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Reid v. State

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

September 27, 2018

CHARLES RAY REID, IV
v.
STATE OF MARYLAND, et al.

          Circuit Court for St. Mary's County Case No. 18-C-16-001464

          Wright Kehoe, Battaglia, Lynne A. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.

          OPINION

          Battaglia, J.

         Charles Ray Reid, IV, appellant, filed, in the Circuit Court for St. Mary's County, a complaint against the State of Maryland and "the Attorney General" (collectively the "State") seeking a declaratory judgment regarding public access to court records, the statutory scheme for expungement of those records, and his rights under the Maryland Declaration of Rights. The State thereafter filed a motion to dismiss, claiming that declaratory relief was inappropriate under the circumstances. Following a hearing, the court granted the State's motion and dismissed Reid's complaint. In this appeal, Reid presents two questions for our review, which we have rephrased and consolidated into a single question[1]:

1. Did the circuit court err in dismissing Reid's complaint for a declaratory judgment?

         For reasons to follow, we answer Reid's question in the negative and affirm the judgment of the circuit court.

         BACKGROUND

         On July 26, 2014, Reid was charged with one count of second-degree assault. A few months later, the State, for reasons not pertinent to the instant appeal, entered a nolle prosequi on that charge.[2]

         On October 25, 2016, Reid filed a complaint against the State seeking a declaratory judgment. In that complaint, Reid maintained that he had suffered various "stigma" resulting from "the public display" of the details of his nolle prosequi disposition, which he claimed anyone could access via "electronic information found on the Case Search portal maintained by the State."[3] Reid also maintained that the only way to remove that information and alleviate the stigma was by way of the statutory scheme for expungement, which required "not only a $35.00 fee . . . but also upwards of $250.00 in legal fees."[4] Reid averred, therefore, that the process for expunging information from the Case Search portal, when considered in conjunction with the public's access to that information and the associated stigma, deprived him "of his rights or property under Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights." Reid also suggested that "the State be imposed the burden of removing from the Case Search portal, without request, every case with a disposition of nolle prosequi or not guilty." In his prayer for relief, Reid asked the circuit court to determine and adjudicate the rights and liabilities of the parties with respect to the "damages of expungement"; to find and declare that he had incurred damages as a result of "no adjudicated proceeding and no fault of his own"; to find and declare "a violation of Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights"; and, to find and declare that he had "the right to be absolved of these damages at no expense."

         Following the filing of Reid's complaint, the State filed a motion to dismiss. At a hearing on that motion, the State argued that a declaratory judgment was inappropriate because Sections 10-101 through 10-109 of the Criminal Procedure Article of the Maryland Code, which govern the process for expungement of criminal records, already provided Reid the relief he sought. The State also argued that there was "no constitutional right to expungement" and that "the criminal records that are on the books for Mr. Reid are public records of past criminal proceedings" and "are not, in and of themselves, punitive." As for Reid's claims regarding various fees associated with the filing of a petition for expungement, the State argued that "there's no indication" Reid had paid any fees and that, even if he had, the State was entitled to sovereign immunity "as to payment of things like court fees and attorney's fees."

         Reid responded that public access to the information on Case Search had "significant ramifications for ordinary people," such as "being exiled from the community" and being unable to secure "better housing" or "a job," all of which violated Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights. Reid also claimed that, in the case of a nolle prosequi disposition, the expungement process amounted to an "unconstitutional burden that is placed on a person who as a matter of fact was not found guilty or the State has chosen not to pursue an action against." Reid averred that requiring him to "take another step" to have the records expunged presented an "undue burden" and violated both Article 24 and Article 25 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights. Reid also argued that the court should have shielded his case record automatically because the Maryland Rules provide that the custodian of records "shall refuse inspection of a case record or any part of a case record if inspection would be contrary to the Maryland constitution." When the circuit court asked Reid to elaborate on how his constitutional rights had been violated, Reid reiterated that he was "deprived of property in the form of $30 and conceivably an attorney's fee" and that, in the meantime, the information on Case Search was causing him to be "exiled" from his community and unable "to pursue certain employment or residency."

         The circuit court ultimately granted the State's motion to dismiss, finding that Reid's request for a declaratory judgment was "an impermissible one" because Reid had at his disposal an existing statutory remedy in the form of the expungement process. The court also found that Reid was not "constitutionally affected by his declining to fill out the paperwork and seek that statutory remedy."

         DISCUSSION

         Reid argues that the circuit court abused its discretion in dismissing his complaint against the State. Reid avers that his complaint for declaratory relief alleged a cognizable claim, namely, that the public display of his criminal record by way of Case Search and the current statutory scheme for expungement violated his rights under the Maryland Declaration of Rights. Reid further avers that the court "obfuscated [his] ...


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