Filing a case requires four steps: 1) the writing and filing of the complaint; 2) the payment of the filing fee (or a waiver); 3) the notification of the party you are suing (this is usually called “service of process”); and 4) proof to the court that the defendant has been served.
1. The first step—writing and filing the complaint—is the most complicated. This is because you will need to make the following decisions:
Effective July 1, 2013, Maryland Court Rule 1-322.1  instructs persons who file documents with a court to keep certain unnecessary personal identifier information, including Social Security numbers, out of the court records unless there is a legal obligation to include such information.
The Rule sets forth exceptions, as well as alternatives when it is necessary to include personal identifier information.
Read the Law: MD Rule 1-322.1 
2. Next, you pay the filing fee. You can find the list of all District Court fees here . You can find a basic list of Circuit Court fees here and a county-by-county chart of fees here . In addition to the cost of filing the case, there is also a fee if you want the court to have the defendant served (either by mail or by constable/sheriff). If you have limited income, you may be eligible for a waiver of fees. You must apply for a waiver of fees by using this form , which can be filed either in District Court or in Circuit Court.
3. The next step is to notify the defendant of the lawsuit. You do this through a legal procedure called “service of process.” There are 3 ways to do this: by Certified Mail; Private Process; or by the Sheriff (or Constable).
4. Finally, you need to prove that you have actually served the defendant with a notice of your lawsuit. If you sent the Complaint and Summons by certified mail yourself, you must return the receipt of delivery to the Court. Mail the completed form back to the court along with a cover letter confirming that you are enclosing proof of service for filing in this case. If you used a private process server, that person must sign a document, called the “Affidavit of Service,” stating that the papers were served on the defendant. You must send the affidavit to the court. If you had the defendant served by a sheriff or constable you will receive notification that the defendant was served.
If the Court does not receive Proof of Service within the time, you may not be able to present your case on the trial date. There are rules to follow in case service does not happen on time. Because these rules are specialized for each court and your situation, you should check with your local court’s “self-help center” or law library.
After a plaintiff files a complaint, the defendant has an opportunity to respond. The time period for responding is different in each court.
In District Court cases, a defendant must respond in the following ways in order to have his or her day in Court:
A defendant may decide to file a motion, in addition to the responses above. For example, a defendant could do the following:
A defendant could also choose to ignore the summons. However, if the defendant fails to respond within 15 days of receiving the summons, he or she may lose the case automatically.
Finally, a defendant may try to settle the case out of court. If one party has an attorney, the other party must always contact the attorney and not the party. Otherwise, if both parties are self-representing their own cases, they may be able to work to settle the case themselves. Still, it’s a good idea to use mediation services whenever possible.
In Circuit Court, there are more rules to follow for answering a complaint. In most cases, if the defendant does not file an answer or counterclaim within 30 days of service of process, he or she will automatically lose. Maryland Rule 2-321 does list a few exceptions to the 30-day rule, so it is important for defendants to review that Rule as soon as they are served with a complaint. Read the Rule: MD Rule 2-321 
Answers in Circuit Court are more formal than in District Court. An answer must follow the format and captioning stated in Rule 1-301. In the answer, a defendant must admit or deny the facts the plaintiff gives in the complaint and contain any legal defenses listed in Maryland Rule 2-323. In Circuit Court, a defendant may also file certain procedural motions before filing an answer. Some of these motions, which are listed in Maryland Rule 2-322, can only be made at this point in the case. Finally, in some instances outlined in Maryland Rule 3-323, a defendant may need to file a Case Information Report. It is important to consult the Maryland Rules when answering a complaint filed in Circuit Court. Your local law library also may have additional books and sample forms on answering complaints. Read the Rules: MD Rule 3-323, 322 
Start by gathering as much information as you possibly can. Start with basic information, (name, age, social security number) and then expand from there. The more information you can gather the better. Good places to start gathering information are old bank statements, loan applications, bankbooks, and financial records. These documents are often treasure troves of information, such as a social security number or a date of birth.
Once you have this information and write it all down so that you have easy access to it while you are tracking down the person. Use a Data Collection Work Sheet (see sampel below) to help you organize the information you have collected. When the form is completed, keep it with you when you contact anyone as an easy reference and a place to add any additional information.
Ask friends, relatives, old employers, social clubs or religious institutions. You may be surprised at who has continued to keep in touch with your missing person.
We suggest that you initially attempt to locate the person by calling friends, relatives, and employers. Some people will not take the time to respond to a letter, so you may get a quicker answer by telephone.
However, letters are a more "official" approach and can be used to document your attempts to locate the person when you are having difficulty finding him or her.
No matter how you start your search, be sure to record dates and to whom you spoke with. (It is not necessary to make all of the contacts on this list, but do especially try the ones that may respond.) Use this Tracking Log to document your efforts.
If you know a recent address of the person you are seeking (within one year), you may be able to locate them if they have left a forwarding address. To try this approach, address a letter as usual to the address you have. Add the phrase “ADDRESS CORRECTION REQUESTED / DO NOT FORWARD” to the front of the envelope. If the post office has a forwarding address, they will place a correction label on the envelope and return it to you.
