These are reported Maryland appellate court cases briefed and argued by our firm. There are two appellate courts in Maryland. The Court of Appeals is the highest appellate court and the Court of Special appeals is the intermediate appellate court. All Court of Appeals decisions are “reported.” Most decisions, on the other hand, by the Court of Special Appeals are not reported. That Court, in its discretion, designates only those opinions that it deems are of “substantial interest as precedents” for reporting. Being “reported” means that the case forms part of the common law of Maryland and can be used as precedent when arguing a point of law before any Maryland court.
Description: In this case, the Court of Special Appeals held that a provision in a Maryland LLC operating agreement directing the transfer of a membership interest at the member’s death was inoperable because such an interest is a probate asset controlled by the decedent’s Will or, in the absence of a Will, the rules of intestacy. The importance of this case is the impact that it may have on LLC (and, perhaps, partnership) governance. Most closely held businesses seek to control the composition of the entity after the death of one of the initial members/partners. The issue is whether the seemingly broad definition of probate “property” compels agreements regarding succession of LLC interests at the death of a member to conform with the requirements for making a Will. The intermediate appellate court held that because of the Estate and Trust code’s broad definition of “property,” succession provisions are governed by the probate process. We represented the party seeking to uphold the LLC agreement as written. Our client prevailed in the Circuit Court, that decision was reversed by the Court of Special Appeals, and we filed, and the Court of Appeals granted, a petition for certiorari to review the decision. Before the hearing in the Court of Appeals, the case settled. Because of the importance of the issue, two partners of Franke Beckett, LLC, Deb Howe and Jon Lasley, are working with the Estates & Trusts Law Section and the Business Law Section of the Maryland Bar Association with proposed legislation for the 2022 Session of the General Assembly to legislatively reverse the Potter decision.
Description: In this case, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland upheld the use of extrinsic evidence of surrounding circumstances in the interpretation of the Will. The importance of this case is that Maryland generally follows the “plain meaning rule” when interpreting Wills. In theory, this means that the meaning of a Will must be gleaned from the document itself and not rely on any evidence beyond the plain language of the document. The use of extrinsic evidence to supplement the supposed plain meaning of the words contained in the Will is critical in many Will interpretation cases. This case upholds the ability of introducing extrinsic evidence as long as it supports rather than contradicts the plain meaning. This case establishes important guidance as to the nature, extent and use of extrinsic evidence in Will interpretation cases.
Description: In this case, the Court of Appeals of Maryland upheld the validity of a Will from attacks based largely on technical shortcomings of the Will. The Will had a very flawed attestation clause which was supplemented at trial by affidavit in a motion for summary judgment action These affidavits filled in the gaps in the attestation clause by showing that the Will was properly witnessed. The Court also rejected the challenge to the Will based on the fact that the witnesses were not signing on the same page as the testator. The importance of this case is largely because it offered the Maryland Court of Appeals an opportunity to clarify the rules governing what makes a valid Will in Maryland. It also discusses the importance of the attestation clause which shifts the burden to the person challenging the Will to show by clear and convincing evidence that the Will is not valid.
Description: In this case, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland upheld the validity of a Will despite technical flaws in the document. This decision was affirmed by the Court of Appeals. Because most challenges to Wills are very fact intensive, it is rare for a Will challenge to be dismissed on summary judgment. Nevertheless, in this case the trial court dismissed the challenge on summary judgment and it was upheld by both Appellate Courts in Maryland.
Description: This case established that Maryland recognizes the collateral order doctrine that permits an appeal before a final judgment in a case in certain circumstances. The collateral order doctrine permits such an interlocutory appeal when the person seeking the appeal would not be able to rectify a wrong done to that person if the person would have to wait for the final judgment to be entered into by the trial court.
Allen v. Ritter, 424 Md. 216 (2011)
Description: The Court of Appeals upheld the right of a personal representative of a decedent’s estate to obtain a release from beneficiaries when distributing assets and closing out the estate. In this case, the Orphans’ Court determined that the Maryland statute permitted the personal representative to insist on a release from beneficiaries before the personal representative distributed all of the assets of the estate to those beneficiaries. The personal representative wanted to assure that she was not sued by the beneficiaries after the estate was closed and they had received their benefit from the estate.
Description: In this case, the Maryland Court of Appeals upheld a Circuit Court order that a trustee was required to give a remainderman a copy of the trust and an accounting. To reach this result, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court’s order was not a final appealable order. The Court of Special Appeals had earlier held that the remainderman had an absolute right to an accounting and on that basis upheld the Circuit Court’s ruling. The Court of Appeals in its holding did not suggest that the Court of Special Appeals was wrong in its judgment just that no court needed to review the Circuit Court’s insistence that the trustee turn over a copy of the trust to a vested remainderman and give an accounting to that remainderman.
Description: In this case, the Court of Special Appeals held that the personal representative had a statutory right to obtain a release from beneficiaries when distributing assets and closing out the estate. On appeal the Maryland Court of Appeals affirmed.
Description: Upheld the Circuit Court’s order that a beneficiary who had a future interest in a trust was entitled to a copy of the trust and an accounting. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals held that the settlor of the trust cannot, by including limitations in the trust instrument, circumvent the trustee’s duty to account to such a beneficiary. This case was appealed and the Maryland Court of Appeals affirmed the result but on different grounds. Since the ruling in this case, Maryland has adopted the Maryland Trust Act which provides explicit direction as to the duty of a trustee to provide a copy of the trust and accounting to various categories of beneficiaries.
Description: In this case, the Court of Special Appeals upheld the Circuit Court in permitting extrinsic, parol evidence of surrounding circumstances of an interlineation on a deed putting a second grantee on the deed after the grantor had executed that deed.