Warehime v. Dell

Decision Date01 December 1998
Docket NumberNo. 165,165
Citation124 Md. App. 31,720 A.2d 1196
PartiesMarianne WAREHIME et ux. v. Richard DELL et al.
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

Judith S. Stainbrook, Westminster, for Appellants.

Michael E. Mehring (Shugarman & Mehring, on the brief), Baltimore, for Appellees.

Argued before HARRELL and HOLLANDER, JJ., and ALBERT J. MATRICCIANI, Jr., Judge (Specially Assigned). HOLLANDER, Judge.

In this case, we must determine whether the circuit court was entitled to dismiss appellants' complaint against nine defendants/appellees, as a sanction for appellants' failure to respond to interrogatories propounded by only one defendant/appellee.

On December 9, 1992, Marianne and Earl A.J. Warehime, appellants, instituted suit in the Circuit Court for Carroll County against nine members of the Manchester Fire Engine and Hook and Ladder Co. No. 1 (the "Company"), all of whom are appellees.1 The suit alleged violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, stemming from the Company's decision to remove appellants from their respective positions at the Company. The circuit court dismissed the complaint on August 8, 1997, because appellants failed to respond to interrogatories propounded by Richard Dell, one of nine defendants below. Appellants timely noted their appeal and present the following issues for our review, which we have rephrased and condensed:

I. Did the trial court abuse its discretion when it dismissed the complaint against Richard Dell, as a sanction for appellants' failure timely to answer Dell's interrogatories?
II. Even if the trial court properly dismissed the complaint as to Dell, did the court err or abuse its discretion in dismissing the complaint as to the remaining eight defendants, none of whom had propounded interrogatories to appellants?

We conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing the complaint as to Dell, the one defendant who propounded interrogatories to appellants. Conversely, we are of the view that the court erred in dismissing the complaint as to the remaining eight defendants, who did not propound interrogatories to appellants. Therefore, we shall affirm in part and reverse in part.

Factual Background2

According to the complaint, Marianne Warehime "ha[d] been a member of the [Company] for eighteen years and ha[d] served as the Secretary of [the] company for eleven years."3 Mr. Warehime, an Ambulance Captain, was a twenty-nine year veteran of the Company. During the summer of 1992, the Company sponsored a carnival at the Carroll County fairgrounds. Ms. Warehime "worked" at the carnival in a capacity not disclosed in the record.

Appellants alleged that on the evening of June 30, 1992, while Ms. Warehime was working at the carnival, the Company convened an impromptu meeting of the disciplinary committee at the fairgrounds to investigate an alleged "pie-throwing incident" at the carnival involving Ms. Warehime and her daughter, Suzannah. Although Ms. Warehime denied involvement, the disciplinary committee decided that night to suspend her from the Company for one year and to bar her from holding office for three years. Thereafter, for reasons not entirely clear in the complaint, Mr. Warehime also came under the scrutiny of the disciplinary committee. In the weeks that followed, the Company discussed the "pie-throwing incident" and the Warehimes' status within the Company at six meetings of the disciplinary committee and the general membership.4 On the evening of July 27, 1992, after one of the meetings of the disciplinary committee, Mr. Warehime was asked to resign from the Company, but he refused to do so. Consequently, on August 6, 1992, the Company notified Mr. Warehime by certified mail that he had been removed from his position as a member.

Appellants subsequently lodged a twelve-count complaint, which contained six counts on behalf of Ms. Warehime and six counts on behalf of Mr. Warehime. Ms. Warehime sued all nine appellees, individually and in their official capacities, while Mr. Warehime only sued Dell, the president of the Company. Each count sought $50,000.00 in compensatory damages and costs, and six of the counts also requested punitive damages. Appellees answered on January 22, 1993.