If you are afraid the person you are looking for may get your address from the return address, you can use “General Delivery” to avoid this. In the return address location write your name as usual, but where you normally place your street address, write “General Delivery.” Under that write, your city, state and zip code as normal. The letter will be returned to your Post Office and must be picked up by you within 30 days. There will be no way to figure out your exact address from the letter but if you are listed in the phone book, they will have the town in which you live. The U.S. Post Office’s description  of “General Delivery.”
If you are using the U.S. Mail to show an attempt at serving someone on the other side of a case, you will generally have to use “ Certified Mail - Return Receipt Requested”. The rules on what a court will find to be adequate service will vary.
Keep track of everyone you speak with and everything you do. It’s always a good idea to keep records of whom you have talked to. Use the Tracking Log below to document your efforts.
Whenever a phone call is made, or a letter is sent enter it in the log. Record what happened to each attempt at contact. If you are searching for someone for the purposes of service, this is another good reason to be sure you keep an accurate record of your attempts. If you still cannot locate the defendant after an exhaustive search, a record of all the steps you have taken could be enough evidence to prove to the court that you have tried. Remember that the court will have specific rules about what an adequate search might be. This will vary by type of case, however a well documented search is always helpful to show the efforts you have made.
If the person you are searching for is a member of a regulated trade or profession, such as a barber, hair stylist, cab driver, undertaker, paramedic, nurse, doctor, lawyer or private investigator, they will be certified, licensed, or registered through a state agency.
If your subject requires a state professional license, you can check that on the net for most of the major states. For a complete list of links to professional licensing, just go to the Council on Licensure, Enforcement and Regulation . Their web site contains over thirty professions in which licensing or certification is involved and provided contact information for most of them in each of the 50 states.
The Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation  has a very useful database. If the person you are looking for is employed in Maryland, and is legally practicing in one of these fields, the database will have their name and address:
Architect, Barber, Certified Interior Designer, Certified Public Accountant, Cosmetologist, Examining Engineer, Forester, A Home Improvement Contractor, a HVACR Contractor, Landscape Architect, Land Surveyors, Master Electricians, Pawn Broker, Plumber, Real Estate Appraiser, Real Estate Agent, Professional Engineer, or a Second hand precious metal object dealer.
Vital records can be a good place to start building your stockpile of information on the person you are looking for. Marriage, divorce, birth and death certificates are available from the Vital Statistics Administration .
Marriage certificates are useful for finding information about a missing spouse. Things which you no longer recall such as birth dates or middle names or maiden names. The marriage certificate will be located in the state in which you were married.
Divorce records can be useful if you have heard rumors that your separated spouse may have divorced. You will have to look for the divorce certificate in the state and county where the divorce was filed.
Birth certificates can be used to locate an individual if you know or have heard that the person you are searching for has had a child. If you know where the child may have been born, you may get some clues a parent’s city from information on the certificate. Information on the birth certificate can lead to more searchable information such the mother, father, or child of the birth.
Death certificates can be used to show evidence of death.
The Maryland State Archives  contains a great deal of information, which could be useful in locating a person. The organization contains records and serves as the central depository for government records such as marriage and divorce information, family histories, county records, church records, newspapers, land records and many other sources of information. The Archives contain a surprising amount of information, most of which is somewhat old, but it could possibly contain that last piece of information that you need.
When someone obtains a secured loan, there is usually a Uniform Commercial Code file that indicates the that there is a lien on the goods. This is done on a county level and can be hand searched at the local county courthouse. The information is also forwarded to state records. Most states now permit access of UCC records on the net. In Maryland this information is available online at the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation . Information on liens, real property and other information is available.
If you think that the person you are looking for may have been released from prison and on parole, you can attempt to find out by contacting the Maryland Division of Parole and Probation .
Because of the large volume of requests that each service locator receives, this is a slow process. If you think it will yield results, try this first. It will most likely take four weeks processing time per request. See Request for Military Mailing Addresses . Please note, the Army no longer provides this service.
You can search the Social Security’s master death list  online for free. This will provide you with the month and year of a person’s death. The are at least five versions of the Master Death List online. Read the description of each one. Some are updated monthly, others less often.
|worksheet.doc ||35 KB|
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The records you will typically need include birth certificates, death certificates, marriage records, and divorce records. The records are maintained by the state or local government, in which the event took place. Getting copies of these records can be a lengthy, frustrating, and even costly process if you need to hire someone to find them for you. Here is how to do it yourself.
Maryland- For information about finding vital records (and obtaining certified copies) for events that have occurred in Maryland visit the Vital Statistics Administration .
