the health care that's provided in the jurisdiction. I was persuaded by the defense argument noting that the sole institution in Talbot County providing medical care is a party defendant in the case. So compare that to Baltimore City where there are several large medical institutions. The Court does find that there is a significantly stronger interest in Talbot County in the handling of this matter, the outcome of this matter than in Baltimore City.

         The hearing judge noted that he considered other factors as well. Ultimately, upon weighing the various considerations and allocating appropriate deference to the plaintiffs for their choice of venue, the hearing judge found that transfer to Talbot County was appropriate. He said:

Other factors that were mentioned in terms of location of documents, evidence, service of process, I don't find that those factors weigh in favor of either the plaintiff or - plaintiffs or defendants.
But at bottom, the Court sees many motions to transfer, noting that plaintiff is afforded deference with respect to choice of venue.
And in many cases, it comes down to, well, it would certainly be more convenient for it to be in, for example, Cecil County than in Baltimore City, but not strong - in terms of the factors, the factors would not weigh strongly in many cases.
But in this case, I see this as, far and away, one of the strongest in terms of weighing in favor of transfer to Talbot County. That the inconvenience of the parties and the witnesses would be tremendous if the matter were handled in Baltimore City. And that it serves the interest of justice to transfer the matter to Talbot County. So the motion to transfer is granted. . . .
It doesn't change my decision [that there will be, at a minimum, six physicians that will be called to trial from the University of Maryland and that there are two doctors down there and there are two doctors up here]. I find that the balance weighs strongly in favor . . . even given those arguments, in favor of transfer.

(Emphasis added).


         The Kerrigans noted an appeal to the Court of Special Appeals from the Circuit Court's order to transfer the case to Talbot County. The Court of Special Appeals reversed the Circuit Court in an unreported opinion, holding that, like in Scott v. Hawit, 211 Md.App. 620, 66 A.3d 60, cert. denied, 434 Md. 314, 75 A.3d 919 (2013), the balance of the factors did not weigh strongly in favor of transfer but rather weighed in "near equipoise."

         The University of Maryland Medical System Corporation, et al., filed a petition for certiorari, which we granted. Univ. of Md. Med. Sys. Corp. v. Kerrigan, 452 Md. 5, 155 A.3d 891 (2017). The certiorari petition contained three questions.[1] We find the Court of Special Appeals' action in reframing the questions and condensing them into a single question for clarity more apropos. Accordingly, we adopt the following question to be resolved:

Did the Circuit Court abuse its discretion by granting the motion to transfer venue?

         We answer no.


         When faced with the task of reviewing transfers granted pursuant to Rule 2-327(c), this Court has resolutely applied an abuse of discretion standard. Odenton Dev. Co. v. Lamy, 320 Md. 33, 40, 575 A.2d 1235, 1238 (1990). Although appellate courts do not rubberstamp the rulings of trial court judges, appellate courts "should . . . be reticent" to substitute their own judgment for that of the trial court unless they can identify "clear abuse" of the wide latitude given to trial courts when ruling on Rule 2-327(c) motions. Urquhart v. Simmons, 339 Md. 1, 17-19, 660 A.2d 412, 420-21 (citing Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno, 454 U.S. 235, 257, 102 S.Ct. 252, 266, 70 L.Ed.2d 419, 436 (1981)); see Lapides v. Lapides, 50 Md.App. 248, 252, 437 A.2d 251, 254 (1981) ("The exercise of a judge's discretion is presumed to be correct, he [or she] is presumed to know the law, and is presumed to have performed his [or her] duties properly.") (internal citations omitted); Alexis v. State, 437 Md. 457, 478, 87 A.3d 1243, 1254 (2014) (citing North v. North, 102 Md.App. 1, 13-14, 648 A.2d 1025, 1031-32 (1994)); Aventis Pasteur, Inc. v. Skevofilax, 396 Md. 405, 436, 914 A.2d 113, 132 (2007) ("So long as the Circuit Court applies the proper legal standards and reaches a reasonable conclusion based on the facts before it, an appellate court should not reverse a ...

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