Firstman v. Atlantic Const. & Supply Co.

Decision Date03 October 1975
Docket NumberNo. 116,116
Citation345 A.2d 118,28 Md.App. 285
PartiesJohn Gordon FIRSTMAN et ux. v. ATLANTIC CONSTRUCTION & SUPPLY COMPANY.
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Roy B. Cowdrey, Jr., Easton, with whom was George J. Goldsborough Jr., Easton, on the brief, for appellants

No appearance for appellee.

Argued before ORTH, C. J., and POWERS, and MELVIN, JJ.

ORTH, Chief Judge.

REMOVAL OF ACTIONS AT LAW

Constitutional Provisions and Rules of Procedure

The 'Judiciary Department' of this State is as authorized by article IV of the Constitution of Maryland. Section 19 of the article divides the State into eight Judicial Circuits. From two to five counties comprise each of the first seven Circuits, and Baltimore City constitutes the eighth. Section 1 of the article vests the 'Judicial power' of the State in In article 20 of the Declaration of Rights of the Constitution of Maryland the People of the State declared 'That the trial of facts, where they arise, is one of the greatest securities of the lives, liberties and estate of the People.' But the Constitution also recognizes that a party may not be able to have a fair and impartial trial in the court in which a case is pending. With respect to an action at law, article IV, § 8 provides that it will be '. . . transmitted to some other court having jurisdiction in such case for trial . . .', '. . . upon suggestion in writing under oath of either of the parties to said proceedings that such party cannot have a fair and impartial trial in the court in which the same may be pending . . ..' Thus, a party in a law action, upon suggestion properly made, had one absolute right of removal to another court having jurisdiction. The right may be subject to reasonable procedural restraint to promote the administration of justice. Dillon v. White's Ferry, Inc., 268 Md. 118, 299 A.2d 785 (1973); Shreffler v. Morris, 262 Md. 161, 277 A.2d 62 (1971). Maryland Rule 542 implements the constitutional provisions and sets out the procedural regulations governing the right Section 1 of Amendment XIV to the Constitution of the United States prohibits a state from denying to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

certain enumerated courts, including 'Circuit Courts' and 'such Courts for the City of Baltimore, as are hereinafter provided for.' Section 20 provides for a Circuit Court for each [345 A.2d 120] county, 'to be styled the Circuit Court for the County, in which it may be held', with jurisdiction over law and equity actions and criminal causes. Section 27 provides for the Courts of the City of Baltimore: 'There shall be in the Eighth Judicial Circuit, six Courts, to be styled the Supreme Bench of Baltimore City, the Superior Court of Baltimore City, the Court of Common Pleas, the Baltimore City Court, The Circuit Court of Baltimore City and the Criminal Court of Baltimore.' The jurisdiction of these Courts is set out in § 28: 'The Superior Court of Baltimore City, the Court of Common Pleas, and the Baltimore City Court shall, each, have concurrent jurisdiction in all civil common Law cases, and concurrently, all the jurisdiction which the Superior Court of Baltimore City and the Court of Common Pleas now have, . . .' with designated exceptions which do not derogate from their general jurisdiction over actions at law of removal. Bullock v. State, 230 Md. 280, 186 A.2d 888 (1962). Among other procedures, it requires, as does the Constitution, that the suggestion for removal be in writing under oath of either of the parties to the action. It also specifies that the suggestion may not be of counsel. Rule 542, § a 1. Section 3 of the Rule provides that the right of removal is waived unless the written suggestion is filed within 60 days after the action is at issue. See Caledonian Fire Ins. Co. v. Traub, 86 Md. 86, 37 A. 782 (1897). Thereafter, an action may be removed only by order of court for good cause shown.

It was the interplay of these constitutional provisions which provided the basis on which the Court of Appeals, in Davidson v. Miller, Md., 344 A.2d 422, 1975, held that the provisions of article IV, § 8, pertaining to removal of civil actions at law violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and, therefore, was unenforceable 'so long as the present multiple civil common law court system exists in Baltimore City.' Md., 344 A.2d at 438.