Outside Maryland- For births, divorces or other events that occurred elsewhere in the United States, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services publishes an extremely useful guide to finding vital records in the United States and its territories entitled “Where to Write for Vital Records- Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Divorces”  (PDF ). The guide lists the address and phone number of the record-keeping offices in each state and territory. It also includes fees charged for certified records, payment accepted and any special requirements or instructions. The phone numbers are listed so you can double-check on the current fees before sending in your payment. Website addresses are included for some listings to allow you to view instructions online.
Asking for a “certified” copy: In many instances, you must provide an original document or a “certified” copy of the original. Usually a “certified” copy is available for a small additional fee. Always ask for a certified copy if you must use the copy as a replacement for the original.
A private investigator can help you find information and people. S/he can find documentation such as court records, government agencies' filings, vital statistics, property ownerships, vehicle and vessel records, photographs, witness statements, etc.. The duties of private detectives and investigators depend on the needs of the client. Legal investigators specialize in cases involving the courts and are normally employed by law firms or lawyers. They frequently assist in preparing criminal defenses, locating witnesses, serving legal documents, interviewing police and prospective witnesses, and gathering/reviewing evidence. Legal investigators may also collect information on the parties to the litigation, take photographs, testify in court, and assemble evidence and reports for trials. This general overview was taken for the Department of Labor’s collection of job descriptions. If you are interested, also see the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Book  for a good overview of the profession.
Usually businesses and attorneys hire investigators. Publications used by private investigators mention the fact that some investigators are concerned about representing individuals in personal matters. They note that most will not turn down a legitimate personal matter such as locating a runaway child or locating a defendant in a law suit - if the requested service does not appear to violate a law or compromise the ethics of the investigator. For example, investigators may worry about issues such as being hired by a stalker to help find and watch a potential victim. You should be clear about the full circumstances of your request.
If you need help finding a private investigator, you may want to ask around for suggestions first. Most people find investigators through others who have used their services. Consult the trade organization for private investigation and security professionals in Maryland, Professional Investigators Alliance of Maryland, which lists (by county) contact information for its members.
Consult an attorney - Most successful private investigators interested in the type of work individuals are most likely to want (finding missing persons or looking for documents) work closely with attorneys in your area. An attorney may well be the best source for finding a private investigator.
Just like hiring any professional, you should learn something about the profession and be cautious.
First, you should make sure that the person or firm is licensed in Maryland. Private investigators or private investigation agencies in Maryland must be licensed by the Maryland State Police. Private investigators or private investigation agencies are issued a Maryland Private Detective License, which must be renewed annually and must be displayed in a conspicuous place. For more information on the licensing of private investigators in Maryland, call the Maryland State Police in Pikesville, MD at 410-653-4500.
Interested in the law that covers the qualifications and licensing of private investigators in Maryland?
You can find it at Title 13 of the Maryland Business Occupations and Professions statute. This state law regulates private investigators in the entire state of Maryland. There is no local city or county ordinance regulating private investigators.
Consider the education and experience needed for your task. Remember that the rate you pay will be partially determined by the experience and background of an investigator. You will want to hire someone with experience in your type of case but not someone who is overqualified or with a specialist in another area. For example you would not want a highly experienced securities fraud specialty to try to locate a missing spouse. Generally here are no formal education requirements for most private detective and investigator jobs, although many private detectives have college degrees. Almost all private detectives and investigators have previous experience in other occupations. This is especially true in a state such as Maryland that requires significant experience (3-5 years in full time investigation work) to receive a license. Frequently past experience includes work as a police officer or detective, fire investigator, retired military or government intelligence or insurance investigator.
Interview the investigator. Be very clear and tell him/her exactly what you expect. There is so much information available and the needs of each client are so specific to each case, that a consultation can be very helpful. There are no standard operating procedures for an investigation.
Ask for the following:
Read the Law: MD Code Bus. Occ. & Prof. § 13-604 
Make sure you have a written contract that you understand. Set a cap on expenses and fees. Set “benchmarks” (previously agreed upon times during which you and the investigator evaluate what has been done and whether it is worth proceeding).
Trust your instincts. If the investigator doesn't seem 'right', don't hire the person.
Fees in Maryland range from $40.00-$75.00 per hour and sometimes more. Investigators often have a specialty and like most services, you will pay a higher fee for the work of people with more experience and training. Also many will require a retainer or deposit to be applied against fees for services rendered and expenses. You may pay from $1,000 to $5,000 depending on what you need.
If you want to complain about the conduct of a private investigator or believe that an investigator is operating without a license, contact the Maryland State Police.
The District Court in Maryland is a single statewide court with 34 court locations  in 12 districts.
Small Claims Court - This is often a relatively fast way to have a case heard by a Judge. (There is no jury in Small Claims Court). The proceeding is informal. Many people handle their own cases without an attorney.
Types of cases heard in District Court
The District Court hears both criminal and non-criminal (civil) cases.
The types of civil cases include money claims up to $30,000, domestic violence cases, landlord-tenant problems, motor vehicle and boating violations
That will depend on the type of case, your comfort with representing yourself, and how much you have to lose. The best way to decide is to take our quick interactive quiz  designed to help you answer just that question. You may decide that the best course is to have a lawyer help you with part of the case (to keep down the costs).
