This Maryland Medical Malpractice Lawyer Blog regularly discusses medical malpractice cases from the Maryland appellate courts. Additionally, it features other personal injury court decisions in which the same legal issues arise. In a recent personal injury case, the Appellate Court had to review claims of error in the trial by a pro se plaintiff (plaintiff representing self). In doing so, the Court demonstrated that although the plaintiff did not follow briefing rules, the Court endeavored to glean the plaintiff’s assignments of error and review the transcript to address them.
The Appellate Court of Maryland issued an unreported opinion in McCormick v. Housing Authority of Baltimore City (January 30, 2024). The case involved a pro se plaintiff public housing resident, alleging that soil erosion had caused water problems in her unit that had caused her many health problems.
In the Courts
After the plaintiff’s case, then the circuit court granted a motion for judgment. The trial judge primarily focused on the lack of expert testimony connecting the plaintiff’s medical conditions to the soil erosion. (Op. at 5).
The Appellate Court addressed the issues the plaintiff attempted to raise in her brief. The plaintiff complained that the trial court did not grant her motion for default based on the defendant’s failure to file a timely answer. The Court, however, cited the transcript showing that the plaintiff agreed to withdraw the motion and proceed with the trial. (Id. at 8).
The Court also concluded that the pro se plaintiff had failed to establish the elements of negligence, and the trial court correctly granted the motion for judgment. (Id. at 10-12). Specifically, the plaintiff did not put on causation expert testimony to link her physical injuries to soil erosion.
The plaintiff also failed to establish a breach of contract. Significantly, the plaintiff failed even to introduce a copy of her lease. (Id. at 13). The Appellate Court concluded that the circuit court correctly granted the defendant’s motion for judgment. (Id. at 14). Further, the procedural errors that the plaintiff raised were not meritorious. (Id. at 16-17).
Commentary: Pro Se Plaintiff
The Appellate Court noted that the plaintiff had filed an informal brief that did not conform to the rules, including the designation of issues for the appeal. (Id. at 7). However, the Court analyzed the plaintiff’s submission. It restated the questions in a way the Court believed reflected the plaintiff’s concerns.
The court has flexibility in dealing with pro se plaintiffs. Maryland courts have repeatedly said they give no special treatment to a pro se party. Pickett v. Noba, 114 Md. App. 552 554-555 (1997). This principle allows the court to ensure a pro se party’s failure to follow the rules does not waste the court’s time or prejudice the administration of justice. In McCormick, the Court could have struck the brief for failing to comply with the rules and dismissed the appeal. MD Rule 8-503.
However, the court also can choose to be flexible, as it did here. The Appellate Court did not dismiss the appeal. Instead, the Court attempted to glean the issues the plaintiff was trying to raise. Then, the Court examined the transcript and papers from the proceeding below to assess those issues. The lawyers usually do this by gathering support from the record in presenting their arguments. The McCormick Court gave the plaintiff a full review. No one could say she didn’t receive a full hearing of her issues. As a result, there is more of a sense of justice than if the Court had dismissed the appeal because she did not have the legal assistance to state her claims correctly.
The portions of the transcript cited suggest that the trial court was also deferential to the pro se plaintiff. The trial court repeatedly offered the plaintiff the option of postponement if she was not completely ready to proceed with the trial. (Id. at 16).
Evidently, the trial court probably could have disposed of this case on a pre-trial motion for summary judgment based on the same facts that it entered judgment at trial. However, it is not clear why that didn’t happen. In any event, the courts gave this plaintiff a full hearing of the issues she tried to raise.
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