Finding Maryland Case Law

Before you search for case law, you need to know a little about the court system of the jurisdiction whose law you are searching. Most importantly, you need to know: the "pecking order" of the various courts within that system (that is, which courts can overturn the decisions of other courts), and which case reporters publish the opinions from those courts. Not all decisions are published.
 
In Maryland, the highest court is called the Court of Appeals (1776 to date). Below the Court of Appeals is a mid-level appellate court called the Court of Special Appeals (1967 to date). The Maryland District and Circuit Courts, are trial courts, the lowest courts in Maryland’s court hierarchy. "Trial courts" are the courts where cases must begin. The "appellate courts" hear appeals from other courts. For practical purposes, this hierarchy means that if a higher Maryland court disagrees with a lower Maryland court about the meaning of Maryland law, the higher court’s interpretation prevails.

For example, The Court of Special Appeals issued an opinion interpreting Md. Real Property Code § 8-213. A judge on the Maryland Circuit Court was later trying to interpret the same statute. The judge on the Circuit Court would have to follow the interpretation of the Court of Special Appeals.

On the other hand, the Court of Appeals might later decide that the Court of Special Appeals had interpreted the statute incorrectly. In that situation, any lower courts interpreting the same statute after the Court of Appeals issued its interpretation would have to follow the interpretation of the Court of Appeals.
 
Not all court decisions are published. In Maryland, only selected cases decided by the two appeals courts are published. Cases from the trial courts are not published at all. The published cases include only about 15% of cases decided by the Court of Special Appeals. Those appellate opinions that are published appear in the following books called "reporters":

  1. Maryland Reports – This reporter publishes opinions issued by the Maryland Court of Appeals. In case law citations, the abbreviation for Maryland Reports is simply “Md.”
  2. Maryland Appellate Reports – This reporter publishes opinions issued by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. In case law citations, the abbreviation for Maryland Appellate Reports is “Md. App.”
  3. Atlantic Reporter and Atlantic Reporter Second Series – The Atlantic Reporter, now in its second edition or “series,” publishes opinions from the appellate courts of many states, including Maryland. In case law citations, the abbreviation for the first series of Atlantic Reporter is just “A.”, while the abbreviation for the second series is “A.2d”. The same Maryland court opinions that appear in Maryland Reports and Maryland Appellate Reports also appear in Atlantic Reporter. It is only necessary to look a Maryland Court of Appeals case up in either the Atlantic Reporter or in the Maryland Reports; you wouldn’t need to the same case up in both places.

A citation to a Maryland case published in Maryland Appellate Reports might look like this:

  •  Kimmel v. Safeco Insurance Co., 116 Md. App. 346 (1997)
    • The first part, Kimmel v. Safeco Insurance Co. is the case title.
    • 116 is the volume
    • Md. App. is the abbreviation of the reporter
    • 346 is the page number
    • 1997 is the year of the decision

Or, a citation to the same case published in the Atlantic Reporter, Second Series would look like this:

  • Kimmel v. Safeco Insurance Co., 696 A. 2d 482 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 1997)
    • The first part, Kimmel v. Safeco Insurance Co. is the case title.
    • 696 is the volume
    • A. 2d is the abbreviation of the reporter
    • 482 is the page number
    • Md. Ct. Spec. App is the court
    • 1997 is the year of the decision

Tips on using the on-line databases and paper source tools

Unfortunately, the free Maryland case law databases on the web only have cases dating back a few years. No matter how old they are, cases remain binding law until they are overruled by other cases or until the law is changed by statute or regulation. Therefore, you can’t rely on free Maryland case law databases for a complete search. You can go to your local public law library and search their subscription case law databases; a reference librarian can show you how.

If you prefer researching in print, most public law libraries also subscribe to the Maryland Digest, which is a print subject index to Maryland case law.

Is this legal advice?

This site offers legal information, not legal advice.  We make every effort to ensure the accuracy of the information and to clearly explain your options.  However we do not provide legal advice - the application of the law to your individual circumstances. For legal advice, you should consult an attorney.  The Maryland State Law Library, a court-related agency of the Maryland Judiciary, sponsors this site.  In the absence of file-specific attribution or copyright, the Maryland State Law Library may hold the copyright to parts of this website. You are free to copy the information for your own use or for other non-commercial purposes with the following language “Source: Maryland's People’s Law Library – www.peoples-law.org. © Maryland State Law Library, 2014.”