There are filing and service fees  and there is the possibility of attorney fees. If you hire an attorney, you and the attorney will decide on the amount of the fees. Should I Represent Myself? If you file in court, you will need to pay a filing fee (except if you are the petitioner in a domestic violence case). If you ask the court to take some action later in the case, there may be another fee. If the sheriff or the court clerk helps you serve the court papers to the other side, there will be a fee. The fees in District Court are generally modest, ranging from $2 to $38. More details about the court fees  from the District Court.
Particularly in small claims cases, it makes sense to try to resolve a dispute before going to the expense and time of going to court. More  on how to find help and steps to take.
Once you have explored the alternatives to court, it may still be
necessary to go to court. When you file in District Court (including
small claims court and landlord-tenant court), the following will
Vist the District Court Self-Help Website  for additional infomation.
The person who filed the lawsuit (the plaintiff) and the person who was sued (the defendant) are the parties to the lawsuit. Both are entitled to appear in court. There will be a judge but no jury in small claims cases. If you request a jury trial, the case will be transferred to Circuit Court. Both parties are allowed to speak and to present documents, drawings, photographs and other evidence as well as witnesses.
IMPORTANT TIP There are differences in the rules for how the hearing will be conducted in small claims cases (up to $5,000) and large claim cases (over $5,000 to $30,000). The rules are much more formal in large claim cases, and the advice or representation of an attorney is likely to be very helpful.
If you win, the next step will be to collect the amount ordered by the Judge. You will need to collect the funds on your own. The court will not collect it for you, however, if you do not receive the amount due to you in 30 days (unless there was an agreement to pay in installments), you can go back to court. You can try to have the money taken out of the other person’s pay check or try to claim some of that person's personal property. Obviously, you will need to research the other person’s ability pay.
All of the information in this section of the website is important to help you win your case. However, here are few key pieces of general information that every person involved in a District Court case should know.
Visit The District Court Self-Help Website  for more information.
Whether your case is in the general District Court caseload or one of the special proceedings such as small claims court or landlord-tenant court, understanding the law and the rules is critical. The “law” will tell you about your rights and obligations. The “rules” will tell you how the case will be handled in the courts. You need to be familiar with both in order to be successful with your case in court. If you have a sense of your chance of success, it will help you in any negotiation as well.
Small claims court is informal. This means that many of the rules about how you are allowed to present testimony and evidence do not apply. However, your rights and obligations under the law remain the same. The more you understand, the better your chances of proving your case.
Don’t rely only on what others say. Read the law and rules yourself. For example. MD Rule 3 – 701(f)  is the rule about the rules of evidence in small claims court that is mentioned above. You can compare it with the general rule in District Court Rules Title 5 – Evidence . You can find good information on websites like this but your research is what helps you to know that you are on firm legal ground.
Lawyers and judges use a number of special terms to describe certain concepts in the law. Many of the terms are taken from the Latin.
In addition, words that have a plain English meaning may also have a very special legal meaning.
This means that legal terms can be confusing at first. But be of good cheer.
The Peoples Law Library website has a good directory of legal terms and their definitions. It includes links to other reputable legal terms dictionaries.
Many people think of there is one special set of books that are “the law”. Instead the law is a combination of rules that have been created by different levels and branches of government as well as our combined history. You must consider the combined influence of all of these in mind when you look at the facts in your case.
Beginning your legal research is pretty straightforward. The Peoples Law Library website has explanations of many common areas of legal problems and disputes. Start there. In addition, there are several good guides that can help you understand the law that applies to your case. Start here to
You can also visit your local law library  where a librarian can help guide you to appropriate resources. Keep in mind that the librarian cannot provide legal advice on your legal situation.
Your local public library on the Eastern Shore can assist you to find legal resources and locate legal help, if needed. Read more about this special project, “Get Ready for Your Day in Court @ Your Library” and locate your local library.
The details on how the court process will work (called “procedure”) are found in the Maryland Court Rules . The Maryland Court Rules that apply to cases described in this Guide are called “Title 3 Civil Procedure – District Court”. In other words the Rules for criminal cases and for the Circuit Courts are found in other places. Small claims and landlord-tenant cases are considered “special proceedings “ under the District Court Rules.
Here is why this is important in your research. Under the general District Court Rules, there are several types of legal disputes that are considered “special proceedings”. In some areas, these special proceedings each have their own rules. You will find the special rules for small claims (under $5,000) in MD Rule 3-701. You will find the special rules for landlord tenant in MD Rule 3-711. Read the Rules: MD Rule 3-701, 3-711 
Generally the District Court Rules apply to every case in District Court. This is true except where there is a special rule under the section on these “special proceedings”.
For example, Special Rule MD 3-701(e) says that there will be no discovery allowed in small claims cases (i.e. $5,000 or under is in dispute) Yet if your claim is for only $50 more ($5,050), discovery is allowed under the regular District Court rules. See Chapter 400-Discovery of Title 3 Civil Procedure – District . What this means for your case is that much more complicated rules will apply. You need to be prepared.
