The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland (“Maryland Appellate Court”), in an unreported opinion filed on August 2, 2018, remanded to the circuit court a Maryland medical malpractice case where the plaintiff failed to timely file a supplemental certificate and the circuit court thereafter dismissed the case, to clarify the circuit court’s analysis of the question of whether dismissal was the appropriate remedy, or whether some other remedy might be more appropriate.
In most Maryland medical malpractice cases, a party must file a supplemental certificate of a qualified expert within 15 days after the date when discovery is required to be completed. Md. Code (1973, 2013 Repl. Vol.) § 3-2A-06D(b)(1) of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article. For good cause shown, a court must grant an extension of time to file a supplemental certificate. § 3-2A-06D(b)(2). If, however, a plaintiff fails to file a supplemental certificate of a qualified expert for a defendant, on motion of the defendant the court may dismiss, without prejudice, the action as to that defendant.
In the case the Maryland Appellate Court was deciding, the Maryland medical malpractice plaintiff failed to file a supplemental certificate of a qualified expert within 15 days after the close of discovery. The circuit court denied a motion for additional time to file a supplemental certificate, finding that the plaintiff did not show good cause. The circuit court therefore dismissed the plaintiff’s Maryland medical malpractice case. Although the dismissal was nominally without prejudice, it had the practical effect of a dismissal with prejudice, because the statute of limitations had run.
Maryland Appellate Court Opinion
The Maryland Appellate Court stated that it was not entirely clear that the circuit court separated its consideration of whether the plaintiff established good cause for an extension of time to file a supplemental certificate from its consideration of the separate question of whether the failure to file a timely certificate should lead to the sanction of dismissal. Instead, it appeared to the Maryland Appellate Court that the circuit court may have combined the two inquiries into one and decided to dismiss the Maryland medical malpractice case simply because the plaintiff had failed to show good cause for an extension of time.
The Maryland Appellate Court stated that the circuit court still had to conduct two distinct inquiries before it could dismiss the plaintiff’s case. First, the circuit court had to decide whether the plaintiff had shown good cause for an extension of time, nunc pro tunc, to file a certificate. Second, if the circuit court found that the plaintiff did not show good cause and thus did not deserve an extension of time, it still had to decide whether dismissal was the appropriate judicial response to her failure to file.
The Maryland Appellate Court stated that in exercising its discretion about whether to put a plaintiff out of court because of the failure to meet the statutory scheduling deadline for supplementation or whether to impose some other, lesser sanction, a circuit court may consider factors such as the reason for the failure to file, the effect of the failure to file on other parties, and whether some measure short of dismissal might address the concerns of the affected parties and of the judicial system itself, citing the proposition that “[C]ourts must not lose sight of their primary responsibility: to render justice and resolve disputes in a fair and just manner.”
Source Reichard v. Amin, No. 1079.
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