Parker v. State, 1743

Citation92 Md.App. 540,609 A.2d 347
Decision Date01 September 1991
Docket NumberNo. 1743,1743
PartiesDoris PARKER v. STATE of Maryland, et al. ,
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

John P. Rufe (Roger N. Powell, on the brief), Baltimore, for appellant.

Julia M. Freit, Asst. Atty. Gen. (J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Atty. Gen., on the brief), Baltimore, for appellees.

Argued before WILNER, C.J., and ROSALYN B. BELL and WENNER, JJ.

WILNER, Chief Judge.

The principal issue before us is one of judicial immunity. We shall hold that it applies in the circumstances of this case.

The relevant facts are undisputed. On April 14, 1988, appellant was convicted in the District Court of speeding, for which she was fined $150 and assessed $5 court costs. She appealed the judgment to the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, where a de novo trial was scheduled for July 26. Appellant failed to appear, however, and so the court, pursuant to Md.Rule 1314 c., determined that she had waived her right to a de novo trial, dismissed the appeal, and "reinstated" the judgment. 1 On August 5, 1988, appellant not having paid the fine or court costs, Judge Roger W. Brown, a judge of the Circuit Court, issued a warrant for appellant's arrest. The record reveals that, despite six trips to appellant's home at varying times between September 20 and October 22, 1988, the Baltimore County police department, to whom the warrant had been sent, was unable to serve it.

On May 31, 1989, claiming that she had no notice of the July 26 trial date, appellant filed a motion to reinstate the appeal. That motion was granted, and Judge Brown then quashed the August 5 warrant. A de novo trial was eventually held before Judge Ross on September 22, 1989, at which appellant was acquitted of the speeding charge. The result of that proceeding was apparently not communicated to the Sheriff, however, who, on December 7, 1989, requested another warrant for failure to pay the fine and costs. In response to that request, and without calling for or reviewing the court file, which resided in the clerk's office and would have revealed the acquittal, Judge Brown issued another warrant. Unlike the earlier warrant, this one, unfortunately, was served. On the morning of January 17, 1990, appellant was arrested at her home in Baltimore County, taken to the police station, and kept there until she paid the $155 fine and costs later that afternoon.

Outraged at what occurred, appellant sued the State, Judge Brown, and several court clerks in a 16-count complaint filed in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County. The defendants moved to dismiss on the grounds that (1) proper venue was in Baltimore City, (2) no cause of action was stated against the clerks, who had nothing to do with the issuance of the warrant, (3) Judge Brown was entitled to absolute judicial immunity, and (4) the State could not be liable because none of its agents or employees were liable. No request was made for a hearing on the motion. On April 17, 1991, appellant filed an amended complaint which added eight new counts and two new defendants (the sheriff and one of his deputies). That same day, and apparently without knowledge of the amended complaint, the court signed a brief order granting the motion to dismiss the original complaint. The order of dismissal, which assigned no reasons, was filed and docketed on April 18.

Appellant filed a timely motion to alter or amend the judgment, complaining that (1) the order did not account for or address the amended complaint, (2) venue was properly in Baltimore County, and (3) causes of action were stated against the defendants. After a hearing, the court, on August 27, 1991, entered an order denying the motion, and this appeal ensued.

Appellant does not complain in this appeal about the dismissal of the clerks, the sheriffs, or the State, but focuses entirely on whether the actions against Judge Brown under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Maryland Tort Claims Act should have been dismissed because of judicial immunity. Though acknowledging that the issuance of the warrant was a judicial act, she contends that, to escape liability on the ground of judicial immunity, Judge Brown must have had both subject matter and personal jurisdiction when he issued the warrant and that, upon the averments pled, he had neither. The Attorney General, on behalf of Judge Brown, does not contest that the judge was without personal jurisdiction over appellant. Her acquittal prior to the issuance of the second warrant left the court (and the judge) without jurisdiction over her person. The defense on appeal is that Judge Brown, acting for the court, had subject matter jurisdiction and that, to enjoy absolute judicial immunity, that was all he needed. We agree with that position.

Subject Matter Jurisdiction

Appellant's argument with respect to the existence of subject matter jurisdiction is brief and narrow. She points out that, under Art. IV, § 20(a) of the State Constitution, the circuit courts have all of the power that they had prior to the adoption of that provision in 1867, "and the greater or lesser jurisdiction hereafter prescribed by law." She turns then to Md.Code Cts. & Jud.Proc. art., § 12-404, which provides that, "[i]f a judgment of the District Court imposing a fine or penalty for violation of a law or ordinance is affirmed on appeal, the appellate court may commit the defendant or appellant in case of nonpayment of the fine or penalty, in accordance with law." From this combination, she urges that the circuit court has subject matter jurisdiction to issue an arrest warrant only when the District Court judgment has been affirmed, that the statute has, in effect, abrogated jurisdiction in all other situations, and that, as the judgment in this case was not affirmed, the court had no jurisdiction to issue a warrant.