Your local law librarian  can help.
You can contact a Maryland-licensed attorney for advice.
Your local public library on the Eastern Shore can assist you to find legal resources and locate legal help, if needed. Read more about this special project, “Get Ready for Your Day in Court @ Your Library” and locate your local library.
It is important to know where the information is coming from and how recently it has been updated. This site has some quick tips on how to evaluate any legal website – including this one.
The phrase "statute of limitations" refers to the limited period of time within which you can file a lawsuit against someone who harmed you. By default, in the state of Maryland, you have a period of three years, after the clock starts running, to file a civil lawsuit. (The clock usually starts running on the date you were harmed, but not always: see below regarding an exception.) Read the Law: MD Code Courts & Jud. Proc. 5-101 
HOWEVER, some types of cases have a different limitation period, by law. For example, the limitation period for assault, libel, or slander is one year.Read the Law: MD Code Courts & Jud. Proc. 5-105 
Failure to file the lawsuit within the allowed period of time can result in permanently losing the ability to bring that lawsuit. If you have questions about your suit or its timing of filing, contact an attorney for advice.
Once you have found out how the “statute of limitations” applies to your case, you need to decide when your right to make the claim for damages in court will expire. In most cases, the statute of limitations time period starts running on the date you were “harmed.” It is like the “sell by” expiration date on a quart of milk. You cannot “sell” your claim to the court after the time period has expired.
For example - You are harmed on August 1, 2006. You consult an attorney and find out that the statute of limitations for your case is 3 years. You will have until August 1, 2009 to file a claim in court. If you file on August 21st and the other side claims that the statute of limitations has expired, or “run,” the case is likely to be dismissed. The time frame for you to file your claim has expired.
The date you were “harmed” refers to:
An exception that delays the start of the limitation period
However, there is an exception to this rule if you did not know that you were harmed. In this case, you may be allowed extra time to file in court. This extra time is calculated by deciding on which date the statute of limitations period should start. There are three possibilities. If you think that this might apply to your case, consult with an attorney.
|Statute of Limitations Start Date: Which one applies to my case?|
|Earliest Possible Date <
||> Last Possible Date|
|The date that you or your property were harmed.||The date the judge says that you should have discovered that you had been harmed (even if you did not know about it).||The date that you actually discovered that the harm had occurred|
Knowing whom to sue may not be as easy as you think at first. It is essential that you sue the right person or legal entity. You can lose your case if you sue the wrong person. According to some District Courts judges, suing the wrong person at a business is a common mistake for self-represented persons. Vist the District Court website  for more information. Here are some guidelines on getting it right.
First, look at any receipt or agreement that you have with the other side. This is the place to start deciding who you should sue.
If you are unsure, consult a private attorney. Bring all of the research you have done. It will save the attorney time and save you money. Many attorneys will assist you without representing you in the entire case. This arrangement will give you expertise when you need it. You may still choose to handle the rest of the case by yourself.
|Deciding Who to Sue in a Business|
|Type of Business||Who You Need to Sue/Serve with Papers|
|Corporation||The corporation is a legal “person”. Be sure that you use the full name, including the special abbreviations that indicate the status of the business - such as Inc. or LLC. You should not sue the owners or managers . You can sue in Maryland, even if the headquarters of the corporation are in another state. There will be a “resident agent” on whom you should serve the court papers. Finding information. Use the same process for a limited liability company.|
|Limited Liability Company (LLC)|
|General Partnerships||In a general partnership, all of the partners are liable for actions of the business. This is true even if you dealt with only one of the partners. You should name all of the partners in your lawsuit. Finding information. Just to be absolutely clear, name the business also in your lawsuit.|
For example – Anne Franklin and George Norton d/b/a Mill Street Pots and Things. (d/b/a = "doing business as")
|Limited Liability Partnerships||In this type of partnership, certain partners are protected from lawsuits. (These are the “limited liability” partners. These are usually people who invested money in the business.) You should sue the business and name the general partners. Just to be absolutely clear, name the business also.|
For example – Anne Franklin d/b/a Mill Street Pots and Things. (d/b/a = "doing business as")
|Sole Proprietorship||Name the person who owns the business, even if the person uses a fictitious name or trade name. Finding information. Just to be absolutely clear, name the business also.|
For example – Anne Franklin d/b/a Mill Street Pots and Things. (d/b/a = doing business as)
If you need to sue a business, you must determine exactly who owns it. This will help you decide on the legal entity / person(s) to name in your lawsuit. If you make the wrong choice, you may win a judgment but not be able to enforce it. You will then need to go back to court and spend extra time adding the correct name.
District Court Judges report that failing to sue the proper legal party is a common mistake for self-represented persons
”In Maryland, businesses must pay an annual tax based on the value of their personal property (furniture, fixtures, tools, machinery, equipment, etc.). The Department of Assessments and Taxation (DAT)  administers the valuation process. The counties and towns collect the tax based on the location of the property.” DAT contact information 
”The Department of Assessments and Taxation automatically registers
when these legal entities form.”