Thereafter, appellees instituted a declaratory judgment action in the circuit court on September 21, 1993, against their insurance company, seeking to require their insurance carrier to defend the Warehimes' suit. At the same time, they moved to stay the Warehimes' case pending resolution of the declaratory judgment action. The circuit court granted appellees' motion to stay on October 26, 1993. The record does not disclose when or how the declaratory judgment action was resolved. Moreover, for reasons not made clear in the record, the stay was not lifted until September 1996. On July 14, 1995—while the stay was in effect—the Warehimes served interrogatories upon appellees. Presumably because of the stay, appellees did not respond. In any event, appellants never sought an order compelling discovery, nor did they move for sanctions. The case was otherwise dormant until July 15, 1996, when the court sent the parties a notice of contemplated dismissal pursuant to Maryland Rule 2-507. Appellants responded on August 14, 1996, with a motion to defer dismissal and lift the stay. The Warehimes asserted, inter alia, that they had failed to pursue the case, even though appellees' motion for declaratory judgment had been resolved, because they were waiting for appellees to file a threatened motion to dismiss. On September 5, 1996, the court granted appellants' motion and lifted the stay.

On December 17, 1996, more than four years after suit was instituted, the court held a status conference. On the same date, the court entered a scheduling order mandating, inter alia, service of interrogatories and requests for document production by March 15, 1997. All other discovery was to be completed by August 15, 1997.

Thereafter, on March 13, 1997, Dell propounded the interrogatories to appellants that are at the center of this dispute.5 Two months later, on May 14, 1997, appellees' counsel sent a letter to appellants' counsel requesting a response to the interrogatories. The letter claimed to be a "good faith attempt to resolve a discovery dispute, pursuant to Maryland Rule 2-431."

On May 29, 1997, appellee Ralph Dull (not to be confused with appellee Richard Dell), answered appellants' interrogatories of July 14, 1995.6 On the same date, by letter to appellants' attorney, appellees' counsel again requested answers to Dell's interrogatories. Counsel also threatened to file a motion for sanctions if the interrogatories were not answered within ten days. Again, no response was forthcoming. On July 17, 1997, more than four months after Dell propounded interrogatories to appellants, a motion for sanctions was filed, pursuant to Maryland Rule 2-433, by "[d]efendants Ralph Dull et al.," even though the interrogatories at issue had been propounded only by Dell.

Surprisingly, appellants did not respond to the motion for sanctions. As a result, on August 8, 1997, the court had before it an unopposed motion for sanctions that it granted, stating: "Plaintiffs' Complaint is hereby DISMISSED for failure to respond to discovery." An entry dated August 14, 1997, in the computerized docket of the circuit court, contains the following notation:


On August 25, 1997, appellants timely filed a motion to alter or amend judgment, in which they asserted that "Plaintiff's counsel's office manager" had "suddenly left two months [prior to the motion to alter or amend] and Plaintiff inadvertently failed to file the [answers to] Interrogatories." Appellants argued, inter alia, that dismissal was too extreme a sanction under the circumstances, and that even if dismissal was proper as to Dell, it was not warranted as to those defendants who had not submitted interrogatories. The court denied appellants' motion on September 10, 1997. This appeal followed.


Preliminarily, appellees assert in the fact section of their brief that appellants' motion to alter or amend was untimely because it was not filed within 10 days of entry of judgment. The contention has no merit.

As we noted, the court's order of dismissal was signed and received in the clerk's office on August 8, 1997, but it was not docketed until August 14, 1997. "Entry of judgment," which triggered the beginning of the ten-day motions period, occurred on August 14, 1997, when the order was docketed. See Waller v. Maryland Nat'l Bank, 332 Md. 375, 378-79, 631 A.2d 447 (1993) (the "date of entry" defined in Rule 2-601 "must be determined by reference to the docket entry"); Estep v. Georgetown Leather Design, 320 Md. 277, 287, 577 A.2d 78 (1990) (concluding that "a final judgment disposing of all claims or parties was not in existence until the judgment ... was entered on the docket...."). On Monday, August 25, 1997, appellants filed their motion to alter or amend.

Appellees seemingly overlook that August 24, 1997, the tenth day after entry of judgment, was a Sunday. Maryland Rule 1-203(a) provides that in the event the last day of a time period proscribed by the rules falls on a weekend, the period in which to complete the act "runs until the end of the next day that is not a Saturday, Sunday, or holiday...." See Ungar v. Handelsman, 325 Md. 135, 139, 599 A.2d 1159 (1992) (motion for reconsideration timely when ten day period ended on a Saturday and movant filed the next Monday); Hampton v. Univ. of Maryland at Baltimore, 109 Md.App. 297, 308-09, 674 A.2d 145, (stating that six-month probationary period ran until the end of the next Monday when final day fell on a Sunday), cert. denied, 343 Md. 333, 681 A.2d 68, and cert....

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