BRIAN M. BARRETT, SR.
CAROL J. BARRETT
Circuit Court for Wicomico County Case No. C-22-FM-17-00170
C.J., Wright, Leahy, JJ.
hearing on the merits of the divorce filed by Carol Barrett,
appellee, against Brian Barrett, Sr., appellant, was held on
October 2, 2017, before a magistrate in the Circuit Court for
Wicomico County. About three months after the hearing, the
magistrate issued her Report and Recommendations
("Report"). Rather than serve the parties through
the Maryland Electronic Courts ("MDEC") system or
regular mail, the clerk of the court placed copies of the
Report, along with notices regarding the filing of exceptions
and certificates of service, in mailboxes located at the
courthouse that are assigned to the parties' counsel.
Brian did not retrieve the Report from the
mailbox until February 5, 2018-the last day on which he could
file timely exceptions to the judgment of divorce. The
circuit court entered a judgment of absolute divorce the
following day, February 6. On February 7, Brian filed
exceptions and a motion for leave to file them, along with a
separate motion to alter, amend or to revise the judgment. He
argued that because he was not properly served, the time for
filing exceptions should not run from the date that the
Report was docketed. On February 21, the court summarily
denied Brian's filings.
appealed from the court's denial of his motion to alter,
amend, or revise the judgment and the denial of his
exceptions, and presents one question for our review:
"Is the placement of a Magistrate's report and
recommendations in a courthouse mailbox proper service under
County is an MDEC County governed by Title 20 of the Maryland
Rules. For the reasons explained in this opinion, we remand
to the circuit court with instructions to consider whether
service of the Report in this case satisfied the Maryland
Rules, specifically Title 20 governing electronic service in
filed for divorce on February 7, 2017. On June 14, 2017, with
the parties' consent, the Circuit Court for Wicomico
County referred the divorce proceeding to a magistrate.
Following a merits hearing held on October 2, 2017,
Magistrate Connie G. Marvel invited the parties to submit
written closing statements, which the parties duly submitted
several weeks later.
three months after the parties submitted their closing
arguments, Magistrate Marvel issued the Report, along with a
notice to the parties regarding filing exceptions and a
certificate of service. The court uploaded all three documents
to MDEC, docketing them on January 23, 2018. The clerk's
office then placed paper copies of all three documents, dated
January 23, 2018, in mailboxes located at the courthouse that
are assigned to the parties' attorneys. The certificate
of service, signed by the clerk of the court, indicated that
the court served the parties on January 23 by
"Courthouse Mailbox" rather than hand delivery or
U.S. mail. The notice informed the parties that they would
have "[10 days] from the date [the Magistrate's]
written Report/Proposed Order is served" to file
February 6, 2018, having received no exceptions to the
Report, the circuit court entered a judgment of absolute
divorce premised on the magistrate's recommendations.
following day, February 7, Brian filed three papers with the
court: a motion for leave to file exceptions, exceptions, and
a motion to alter or amend the judgment pursuant to Maryland
Rule 2-534 or to revise under Maryland Rule 2-535. In his
motions, he contended that placing the Report in the
attorneys' courthouse mailbox did not constitute proper
service under the Maryland Rules. Brian asserted that the
time for filing exceptions should not run from the date of
the January 23 docket entry because the magistrate did not
properly serve the Report. Brian further argued that the
irregular service was a sufficient ground for the circuit
court to exercise its revisory power.
to Brian's motion for leave to file exceptions was an
affidavit by Janet Lane, the secretary for Brian's
attorney. She attested that she checked the courthouse
mailbox on January 23 and January 25, 2018, between the hours
of 10:00 a.m. and noon, and "[n]othing was in the
box." She did not work on January 26-30 because she was
ill, and she did not check the courthouse mailbox when she
returned to work on January 31. One of Lane's colleagues
checked the mailbox around noon on February 5, found the
Report, and brought it to Lane. Lane sent the Report to the
firm's Crisfield office in "a courier bag used to
transport paper documents between offices" and did not
notify Brian's attorney that she received the Report.
Brian's attorney received the report on February 6 when
the courier bag reached the Crisfield office.
filed oppositions to Brian's three motions. The circuit
court summarily denied all of Brian's motions on February
21, 2018. In the top margin of Brian's exceptions, the
court wrote "[e]xceptions are denied as untimely. Rule
9-208(f)." The court stamped "denied" on
Brian's motion to alter, amend, or revise.
timely appealed to this Court on March 19, 2018.
contends that the circuit court judge's denial of his
motion to alter, amend, or revise the judgment of absolute
divorce was an abuse of discretion because "[p]lacing a
paper in a courthouse box maintained for the convenience of
the court and clerk's office is not a proper method of
service under Rule 20-106(b) or Rule 1-321(a)."
According to Brian, the rules required the magistrate to
serve him electronically; by hand-delivery to his counsel; by
leaving a copy at his counsel's office or home; or by
mailing a copy to his counsel's office, which is his
counsel's address of record. Without proper service,