“All other businesses (sole proprietorships, general partnerships) that own or lease personal property or need a business license are required to:
The DAT database  shows the business's principal office and other contact information such as the resident agent. The resident agent is the person designated to accept service of a lawsuit.
Tip - When you look up a business, you will find a principal office listed. This may not be the same location as the one where you conducted your business transaction. To find out if this is the same business, contact the resident agent or owner. Ask if they have a business at the location with which you are familiar. The database lists an address but not a phone number. You can find the phone number by searching the Internet or calling Directory Assistance.
Businesses can (but are not required to) register a "trade name" with the Department of Assessments and Taxation.  “A trade name is the name by which a business is known to the public to distinguish it from another business or person.” For information on trade names, contact the State Department of Assessments and Taxation, Trade Name Search and Registration.
“A trademark is a unique graphic symbol or logo associated with a business, which distinguishes it from another business or person.” For more information on trademark registration, contact the Trademark Division of the Office of the Secretary of State .
Contact the Clerk of the Circuit Court  in the county in which the business is located. Regulatory licenses are issued by the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (DLLR). The DLLR website has information on licensed individuals and their locations. You can also call the Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing  at (410) 218-5925.
“Individuals working in the following areas need to obtain occupational or professional licenses in addition to State and local business licenses:”
"The MD Division of Financial Regulation  (410) 230-6100 regulates and, in many instances, licenses, the operation of banks, credit unions, consumer loan companies, sales finance companies, mortgage companies, and collection agencies."
See their website for official address information on these regulated institutions.
A fictitious business name is the name of a business that is different than the owner’s name. If a person is operating a business under the name "Elf Web Design", Maryland requires that person to call the Department of Assessments and Taxation  to reserve a business entity name and to provide the following information:
If you are representing yourself in District Court, some of the judges in District Court say that the difference between “small” and “large” claims is perhaps the most important information you need to know about the legal process.
|Legal Cases in District Court|
|Topic||Small Claim||Large Claim|
|Amount of Claim||The maximum amount of money you can try to recover is $5,000 (excluding interest, costs and attorneys fees, if any)||A large claim is for any amount more that $5,000 up to a maximum amount of $30,000 (excluding interest, costs and attorneys fees, if any)|
Small claims are considered a “special proceeding”. This means that district courts set aside a certain day or time for small claims cases.
For more information, call the court clerk .
The court schedules large claim cases to be heard throughout the week during regular court hours.
For more information, call the court clerk .
|Court Rules of Evidence||Small claims are handled in an informal manner. The formal rules of evidence do not apply. MD Rules §3-701(f)  This means that non-attorneys will have an easier time in preparing for trial.||You must follow the formal rules of evidence found in MD Rules Title 5 . It is important that you read and understand these rules. An attorney can help.|
|Discovery||“Discovery” is legal term that refers to ways in which one side can find out more information about the other side’s case. This might include interrogatories or depositions.|
|No discovery is allowed in small claim court. MD Rule §3-701(e) ||Limited “interrogatories” are allowed in large claims. This means no more than 15 written questions. MD Rule §3-421(b)  You may also conduct a deposition if the other side agrees in writing (a stipulation). MD Rule §3-401(a)|
|Location||Your local district court |
The details of how the court process will work (called “procedure”) are found in the Maryland Rules.
Different rules apply to different types of cases.
The rules that generally apply to civil cases in Circuit Courts are found in Title 2 of the Maryland Rules. Read the Rules: MD Rules Title 2 
The rules that generally apply to civil cases in District Courts are found in Title 3 of the Maryland Rules. Read the Rules: MD Rules Title 3 
Small claims and landlord-tenant cases are considered “special proceedings" under the District Court Rules. Certain aspects of these special
proceedings have their own rules.
In order to prove your case in District Court, you must be prepared to show how certain legal elements. How you prepare to prove your side of the case will depend on whether:
There are many types of cases in District Court. For each type of case, it is critical that you organize your case around certain legal elements needed to prove that type of case.
There are two important legal concepts that cover many of the cases in District Court. (This does not over all cases.) See the examples of specific case types below for more details (Contracts and Negligence).
A contract  can be written or oral. A contract is an agreement when one side agrees to do something for the other side in exchange for something in return. For example, you agree to give a friend $450 if she will paint your bedroom with paint that you select.
In order to be a contract, your agreement must have certain legal elements.
What if I do not have my agreement in writing; can I still enforce a contract?
Yes – if your agreement meets that same contract standards described above. In addition, in order for you to be able to enforce a contract dealing with the sale of goods in court, your oral agreement must also be:
If your agreement was for $500 or more, look at the exceptions to see if you might still be able to enforce your agreement.
Negligence is a complicated legal concept. However, at the most basic level, negligence is (1) when one person is careless and that carelessness harms another person; or (2) the carelessness of one person harms the property of another person.
