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Carver v. RBS Citizens

Court of Appeals of Maryland

February 22, 2019

LAWRENCE R. CARVER
v.
RBS CITIZENS, N.A., ET AL.

          Circuit Court for Cecil County Case No. 07-C-13-001300

          Barbera, C.J., Greene, McDonald, Watts, Hotten, Getty, Cathell, Dale R. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.

          OPINION

          WATTS, J.

         This case concerns the timeliness of the filing of a notice of appeal, and whether the Court of Special Appeals improperly dismissed an appeal as premature. Under the circumstances of this case, we exercise our discretion to hold, pursuant to Maryland Rule 8-602(g)(1)(D), that the notice of appeal filed by the petitioner should be treated as if it were filed on the same day as, but after, the entry of the trial court's final judgment, and that the appeal should proceed on the merits in the Court of Special Appeals. Accordingly, we vacate the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals dismissing the appeal, and we remand the case to that Court with instruction to treat the notice of appeal as timely filed.

         BACKGROUND

         On July 19, 2013, in the Circuit Court for Cecil County, Lawrence R. Carver, Jr. ("Petitioner") and Nancy M. Carver filed a complaint against RBS Citizens, N.A. ("RBS") and Security Title Guarantee Corporation of Baltimore ("Security Title"), Respondents.[1]The Carvers sought damages that allegedly resulted from Security Title's re-recording of a deed of trust between the Carvers and RBS, which allegedly caused a cloud on the Carvers' title to certain properties that they owned. The Carvers alleged that the rerecorded deed of trust erroneously encumbered the properties and frustrated their attempts to convey the properties. Security Title and RBS filed cross-complaints against each other, raising cross-claims for indemnification and contribution.

         On April 12 and 13, 2017, and June 19, 2017, the circuit court conducted a bench trial. On the last day of trial, the Carvers and RBS filed a line dismissing with prejudice all of the Carvers' claims against RBS. The case proceeded on the Carvers' claims against Security Title for misrepresentation, fraud, constructive fraud, and conspiracy; and, according to an opinion that the circuit court issued later, Security Title "withheld" its cross-complaint against RBS pending the outcome of the trial.

         During closing argument, Security Title's counsel argued that, should it be found liable for the Carvers' damages, RBS should indemnify it. By contrast, RBS's counsel argued that the circuit court should dismiss Security Title's cross-claims against it because Security Title had failed to present evidence supporting the cross-claims. After closing arguments, the circuit court held the matter sub curia, with an opinion to follow.

         On August 23, 2017, the circuit court entered an Opinion and Order. In the Order, the circuit court found in Security Title's favor on the claims for misrepresentation, fraud, and conspiracy, but found in the Carvers' favor on the claim for constructive fraud. As to the claim for constructive fraud, the circuit court awarded the Carvers $6, 726 in damages. Notably, the Order did not mention Security Title's cross-claims against RBS.

         On September 14, 2017, Security Title filed a "Motion [] to Revise or so as to Dispose of an Unresolved Issue" ("the motion to revise"), requesting that the circuit court rule on its cross-complaint against RBS. Specifically, Security Title requested that the "judgment be modified to grant Security Title a judgment against RBS [] in the amount $6, 726.00 so as to resolve the Cross Claim filed in this action, or in the alternative," for the circuit court to find that RBS "was a joint tortfeasor equally liable, jointly and severally, with Security Title." On September 22, 2017, Petitioner noted an appeal of the August 23, 2017 Opinion and Order. The appeal was assigned case number CSA-REG-1418-2017 in the Court of Special Appeals. On October 2, 2017, while the appeal was pending, Petitioner filed a response to the motion to revise, requesting, among other relief, that the circuit court find the August 23, 2017 Opinion and Order to be a final judgment.

         On May 18, 2018, the circuit court conducted a hearing on the motion to revise and ruling from the bench, denied the motion, and found the August 23, 2017 order to be a final judgment. On May 24, 2018, the circuit court issued an Order denying the motion to revise, and stating: "The [circuit c]ourt finds that its order of August 2[3], 2017 was a final order and no judgment shall be entered in favor of Security Title [] against RBS [] under its cross claim." A docket entry dated May 29, 2018, states: "Case Closed[.]" As to the disposition of the case, the Maryland Electronic Courts system provides the following "Disposition Detail": "05/29/2018 1:45 PM Final Judgment / Decree / Order[.]"