That argument not only misconstrues the statute but overlooks the critical distinction, clearly drawn by both the United States Supreme Court and the Maryland Court of Appeals, between the lack of jurisdiction and the improper exercise of jurisdiction.

The circuit courts of this State, said the Court in First Federated Com. Tr. v. Comm'r, 272 Md. 329, 335, 322 A.2d 539 (1974), "are courts of original general jurisdiction, Maryland Const., Art. IV, §§ 1, 19, 20 and, therefore, they may hear and decide all cases at law and in equity other than those which fall within the class of controversies reserved by a particular law for the exclusive jurisdiction of some other forum." This is not only implicit from the Constitutional provisions cited by the Court, particularly Art. IV, § 20, but is explicit in Md.Code Cts. & Jud.Proc. art., § 1-501. Under that statute, the circuit court has "full common-law and equity powers and jurisdiction in all civil and criminal cases within its county, and all the additional powers and jurisdiction conferred by the Constitution and by law, except where by law jurisdiction has been limited or conferred exclusively upon another tribunal."

Long before the creation of the District Court in 1971, the circuit courts were vested with jurisdiction to try, de novo, cases appealed from the justices of the peace, magistrates, and such other inferior courts that had been established. See 1957 Md.Code, art. 5, §§ 30, 43. The very notion of a "de novo appeal" is somewhat of an anomaly, however. Subject to its consideration of presently tentative Rules Committee proposals (see ante, n. 1) the Court of Appeals has regarded these types of proceedings, even though denominated as appeals, "as wholly original proceedings, that is, as if no judgment had been entered in the lower court." Hardy v. State, 279 Md. 489, 493, 369 A.2d 1043 (1977). Still, the statutes, and to some extent the Rules, have tended to mix the terminology, using some language more appropriate to an appellate proceeding and some that is more consistent with the established notion of an original proceeding. See, for example, 1957 Md.Code, art. 5, § 30, calling the proceeding an "appeal," but referring to an "acquittal" in the circuit court; compare § 39, the precursor of Cts. & Jud.Proc. art., § 12-404, speaking of the judgment being "affirmed upon appeal."

The clear thrust of the law, both before and after the creation of the District Court, was and is consistent with the present view of the Court of Appeals that, unlike appeals on the record, these are original proceedings in the circuit court. The Rules and statutes governing "appeals" from the District Court make this particularly clear. Unlike appeals heard on the record made in the District Court, where the circuit court affirms, reverses, or modifies the District Court judgment, or remands the case to that court (Md.Rule 1370)--actions clearly indicative of an appellate proceeding--in de novo cases, the circuit court enters its own judgment in the matter. See G. Liebmann, District Court Law and Practice, 1 Md.Practice § 221. Had the circuit court believed beyond a reasonable doubt that appellant was speeding, it would have entered a new judgment convicting her of the offense and imposing whatever sentence it thought appropriate; it would not simply have affirmed the District Court judgment. Conversely, as actually happened, it entered a judgment of acquittal rather than an order reversing the District Court judgment.

Section 12-404 of the Cts. & Jud.Proc. article must be read in this light. Notwithstanding its reference to the District Court judgment being "affirmed on appeal," its history and import make clear that it applies only in cases where the trial in circuit court is de novo, and thus assumes that the judgment entered in the "appellate" proceeding will be that of the circuit court. It simply confirms that, when the circuit court imposes the same fine or penalty that was imposed by the District Court, the circuit court may enforce that fine or penalty. That approach, initially adopted with respect to de novo "appeals" from justices...

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8 cases
  • Parker v. State, 99
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • September 1, 1992
    ...granting jurisdiction to the circuit court, Judge Brown was authorized in the circumstances to issue the warrant. Parker v. State, 92 Md.App. 540, 547, 609 A.2d 347, 351 (1992). In addition, the Court of Special Appeals held that judicial immunity attached if "the judge had general subject ......
  • Brown v. State, 118 September Term, 2008.
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • May 18, 2009
    ...the relief sought. See, for example, Pulley, supra, 287 Md. at 416, 412 A.2d 1244 (emphasis added). Parker v. State, 92 Md.App. 540, 544-45, 546-47, 609 A.2d 347, 349, 350-51 (1992). (Emphasis While affirming the decision of the Court of Special Appeals, this Court stated: The Supreme Court......
  • Sewell v. State
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    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • March 5, 2018
    ...... See United States v. Parker, 834 F.2d 408, 410–11 (4th Cir. 1987). Under the common law, and Maryland law, spouses enjoy a right, albeit limited, to protect the ......
  • Davis v. DiPino, 24
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    ...officers enjoy absolute immunity from damage actions. Rice v. Dunn, 81 Md.App. 510, 517, 568 A.2d 1125 (1990), Parker v. State, 92 Md.App. 540, 551, 609 A.2d 347 (1992), cert. granted, 328 Md. 462, 615 A.2d 262 (1992). Absolute immunity, however, does not apply to actions seeking declarator......
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