Like contracts, there are certain legal elements that you must prove in order to show negligence. For example, when you went to the corner grocery store, a box of jam jars fell in the aisle when you walked by and you fell. You sprained your ankle and the jam from the broken jars stained your good coat.
In Maryland, you must be age 18 or older in order to have the legal authority to enter into an agreement that can be enforced in court. If you are under age 18, you can make an agreement and if the other side honors it, there is no problem. However, if you try to sue a minor the court will not enforce your agreement. (MD Code –Title 1, Commercial Law §1-103(a) )
If you are a minor (under age 18), you will need to have an adult sue on your behalf. A parent or guardian has “standing” (the recognized right) to file a lawsuit for you. You can use the following format to describe the relationship when you fill in the top of the complaint form  where it asks for the name of the plaintiff. “John Cleveland (parent) on behalf of Janelle Cleveland” (minor). Also a minor cannot enter into a contract.
There are many different types of cases. The legal elements that you need to prove will be different for different types of case. Here are some common general types of cases.
You need to understand the law and what the plaintiff (the person who sued you) must prove. You can prepare in advance, but plan on being able to react to what the other side says during the trial. Your job is to show one or more of the following.
In a legal case, “damages” refers to the money that you are seeking in order to compensate you for some legal wrong that was committed by the other party. The court may award you “damages,” which will be paid by the other side, if you can prove that you were harmed.
A lawsuit in District Court usually involves “actual damages.” Actual damages are the amount of money the Court will allow for the actual harm that you have suffered because of:
Actual damages are also called “compensatory damages.” This type of money award is designed to “compensate” you by returning you to the position you were in before your opponent harmed you. Usually damage awards cover items such as the cost of repairing or replacing your property or lost wages or other expenses.
There are other kinds of damages, including:
If you think that one of these other kinds of damages might apply to your case, contact an attorney for advice. It will depend on your type of case, the facts of your case and whether you are suing in small claims court. You may decide that the case should be heard in Circuit Court. An attorney can help you to decide.
More about “actual” damages
It is not enough to go into Court and simply demand money damages. If you are the plaintiff (the person who started the case), then the law says that you have the "burden of proof." This means two things that are important in your case.
In a non-criminal case like the case you have in District Court, you need to prove your case by a “preponderance of the evidence." This means that you must persuade the court that your version is more likely to be true than not to be true. Here is another way to look at this. You must show that over 50% of the believable evidence is in your favor.
The Court will consider whether:
It will depend on the type of case you have and the facts of your case. However, here is some general information.
First, research the law on your type of case. You need to understand the elements that you need to prove.
Then look at the facts of your case. What evidence can you collect to persuade the judge that (1) you were harmed and that (2) the other side caused this harm directly or hurt you via their failure to act?
Remember that proving that you have been harmed in some way is not necessarily the same as proving how much you should be compensated. It is your responsibility to prove to the judge that the amount you ask for can be justified. It is up to the judge to decide, however, you should be prepared to make an argument for the amount that you think is fair.
If you are the defendant - You need to understand the law and what the plaintiff (the person who sued you) must prove. You can prepare in advance, but plan on being able to react to what the other side says during the trial. Your job is to show one or more of the following:
The most important information you need to know is that the person who claims damages must prove the amount of damages.
First you must prove that you have been harmed. Then you must prove how much you have been harmed. The judge will expect you to have clear explanation of how you arrived at the amount of damages.
Here are some tips on how to calculate the amount of damages.
Tip #1 – If you are not sure, estimate the damages on the high side. Remember that you must have some sort of proof for how you calculated the damage amount that you claim. However, if you need to make an estimate at the time that you file the complaint, estimate a bit high. The judge cannot award you more money than the amount than you request. However, the judge can award you less than that amount.
Tip # 2 – Be reasonable. Do not estimate damages too high. Again remember that you will need to show how you calculated the amount. If you estimate too high, you may miss out on a settlement with the other side. The other side may be too angry with you to work out an arrangement in advance. (And a settlement agreement may be the best solution.) Also the judge has seen many more of these cases than you have. If your damage claim is outrageously high, the judge may find it harder to believe the other parts of your case where the judge needs to rely on your opinion.
Tips # 3 - The monetary limits in District Court do not include interest, costs or attorneys fees. The maximum amount that can be claimed in small claims court is $5,000. However this does not include interest, attorneys fees or court costs. The maximum amount you can sue for in District Court is $30,000. Again this limit does not include interest, attorneys fees or court costs. Review the difference between small and large claims. If the amount of damages is close to the small claims limit, you may decide to reduce the amount in order to have your claim heard in the more informal small claims court.
Tip # 4 – How to calculate the interest owed on a loan debt.
If you have a loan agreement, the first place to look is at the agreement. Some agreements include an interest rate that is due as part of regular payments on a loan. If your agreement notes an amount of interest, calculate the money owed to you by looking what is past due. You cannot claim money that is not yet past due; however, some loans have a special section that says that if any one payment is missed, the entire amount of the loan is due. If this clause is in your agreement, you can claim the entire amount that is left on the loan.