         On June 1, 2018, Security Title noted an appeal, which was assigned case number CSA-REG-0780-2018 in the Court of Special Appeals-a case number different from the case number that had been assigned to the appeal noted earlier by Petitioner. On the same day, Security Title filed in the Court of Special Appeals a motion to permit a supplemental brief in CSA-REG-1418-2017. On June 15, 2018, Petitioner filed a response to the motion to permit a supplemental brief. On June 19, 2018, Security Title filed a reply, and, in a letter to the Court of Special Appeals that accompanied the reply, referred to the "unusual posture of this case[.]"

         On June 25, 2018, the Court of Special Appeals issued an order denying the motion to permit a supplemental brief, and ordering Petitioner to show cause in writing within fifteen days as to why the "appeal should not be dismissed as [a] premature appeal from a non-final judgment." On July 10, 2018, Petitioner filed a response to the show cause order, arguing that his appeal was timely filed from a final judgment. On July 23, 2018, the Court of Special Appeals issued an order stating that the show cause order was satisfied, but ordering, "on the Court's own initiative, that the [] appeal be, and is hereby, dismissed pursuant to [Maryland] Rule 8-602(c)(1) as not allowed by law as a premature appeal from a non-final judgment."

         On August 2, 2018, Petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration. On August 15, 2018, the Court of Special Appeals denied the motion for reconsideration. On the same day, the Court of Special Appeals issued the following mandate: "On the 23rd day of July, 2018, the Court, on its own initiative, dismissed the appeal pursuant to Maryland Rule 8-602(c)(1). On the 2nd day of August, 2018, [Petitioner] filed a Motion to Reconsider. On the 15th day of August, 2018, the Motion to Reconsider was denied."

         On August 30, 2018, Petitioner petitioned for a writ of certiorari, raising the following issue: "Whether the Court of Special Appeals erred by dismissing [Petitioner]'s appeal as premature." On October 9, 2018, this Court granted the petition. See Carver v. RBS Citizens, 461 Md. 481, 194 A.3d 935 (2018).

         DISCUSSION

         The Parties' Contentions

         Petitioner contends that the Court of Special Appeals erred in dismissing the appeal, on its own initiative, and determining that the appeal was premature. Petitioner argues that the circuit court entered a final judgment against Security Title on August 23, 2017, and that he timely filed the notice of appeal on September 22, 2017. Petitioner points out that, in the May 24, 2018 Order, the circuit court stated that the August 23, 2017 Order was a final judgment. Petitioner asserts that the post-judgment motion to revise filed by Security Title did not stay the time to file an appeal. Petitioner maintains that he would have waived the right to appeal if the circuit court had denied the motion to revise and if he had not filed a notice of appeal within thirty days of the August 23, 2017 Order. Petitioner contends that, on the other hand, had the circuit court granted the motion to revise and determined that the August 23, 2017 Order was not a final judgment, then the September 22, 2017 notice of appeal still would have been deemed timely filed. Petitioner argues that, if the circuit court had granted the motion to revise, he would have been able to file a new notice of appeal of a final judgment entered on May 24, 2018. In sum, Petitioner asserts that he timely filed the notice of appeal and that the appeal should be reinstated.

         Alternatively, Petitioner asserts that, if we determine that the August 23, 2017 Order was not a final judgment, then we may: (1) remand this case to the Court of Special Appeals to decide whether to direct entry of a final judgment; (2) enter a final judgment on our own initiative; or (3) treat the notice of appeal as if it were filed on the same day as, but after, the entry of a final judgment. Petitioner requests that this Court exercise the third option, and treat the notice of appeal as if it were filed on the same day as, but after, the entry of final judgment.

         Security Title responds that the Court of Special Appeals properly exercised its discretion to dismiss the appeal as a premature appeal of a non-final judgment. Security Title contends that the August 23, 2017 Order was not a final judgment because it did not adjudicate Security Title's cross-claims against RBS. Security Title argues that, as a result, Petitioner's notice of appeal-filed months before the circuit court ruled on Security Title's cross-claims-was premature. Security Title asserts that the circuit court's statement in the May 24, 2018 Order-finding the August 23, 2017 Order to be a final ...


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