Circuit Court for Howard County Case No. 13-C-55-045573
C.J., Beachley, Kenney, James A., III (Senior Judge,
Specially Assigned), JJ.
Lee, the appellant, challenges the Circuit Court for Howard
County's refusal to vacate a renewed judgment the
court's clerk entered against him and in favor of his
brother, Won Bok Lee. Before we can address the merits of
this appeal, Mr. Bok Lee asks us to determine whether it is
timely. We conclude that it is. The clerk's entry of the
order from which Mr. Sun Lee appeals initially failed to
comply with the requirements of Maryland Rule 2-601(b)
because the docket entry available through the case search
feature on the Judiciary website did not identify the date on
which judgment was entered. As a result, the appeal period
did not start to run and Mr. Sun Lee's appeal was
premature when it was filed. However, subsequent changes to
the docket entry fixed the problem and Mr. Sun Lee's
appeal is now properly before us.
to the merits, Mr. Sun Lee asks us to decide whether his
brother's 2015 attempt to renew a judgment in the circuit
court was effective. The answer to that question revolves
largely around two others: (1) whether Mr. Bok Lee's 2004
filing in the circuit court of notice of a 2002 federal court
judgment created a new state court judgment or just a lien;
and (2) if that filing created a lien only, whether it
extended the period for renewal of the underlying judgment,
which otherwise expired by operation of law in 2014. We
conclude that the 2004 filing created a lien, not a judgment,
and so could not be renewed once the underlying federal court
judgment had expired. We therefore reverse the judgment of
the circuit court and remand with instructions to vacate the
Proceedings in Federal and State Court
2002, Mr. Bok Lee obtained a judgment by default in the
amount of $141, 059.44 against Mr. Sun Lee in the United
States District Court for the District of Maryland.
2004, Mr. Bok Lee filed a "Request to File Notice of
Lien" in the Circuit Court for Howard County based on
the federal judgment. On June 1, 2004, the circuit court
entered a "Notice of Lien of Judgment Received From
United States District Court" and made the following
docket entry: "Judgment entered on 06/01/04."
Howard County case remained dormant until July 23, 2015, when
Mr. Bok Lee filed a "Request to Renew Judgment."
The request stated that "[j]udgment in this case was
entered on June 1, 2004," claimed that it had "not
expired (12 years from entry)," and asked the clerk to
renew it. The clerk promptly entered the renewed judgment on
March 24, 2016, Mr. Sun Lee moved to vacate the renewal. He
argued that Mr. Bok Lee's 2004 filing had created a lien,
rather than a new judgment, and so could no longer be renewed
once the federal judgment had expired. Although the circuit
court agreed with Mr. Sun Lee that the 2004 filing had
created a lien, not a new judgment, it also agreed with Mr.
Bok Lee that it was nonetheless still subject to renewal.
writings relating to the circuit court's ruling are
central to our discussion below, so we present them in some
detail. First, after a hearing, the court issued a one-page
written order containing a single substantive sentence that
identifies what the court considered (the motion to vacate,
the opposition, and the arguments of the parties) and states
that the motion to vacate is denied. The order is dated June
2, 2016 and bears (1) the signature of the judge, (2) a stamp
identifying that it was "ENTERED" on June 3, 2016,
(3) a true test certification, and (4) a notation of
"6000" in the bottom right corner. We refer to this
order as the "June 2 Order."
second and third writings of significance are both docket
entries. Each appears slightly differently in the circuit
court's own system than it appeared as viewed through the
case search feature on the Judiciary website at the relevant
time-which, for purposes of determining the timeliness of the
appeal, is the period between June 3 and July 6, 2016. The
first, which we refer to as "Docket Entry 6000,"
appears in the court's case management system as:
relevant time, that same entry appeared through the case
search feature on the Judiciary website as:
second entry, which we refer to as "Docket Entry
14000," appears in the court's case management
discuss both docket entries in more detail below.
Lee noted an appeal on July 6, 2016. Mr. Bok Lee moved to
strike the notice as late, arguing that the June 2 Order had
been entered on June 3 and that any appeal-after accounting
for weekends and a holiday-was due by July 5. The circuit
court granted the motion and struck the notice of appeal. Mr.
Sun Lee then appealed timely from the order striking his
first notice of appeal.
unreported opinion, a panel of this Court concluded that the
record did not reflect when, or even if, Mr. Sun Lee's
time to appeal had begun to run. Lee v. Lee, No.
945, Sept. Term 2016, 2017 WL 3634056, at *3 (Aug. 24, 2017).
The panel identified three factors that are necessary for
there to be a valid appeal: (1) under Rule 2-601(a), the
final judgment must be "set forth on a separate
document" that is signed by a judge or the clerk of
court; (2) under Rule 2-601(b), the judgment must be entered
on the court's electronic case management system; and (3)
under Rules 2-601(d) and 8-202(a), an appeal must be noted
within 30 days of the date on which the judgment was entered
in that court's electronic case management system.
