Maryland Court of Special Appeals Addresses Discovery Issue in Lead Paint Suit

In a recent opinion, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals decided whether a trial court erred in refusing to allow plaintiff’s lead-paint inspection of a non-party’s home. In Johnson v. Franklin, the plaintiff had filed a lead-paint poisoning suit against a defendant property company that had previously owned the house. The plaintiff alleged that he suffered severe and permanent injuries from exposure to lead-based paint. The plaintiff sought to test the house, currently owned by a non-party to the suit, for lead-based paint. The Court of Special Appeals vacated the decision of the trial court denying the plaintiff’s request and remanded the case for further proceedings.

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The plaintiff first contacted the non-party by letter, requesting her permission to conduct environmental testing of her house for the presence of lead-based paint. When the non-party failed to respond, the plaintiff filed a complaint in circuit court, seeking a court order permitting the inspection, which is known as an equitable bill of discovery. The non-party responded that she had already tested her house for lead paint, that the state and federal governments had approved it, and that she had provided those results and copies of the paperwork to the plaintiff. The trial court subsequently denied the plaintiff’s request.

On appeal, the Court of Special Appeals provided an explanation of how one may obtain an equitable bill of discovery, and the standard of review for the grant or denial of one—an issue that had never before been discussed by the court.

A bill of discovery is an equitable remedy that allows one party to obtain information that is vital to the party’s case, but in the exclusive control of another party. The court recognized that, although Maryland law does not explicitly provide a mechanism for entry upon the land of a non-party for inspection, a trial court may issue a bill of discovery based on its inherent powers.

The Court of Special Appeals further explained that in order to issue a bill of discovery, the trial court must conduct an evidentiary hearing, at which the party seeking the bill must establish that (1) the information is material and necessary for a current action, (2) there is no other means of obtaining the information, (3) the right of access to the premises outweighs the right of privacy of the home owner and occupant, and (4) it would not impose an unreasonable hardship upon the owner or occupant.

The Court of Special Appeals vacated the trial court’s decision because it did not consider these factors, and it remanded the case back to the circuit court for proceedings in light of its opinion. In clarifying the procedural process to obtain an equitable bill of discovery, the Court of Appeals has allowed litigants easier access to information needed to pursue their claims.

The Maryland attorneys at Foran & Foran, P.A. assist victims in pursing compensation for their injuries, from car accidents to medical malpractice, workers’ compensation, and others. To discuss your claim with our experienced attorneys, contact us at (301) 441-2022 or online.

More Blog Posts:

Maryland Court Allows Habit Evidence of Doctor in Medical Malpractice Action, Maryland Personal Injury Blog Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published July 15, 2015

Maryland Court of Special Appeals Rules in Medical Malpractice Case, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published June 24, 2015