Judicial Construction

It was early decided by the Court of Appeals, 1 steadfastly followed, 2 and recently affirmed, 3 that the transfer of an action at law from one of the law courts of the Supreme Bench of Baltimore City to another of the law courts of the Supreme Bench of Baltimore City 'gratifies the constitutional provision of a removal to some other court having jurisdiction.' 4 Johnson v. State, 258 Md. 597, 600-603, 267 A.2d 152 It said, at 158, 282 A.2d at 96:

                (1970) declared that a case is removed, not to be heard before another judge, but to be tried in a different locality, to rid the trial of the influence of such community or local bias or prejudice as would manifest itself in the locality in which the case originated.  5  The appellants in Middleton v. Morgan, 263 Md. 154, 156, 282 A.2d 94, 96 (1971) relied upon this in contending that the Baltimore City practice of 'a removal from one court in Baltimore to another does not gratify the purpose and desired effect of the constitutional provision.'  They recognized that the rule of law then existing was flatly against their contention, but they strongly urged 'that the case should be distinguished because in 1882 each court in Baltimore drew its own panel of jurors and in 1971, although each court has its own panel, all the jurors are treated as a pool and may sit from time to time in any court.'  Id., at 156, 282 A.2d at 96.  The Court was not persuaded
                

'It is clear that the basis of decision in Weiskittle was not that each court in the City drew its own panel of jurors (this being no more than a pssing observation), but that each court in the City was a distinct and separate court within a circuit and since the Constitution does not require a removal to be to a court without the circuit, a removal within the City gratified the constitutional right of removal. . . . In 1971 as in 1882 Baltimore City is still a circuit and the various courts within that circuit are still separate and distinct. We find Weiskittle to be controlling.'

The petitioners 6 in Davidson made substantially the same

                claim, but presented it in a different posture.  Whereas Middleton had simply affirmed the position of the Court of Appeals that the transfer of an action at law from one Baltimore City law court to another satisfied the removal provisions of the Constitution of Maryland, the petitioners in Davidson contended, not that such practice violated the Maryland Constitution, but that it denied them the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.  Reassessing its view of article IV, § 8, in this light, a majority of the Court of Appeals 7 concluded that equal protection [345 A.2d 122] of the laws was indeed denied when, as to Baltimore City, the absolute right of removal permitted an action at law to be removed from one law court to another within the City, while, as to each county, the transfer of such action was from one county to another county.  The Court held, therefore, that 'the portion of Article IV, section 8, which reads 'and in all suits or actions at law, issues from the orphans' court, or from any court sitting in equity' and the other language relating to this . . . (as well as the language in Rule 542 relating thereto) is unenforceable so long as the present multiple civil common law court system exists in Baltimore City.'  8  Md., 344 A.2d at 439.  The effect of the holding was, in the words of Chief Judge Murphy in his dissent, 'to excise all those provisions from § 8 of Art.  IV of the Constitution of Maryland which afford litigants in civil law cases an automatic right of removal to another court  
                upon mere suggestion in writing, under oath, that a fair and impartial trial cannot otherwise be obtained.  . . .'
                
THE INSTANT CASE
Facts

On 5 September 1974 Atlantic Construction & Supply Company (Atlantic) instituted an action ex contractu in the Circuit Court for Talbot County against John Gordon Firstman and Joyce Firstman, his wife, (the Firstmans) by the filing of a declaration. On 14 October the Firstmans pleaded the general issue and further answered, averring that they did all things required of them under the contract but that it had been breached by Atlantic. Appended to the answer was a counterclaim to which Atlantic pleaded the general issue on 25 October 1974.

Atlantic attempted three times to have the action removed. The first two times the suggestion was improper in form. 9 The third Suggestion for Removal was filed on 24 December 1974, and the same day the court ordered the action removed to the Circuit Court for Caroline County for trial. On 26 December the Firstmans moved that the Suggestion for Removal not be received because it was filed too late. On 30 December they moved to strike the order of 24 December, giving for reasons that the Suggestion for Removal was not timely filed and that the order was entered without allowing them time to respond thereto. On 23 January 1975 the court found upon hearing that the Suggestion for Removal had been timely filed. 10 It denied the Motion to Strike and affirmed its order of 24 December 1974 removing the cause to the Circuit Court for Caroline County for trial. The Firstmans noted an appeal from the order of 23 January 1975 denying their Motion to Strike.

The Status of the Appeal

On 21 April 1975, this Court, upon its own motion, dismissed the appeal as prematurely taken. On 2 May the Firstmans moved that we reconsider and rescind our order of dismissal. Upon reconsideration, we...

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  • Smith v. Pearre
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • September 1, 1992
    ...which the action is pending "the case should be removed in the sound exercise of judicial discretion." Firstman v. Atlantic Constr. & Supply Co., 28 Md.App. 285, 299, 345 A.2d 118 (1975). 4 This power of removal may only be exercised when "a party cannot otherwise have a fair and impartial ......
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    ...as has been suggested, to render the provision 'as inoperative as though it had never been adopted,' Firstman v. Atlantic Constr. & Supply, 28 Md.App. 285, 298, 345 A.2d 118, 126 (1975), or even 'to excise' it, Davidson v. Miller, supra, 276 Md. at 87, 344 A.2d at 441 (Murphy, C. J., concur......
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