Grier v. Heidenberg

Decision Date01 September 2022
Docket Number2523-2019
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

Circuit Court for Howard County Case No.: 13-C-17-113797

Kehoe Arthur, Reed, JJ.



Justice Holmes observed more than a century ago that "[t]he language of judicial decision is mainly the language of logic."[1] The dispassionate language of this opinion should not obscure our profound sympathy for the parties and all others affected by the tragic death of Michaelangelo Heidenberg.

Michaelangelo died on July 21, 2016. He was the son of Claudia Grier and Timothy Heidenberg. Ms. Grier, in her own name and as the personal representative of Michaelangelo's estate, filed a wrongful death and survival action against Mr. Heidenberg and his mother, Marguerite Heidenberg, in the Circuit Court for Howard County. After a somewhat complicated procedural history that we will presently summarize, the circuit court dismissed Ms. Grier's operative complaint with prejudice insofar as it asserted claims against Mr. Heidenberg. The court also certified its judgment as final for purposes of appellate review pursuant to Md. Rule 2-602(b). Ms. Grier presents two issues that we have reworded slightly:

1. Did the trial court err in granting Mr. Heidenberg's motion to dismiss on the basis that the doctrine of parent-child immunity survives the death of the child?
2. Should Maryland retain the doctrine of parent-child immunity?[2]

The contentions in this appeal involve the scope and continuing viability of the doctrine of parent-child immunity, first applied in Maryland nearly a century ago in Schneider v Schneider, 160 Md. 18 (1930), and the doctrine's interaction with the provisions of Maryland's wrongful death statute, Md. Code, Courts & Jud. Proc. §§ 3-901-04. We will affirm the judgment of the circuit court.


In deciding whether the circuit court erred in dismissing the complaint as to Mr. Heidenberg, we assume "the truth of all well-pled facts and allegations in the complaint and any inferences that may be drawn" from them. Advance Telecom Process LLC v. DS Federal, Inc., 224 Md.App. 164, 173 (2015). The operative complaint is Ms. Grier's amended complaint, which alleges in pertinent part that:

At the time of his death, Michaelangelo was twenty-one months of age, and resided with his natural mother, Ms. Grier. Ms. Grier had full and permanent physical custody of Michaelangelo pursuant to a consent order between her and Mr. Heidenberg. Ms. Grier and Mr. Heidenberg had never been married and were living apart from one another when Michaelangelo died.[3]

On the afternoon of July 21, 2016, Michaelangelo went to Mr. Heidenberg's home for visitation. On that day, and unbeknownst to Ms. Grier, Mr. Heidenberg was hosting a party. Among the guests was Ms. Heidenberg. Mr. Heidenberg's home included an in-ground pool in the yard behind the house. There was no fence or gate restricting access to the pool. During the course of the party, Michaelangelo somehow fell into the pool and drowned.[4]

The amended complaint asserted that Mr. Heidenberg had a duty to care for and protect Michaelangelo. He breached that duty by failing to undertake reasonable measures to prevent very young children from accessing the pool in his backyard and failing to properly monitor and supervise Michaelangelo during the party. The amended complaint also alleged that, upon information and belief, Ms. Heidenberg undertook to look after Michaelangelo during the party and that she therefore had a duty to monitor and supervise him. The amended complaint alleged that Ms. Heidenberg breached that duty. These breaches of duty, individually and collectively, were the proximate cause of Michaelangelo's death.


After the initial complaint was served, Mr. Heidenberg filed a motion to dismiss on the basis that Ms. Grier's claims against him were barred by the doctrine of parent-child immunity.[5] The circuit court, the Honorable Timothy J. McCrone, presiding, denied the motion on March 5, 2018. Mr. Heidenberg filed a notice of appeal. This Court dismissed the appeal on the basis that it "was not allowed by law as a premature appeal from a non-final judgment." Timothy Heidenberg v. Claudia Grier, No. 2400 September Term, 2018 (2018). Mr. Heidenberg then filed a petition for a writ of certiorari, which was granted by the Court of Appeals. Heidenberg v. Grier, 463 Md. 145 (2019). After briefing and oral argument, the Court dismissed the writ of certiorari as improvidently granted and remanded the case to the circuit court. Heidenberg v. Grier, 464 Md. 6 (2019).