Lee, 2017 WL 3634056, at *1.
on the record as it then stood, the panel found insufficient
evidence to determine either (1) whether the separate
document required by Rule 2-601(a) had been signed or (2)
whether such a document had been entered on the court's
electronic case management system. Id. at *2. With
respect to the separate document, the panel considered it
plausible that the June 2 Order was the required separate
document setting forth the judgment, but it was uncertain
because of a perceived inconsistency between the date of that
order and Docket Entry 14000. That entry, although not made
until June 6, seemed to contemplate that a separate order was
still yet to come. Id.
respect to the entry of such a document, the panel first
considered, and rejected, Mr. Bok Lee's contention that
Docket Entry 6000 reflected the entry of the order in the
court's electronic case management system. The
panel's confusion in attempting to interpret this docket
entry is perhaps best reflected in a footnote in which it
observed that neither party had "ventured an
explanation, nor can we invent one, to explain why the
portion of the docket entry that says '06/03/16 copies
mailed' was made on (or added to) the March 24 docket
entry." Id. at *2 n.3. In the absence of any
such explanation, the panel concluded that this could not
possibly reflect entry of the separate document by which the
court had entered judgment and, therefore, that "there
is no way that June 3 can be the date of entry of
judgment." Id. at *2.
alternative, the panel considered whether Docket Entry 14000
could constitute entry of the separate document on the
court's electronic case management system. Id.
The panel concluded that this docket entry might constitute
entry of a separate order on the electronic docket, but was
uncertain in light of the same perceived inconsistency as to
dates between that June 6 entry-and its indication that an
order still had to be submitted-and the June 2 Order.
Id. at *2-3.
that uncertainty, the panel posited three possibilities: (1)
if a separate document had been executed before June 6 (such
as the June 2 Order), and Docket Entry 14000 constituted its
entry on the electronic case management system (on June 6),
then Mr. Sun Lee's appeal would be timely; (2) if a
separate document had been executed after June 6, then-still
treating Docket Entry 14000 as the (premature) entry of that
separate document on the court's electronic case
management system-the appeal would be "ripe to
proceed," with June 6 being its operative date; or (3)
if a separate document was never signed, the judgment
"has still not become final," and the appeal
"was, and remains, premature." Id. at *2.
"Under none of these three possible scenarios," the
panel concluded, "was Mr. Sun Lee's appeal
late." Id. at *3. The panel therefore reversed
the order striking the notice of appeal and remanded to the
circuit court with the following mandate:
JUDGMENT OF THE CIRCUIT COURT FOR HOWARD COUNTY REVERSED AND
REMANDED FOR THE CIRCUIT COURT TO DETERMINE DATE OF ENTRY OF
JUDGMENT OR TO ENTER THE JUDGMENT ON A SEPARATE DOCUMENT.
COSTS TO BE PAID BY APPELLEE.
remand, the circuit court asked the court clerk to explain
his practices with respect to the relevant entries in the
court's electronic case management system. The
clerk's responsive memorandum explained that the June 2
Order is the separate document reflecting the court's
judgment and that it was entered on the court's
electronic case management system on June 3 as part of Docket
Entry 6000. With respect to the date of entry, the
clerk's memorandum explained that:
• "It is the clerk's practice that when the
clerk enters a ruling/order from the Court, the Order is
'entered' stamped. Which in this case was June 3,
• "It is the clerk's practice to update the
original motion in [the court's electronic case
management system]. In this case the clerk entered the ruling
of Denied under docket entry 6000 as of June 3, 2016 and
mailed copies of the Order on June 3, 2016."
• "Adjacent to the ruling of Denied is the closed
date of the motion of June 3, 2016 which also corresponds to
the date of entry."
• "Therefore the written Order Denying the Motion
to Vacate Judgment was entered by the clerk on June 3,
receiving the clerk's memorandum, the circuit court
issued its own memorandum opinion in which it provided
"an explanation of the process." The court
explained that Docket Entry 6000, although a single entry
bearing an "Entered" date of March 24, actually
reflects at least three different events: the filing of the
motion to vacate the judgment, the scheduling of a hearing on
that motion, and the court's denial of that motion. March
24, 2016, the court explained, is the date the motion was
filed. The subsequent dates mentioned are the dates on which
the two other events-scheduling of the hearing (April 20,
2016) and entry of the order (June 3, 2016)-were entered into
court also sought to answer the uncertainty regarding Docket
Entry 14000, explaining that it reflects "a hearing
sheet[, ] which is a summary of what occurred during a
proceeding." Thus, the information in that entry
reflects the court's statement in open court that it
would deny the motion, not the entry of a written order.
According to the court, "[t]he entry of the hearing
sheet on June 6, 2016 is just that, the entering of the
hearing sheet into the electronic case management system. It
is not an order, nor does it have the effect of an
summarizing its response to the questions raised by the
panel, the circuit court stated that it "issued a
separate Order that was signed on June 2, 2016," and
that "[t]he Order was entered by the clerk in the
electronic case management system on June 3, 2016 . . .
to the Docket Entries as Those Entries Appear Through the
Case Search Feature on the Judiciary Website
status of the docket entries as discussed thus far was
accurate through at least July 31, 2016, as reflected in the
filings of the parties in the circuit court and included in
the record filed with this Court. When this Court
independently queried the case search function available on