Monday, January 8, 2007

Aventis Pasteur, Inc. v. Skevofilax (Ct. of Appeals)

Filed January 8, 2007--Opinion by Judge Glenn T. Harrell, Jr.

Respondents, individually and as next friends for their minor child, filed suit in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City seeking damages claiming that their minor son's autism was caused by toxic levels of mercury contained in thimerosal. After three-amended scheduling orders and nearly eleven months of discovery, Respondents' sole expert on specific causation withdrew from further participation in the case without ever having rendered his expert opinion. The Circuit Court denied Respondents' motion for voluntary dismissal without prejudice, and entered summary judgment in favor of Petitioners.

The Court of Special Appeals reversed, holding that the Circuit Court improperly applied the pertinent legal factors in its analysis regarding the legal rights of minors and stating that the plaintiff's minority status weighed heavily in favor of voluntary dismissal without prejudice.

Held: The trial judge did not abuse his discretion in denying Respondent's Motion to Dismiss without prejudice and granting Petitioner's Motion for Summary Judgment. The decision of the Court of Special Appeals is reversed.

The decision to grant or deny a motion for voluntary dismissal pursuant to Maryland Rule 2-506(b) is addressed to the sound discretion of the trial court, and will not be overturned on appeal absent a showing that the trial judge abused that discretion. So long as the Circuit Court applied the proper legal standards and reached a reasoned conclusion based on the facts before it, an appellate court should not reverse merely because the appellate court would have reached a different conclusion. The trial court recounted properly the following four non-exclusive factors which instruct a decision whether to grant a voluntary dismissal: (1) the non-moving party's effort and expense in preparing for trial; (2) excessive delay or lack of diligence on the part of the moving party; (3) sufficiency of the reason of the need for dismissal; and (4) whether a motion for summary judgment or other dispositive motion is pending.

A trial court has a special duty to protect the rights and interests of a minor plaintiff who is represented by a next friend to ensure that the next friend does not prejudice those rights and interests through conflict of interest, fraud, or neglect. Absent conflict of interest, fraud, or neglect by a parent, guardian, next friend, or the minor's attorney, however, a motion for voluntary dismissal filed on behalf of a minor should not be analyzed any differently than a motion for dismissal without prejudice filed by any plaintiff.

The full opinion is available in PDF.

No comments: