Topics on this page
- Court’s Discretion to Grant Appeals
- Drafting the Petition for a Writ of Certiorari
- Petition for a Writ of Certiorari - Procedure
- Petition for a Writ of Certiorari - Decision
- What Happens Next?
Court’s Discretion to Grant Appeals
The Supreme Court is Maryland’s highest court. The Supreme Court reviews appeals taken from the Appellate Court of Maryland and sometimes from the District Court and circuit court. In rare cases, the Supreme Court may choose to hear very important appeals directly, without having the case heard first in the Appellate Court. However, for the vast majority of cases, the Supreme Court is generally not the place to start your first appeal.
The Supreme Court has significant discretion in granting appeals, meaning the Court does not have to accept your case for review. With very few exceptions, there is no right to have your appeal heard by the Court. This means that if you want to appeal to the Supreme Court, you must first ask for permission through a petition for writ of certiorari. Be aware that relatively few cases are accepted -- generally less than 15%. The Supreme Court is more likely to accept your case for appellate review if you have a sufficiently unique legal issue and the Court’s review is desirable and in the public interest.
There are some exceptions to the Court’s discretion, but those will not likely apply to your situation (e.g., certified questions of law from other courts, attorney discipline cases, judicial disciplinary and disability matters, legislative redistricting). This article does not address these more uncommon scenarios, but, if they are of interest, review the Maryland Rules.
Read the Rule: Md. Rule 8-301
If you disagree with the lower court's decision, whether that’s the Appellate Court, the circuit court, or the District Court, consider whether you have another option in the lower court, such as a motion for reconsideration.
If you’re appealing to the Supreme Court, then you’ve already been through the appeals process, so you know that it takes time and expense and involves complex legal arguments. If you are new to appeals, then learn more about appeals generally. Also, before you go further, ask yourself if the appeal is worth this investment in time and expenses. Consider talking to an attorney.
This article focuses on the first step of the Supreme Court appeal process, the petition for a writ of certiorari. Also, this information cover petitions for a writ of certiorari that are submitted to the Supreme Court, not other courts (e.g., circuit courts).
Regardless of which lower court heard your previous appeal, if you choose to appeal the lower court’s decision with the Supreme Court, then your first step is to submit a petition for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court. A petition for a writ of certiorari is a formal, written request asking the Supreme Court to review your case and the decision handed down by the Appellate Court (or other lower court).
Timing is very important. Be aware of deadlines. If you are filing to appeal a decision of the Appellate Court and if you have filed a notice of appeal to the Appellate Court, then you can file your petition either before or after the Appellate Court has rendered a decision, but not later than 15 days after the Appellate Court issues its mandate or 30 days after the filing of the opinion.
If you are filing to appeal a decision of the circuit court, you must file your petition no later than 30 days after the entry of the judgment of the circuit court, with a few exceptions.
If a party has timely filed a petition, then any other party may file a petition for writ of certiorari within 15 days after the date of the first petition was filed (or within any applicable time period established by the Maryland Rules), whichever is later.
Read the Rule: Md. Rule 8-302
Drafting the Petition for Writ of Certiorari
The petition is where you explain to the Supreme Court why the Court should grant your request for an appeal. The content should accurately, briefly, and clearly present the essential information for consideration by the Court. There is 3,900-word limit.
The petition must include:
a reference to the action in the lower court by name and docket number (or the case number if appealing from circuit court or District Court);
a statement whether the case has been decided by the Appellate Court;
if the case is pending in the Appellate Court, then a statement whether briefs have been filed in the Appellate Court or the date briefs are due, if known;
a statement whether the judgment of the circuit court has adjudicated all claims in the action in their entirety, and the rights and liabilities of all parties to the action;
the date of the judgment sought to be reviewed and the date of any mandate of the Appellate Court;
the questions presented for review (e.g., what are you asking the Supreme Court to review and decide?);
why the Supreme Court should review the questions presented in your petition (e.g., why is this in the public interest);
references to pertinent constitutional provisions, statutes, ordinances, or regulations;
a concise statement of the facts material to the consideration of the questions presented (material facts are those that are important, significant, and essential); and
a concise argument in support of the petition.
Read the Rule: Md. Rule 8-303
Petition for Writ of Certiorari - Procedure
As with all appeals, pay attention to the Maryland Rules as there are specific requirements related to timing, format, and content. The Supreme Court can deny your petition for not complying with the Maryland Rules.
Filing the Petition - You must file the original petition for a writ of certiorari with the Clerk of the Supreme Court. You must make the copies. The Clerk’s Office will not make these copies for you. Note that, unless you have received a fee waiver, you must pay the filing fee when you file the petition.
Service – You must serve the other parties in the case. Include your certificate of service with your petition.
Additional Documents – In addition to the petition for a writ of certiorari, you must also submit copies of the following with your filing:
the docket entry evidencing the judgment of the circuit court;
any opinion of the circuit court;
any written order issued by the circuit court;
if the Court of Special Appeals has not yet decided the case, then all briefs filed in the Appellate Court; and
any opinion of the Appellate Court.
If these documents are not available, then you must explain why they are unavailable. If any previously unavailable document becomes available and the Supreme Court has not yet acted on the petition, then you must file a supplement to the petition as soon as the documents become available. If copies of the briefs or opinions were previously served or provided to the other party, you do not need to serve them again.
Filing Fees - There are fees associated with filing your appeal. The Supreme Court’s website has the schedule of fees. If you choose to appeal your case and believe you cannot afford to pay the costs of filing for an appeal, you can request the requirement that these costs be prepaid be waived
Remember, if your request is approved, the waiver only removes the requirement to pay the costs of filing for an appeal upfront. You may still have to the pay the court fees at the end of the appeal, unless the court orders the other party to pay those fees and costs. Note, there is a process of asking the court for a final waiver of costs at the end of the case. Learn more about filing fee waivers.
Answer - Within 15 days after service of the petition, the other party may file an original answer to the petition that states why the petition for writ of certiorari should be denied. There is 3,900 word limit for the answer unless permission to exceed the word limit is granted by the Supreme Court. Filing an answer is not mandatory but can be helpful to the Court.
Stay of Judgment - A stay of judgment halts the legal progress of the case in the lower court or the enforcement of a decision of the lower court. A stay is not automatic, you must ask the Supreme Court to stay the lower court proceedings or judgment.
More information about the procedure, including filing instructions, is available on the Supreme Court website.
Read the Rule: Md. Rule 8-303
Petition for Writ of Certiorari - Decision
Once you have submitted your petition, the Supreme Court generally takes 6-8 weeks to act on the appeal. Remember, the Supreme Court has a lot of discretion related to granting or denying your petition. The Supreme Court can deny the petition without reviewing any briefs or hearing oral arguments.
If the Supreme Court grants your petition, then the Court may do one of the following:
direct further proceedings in the Supreme Court;
dismiss the appeal;
affirm the lower court’s judgment;
vacate or reverse the lower court’s judgment;
modify the lower court’s judgment;
remand the action to the lower court for further proceedings; or
a combination of the above.
Read the Supreme Court’s order very carefully.
Read the Rule: Md. Rule 8-303
What Happens Next?
If the appeal can proceed before the Supreme Court, then you will likely need to draft a brief. An appellate brief is where you present your legal arguments to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court’s website provides information about the format of the brief. Writing a brief is challenging. Be prepared to spend considerable time on this. Consider talking to an attorney for assistance. Learn more about legal research.
There may also be oral arguments. This is where you present your arguments, in-person, to the court. There are very specific time limits as well as limits on the topics you can discuss. The judges may also ask you questions.
What happens next will really depend on the Supreme Court’s order when deciding on your petition. Read the Supreme Court’s order very carefully.
Read the Rule: Md. Rules, Title 8, Chapter 500