The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland (“Appellate Court”) discussed the role of “judicial notice” in an unreported opinion issued on November 28, 2016 that involved a Maryland medical malpractice appeal.
During the Maryland medical malpractice jury trial, the trial judge was asked by the plaintiff to take “judicial notice” that a certain medication that the plaintiff had taken in the past was in a certain class of medications (the plaintiff contended that she had a severe allergic reaction to a particular medication that she was prescribed, and the defense contended that it was unclear and unproven if she had an allergic reaction to that medication or to another medication or that she had an allergic reaction to any medication).
On the morning of the last day of trial, the plaintiff asked the court to take judicial notice that the antibiotic drug Cephalexin belongs to a class of drugs called cephalosporins. (The plaintiff was prescribed a cephalosporin, without having an allergic reaction, about one year before she had the alleged allergic reaction to a different medication that was the basis of her Maryland medical malpractice lawsuit.)
The defendant objected to the plaintiff’s request that the trial judge take judicial notice that Cephalexin is a cephalosporin, on relevancy grounds, but she did not object because of any contention that Cephalexin was not a cephalosporin. The trial judge took judicial notice that Cephalexin is a cephalosporin, turning aside the defendant’s objection. The Maryland medical malpractice jury returned its verdict in favor of the plaintiff, and the defendant appealed.
The defendant argued on appeal, in part, that the trial court erred in allowing the jury to draw an improper inference (however, her attorney did not object to any mention of Cephalexin during the plaintiff’s closing argument).
Maryland Rule 5-201 provides, in part: ” … (b) A judicially noticed fact must be one not subject to reasonable dispute in that it is either (1) generally known within the territorial jurisdiction of the trial court or (2) capable of accurate and ready determination by resort to sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned. (c) A court may take judicial notice, whether requested or not. (d) A court shall take judicial notice if requested by a party and supplied with the necessary information.”
The Appellate Court stated that trial courts can take judicial notice of matters of common knowledge or those capable of certain verification: the doctrine of judicial notice substitutes for formal proof of a fact when formal proof is clearly unnecessary to enhance the accuracy of the fact finding process. Many different types of information can fall under the umbrella of judicial notice, most commonly public records such as court documents or facts that are widely known, often within the particular geographic area where a case is pending, such as taking judicial notice that certain streets are within a particular city’s borders so that a trial judge is allowed to determine that crimes were committed within the jurisdiction.
Citing a prior appellate case, the Appellate Court stated that what unites the various classes of information subject to judicial notice is not so much their nature as public or widely-known, but more their nature as undisputed.
In the present case it was deciding, the Appellate Court held “the categorization of Cephalexin as a cephalosporin is a factual matter, in the “look it up” category, and we perceive no error in the trial court’s agreement to take judicial notice that Cephalexin is a cephalosporin. It is “not subject to reasonable dispute,” Rule 5-201(b), and indeed, appellant does not dispute the fact on this appeal. Judicial notice of such a fact was not error.”
Source Peirce v. Fazenbaker, No. 1293, September Term, 2014.
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