In the meantime, Mr. Heidenberg was active at the circuit court level. On July 11, 2018, that is, after the circuit court had received the mandate from the Court of Special Appeals dismissing his premature appeal, he filed a motion pursuant to Md. Rule 2-502 for a judicial determination of whether "the Doctrine of Parent-Child Immunity survives the death of a child." The motion for a Rule 2-502 determination was granted on July 31, 2018. On August 28, 2018, the circuit court, the Honorable Mary M. Kramer, presiding, held a hearing on the issue. At the close of the hearing, the court noted that the identical legal issue had been presented to the circuit court in the context of Mr. Heidenberg's motion to dismiss and that Judge McCrone had denied the motion. Judge Kramer stated that she would "adopt Judge McCrone's decision because I don't feel comfortable going behind his work." On October 16, 2018, the court entered an order "denying Mr. Heidenberg's request for a dismissal of the matter against him based on parent-child immunity."

On July 21, 2019, that is, after the Court of Appeals remanded the case to the circuit court, Mr. Heidenberg filed a motion to intervene as a plaintiff and a third-party complaint. In the motion and the complaint, Mr. Heidenberg asserted that, although he denied Ms. Grier's allegations as to his negligence, if a finder-of fact were to conclude that he had breached his duties to Michaelangelo, then he had a right to "damages as a primary beneficiary of Michaelangelo Heidenberg for the wrongful death of his son."

On the same day, Mr. Heidenberg also filed a third-party complaint against Seem Rohit and Karla Manisha. The complaint alleged that Rohit and Manisha were the prior owners of the home where Michaelangelo drowned, that they conveyed the property to Mr. Heidenberg, and that the pool was on the property at the time of sale. Mr. Heidenberg alleged that, at the time of sale, there was no fence or other barrier around the pool to prevent a toddler from having access to it. The complaint asserts that Rohit and Manisha were under a duty to Mr. Heidenberg "to convey the property in a non-injurious/non- defective condition," or to warn him of the defective and dangerous condition of the pool. He further asserted that this duty extended not only to him but to his guests and invitees as well. The third-party complaint sought indemnification and/or contribution from Rohit and Manisha as well as damages.

On September 3, 2019, Ms. Grier filed her amended complaint. Mr. Heidenberg and Ms. Heidenberg each filed a motion to strike and/or dismiss the amended complaint, asserting, among other things, that the doctrine of parent-child immunity barred Ms. Grier's claims against them.

On November 21, 2019, acting on its own accord and after "further review of statutory and case law," the circuit court entered an order informing the parties that it would revisit its prior decision in the Rule 2-502 proceeding, and scheduling a hearing to permit the parties to address this issue.

During this hearing, in which counsel for all parties participated, Mr. Heidenberg moved to dismiss the amended complaint. At the close of the hearing, the court concluded that the doctrine of parent-child immunity barred Ms. Grier's wrongful death and survival claims against Mr. Heidenberg.

In a written order filed on November 25, 2019, the circuit court:

(1) granted Mr. Heidenberg's motion to dismiss the amended complaint "as to [him] only,"
(2) denied as moot Mr. Heidenberg's motion to intervene as a plaintiff and another pending motion to dismiss the amended complaint, (3) dismissed Mr. Heidenberg's claims for indemnification and contribution against the third-party defendants,
(4) reserved ruling on the third-party defendants' motion to dismiss Mr. Heidenberg's claim for other damages, and
(5) denied Ms. Heidenberg's motion to strike the amended complaint, and reserved ruling on her motion to dismiss that complaint pending a hearing on the merits of that motion.

After entry of this order, Ms. Grier filed a motion requesting the court to certify its November 25th order as to the application of the doctrine of parent-child immunity to her claim against Mr. Heidenberg as a final judgment pursuant to Md. Rule 2-602(b). Neither Mr. Heidenberg nor Ms. Heidenberg objected to certification. On February 7, 2020, the circuit court granted the motion, setting out its reasons for doing so in a written order. The court explained:

This case involves allegations of negligence against a parent in a child's drowning death. The family's need for final resolution of this issue is acute. This issue, once resolved on appeal, will either end the case against the parent, or [will] be remanded so that the merits of the case can be addressed. In this instance, the court finds that the interest in having a final decision on the issue of parent child immunity sooner, rather than later, overcomes the interest in avoiding piecemeal appeals.

During oral argument before this Court, Mr. Heidenberg's counsel drew the panel's attention to Nolasco v. Malcom 949 N.W.2d 201 (...

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