Many agreements do not include an interest amount. If your agreement simply says that the other side will pay you back the $875 that you lent, you are not entitled to claim interest. MD Code, Court and Judicial Proceedings §11-106.  Any “prejudgment” interest will be listed separately in the decision issued by the judge. MD Rule 3-604(a) 
Interest owed after a court judgment - The judge has the authority to order that the losing party will pay interest on the amount of the damages. This interest is calculated from the date of the judgment until the amount of the judgment is paid. The maximum amount allowed is 10% per year, except for a judgment on residential rent, which is 6% per year. MD Code, Court and Judicial Proceedings §11-107 . The damages include the principal owed plus the pre-judgment interest (if any).
However if the loan maturity date has not yet been reached, the interest rate from the loan contract will continue to apply until the maturity date is reached. For example, Joe loaned Mary $4,500 for two years with an interest rate of 7%. When Mary stopped paying on the loan after 1 ½ year, Joe sued her in small claims court. Joe won but the loan still had 6 months to go. Mary is entitled to have the 7% interest rate applied to her judgment damages for the 6 months. Then the 10% rate will apply.
Tip # 5 – Include all of your court costs. Since bringing the case to court costs you money, you should ask the judge to include the court costs as part of the judgment against the other side.
Tip # 6 – Claiming contract damages & “mitigating” damages. The terms of the contract usually lay out the amounts that you will need to consider in making a damage claim. Both sides should review the terms carefully and then decide what the real damages were.
However, you might be able to “mitigate the damages”. This means that you have an obligation to do your best to minimize the harm to you. In this case, if you were able to find other work for those two days, then you had an obligation to take the work. The judge is likely to ask you about this. If you used the same two days to build a fence next door to the homeowner who canceled, she could show the judge that you did not lose two days of work because of her cancellation. Therefore the judge may decide that you will not be awarded the entire amount for the lost job. The judge is likely only to award the amount for the tiles and the labor involved in purchasing and returning the tiles.
Do you need help with English to make sure that your story is told in court?
Ask the clerk of the court for a form or help in getting an interpreter. The clerk is the person behind the counter. If the court decides that an interpreter is needed, the court will pay for the interpreter. The court will need at least 5 days notice.
The court will help you to find an interpreter.
To request a spoken language interpreter, please submit a Request for Spoken Language Interpreter  (Form CC-DC41) to the court in which the case will be heard. Requests for interpreter should be submitted to the court not less than thirty (30) days before the proceeding for which the interpreter is requested.
If you have a lawyer, ask the lawyer to arrange for an interpreter.
If the clerk does not speak your language, s/he can call a special phone number where an interpreter can assist the two of you to make the arrangements for free.
The court will appoint an interpreter for free if one of the following is true.
Sometimes a clerk or someone else may have told the court that you need an interpreter, or it may be marked on your court file. In this case, no questions will be asked. However, if the court is unaware of your need for an interpreter, the court staff may ask you some questions in English. Here are some examples of questions that you may be asked.
You will be asked these questions to help the court decide if you need an interpreter. This is not the beginning of your testimony but you should answer truthfully.
Yes, or any other "reasonable accommodation."
"Service" or "Service of Process" is making sure the other side gets a copy of the papers you are filing (for example, a complaint). If you are starting a case, your case cannot go forward until the other side is served. Someone who is capable of serving must physically give a copy of all necessary forms to the person whom you filed a complaint against in court.
It is very important that you do this correctly. If you do not, then the court may dismiss your case. The statutes regarding service are in MD Code, Courts & Judicial Proceedings, Title 6, Subtitle 3 . The rules for service are in MD Rules, Title 3, Subtitle 1 for District Court and Title 2, Subtitle 1 for Circuit Court.
The court will issue a Writ of Summons, 5 to 10 days after you file your Complaint, Petition, or Motion. The Clerk of the Court will send the Writ of Summons to your mailing address, as the person who has filed. Attach the original copy of the summons to one copy of all of the forms that you filed with the court (Complaint, Domestic Case Information Report, Financial Statement, etc.). You must make sure that the Writ of Summons is attached to a copy of the complaint, petition, or motion. These papers must be served on the other side.Read the Rules: MD Rules 2-112, 2-113, 2-121, 3-112, 3-113, 3-121 
Service can be made in one of several ways. You need to choose a method of service:
YOU CANNOT SERVE THE OTHER SIDE YOURSELF. Whichever method you choose, proof that the other side was served must be filed with the court. A person can be served at home, at work, or anywhere else the person happens to be. Read the Rules: MD Rules 1-321, 2-123, 3-123 
One of the county sheriff's or constable's responsibilities is serving defendants in civil claims. The fee for this service is usually approximately $40.00. Service fees are located on the Maryland Judiciary Website . If you decide to pay for this service you can ask the Clerk of Court (person with who you will file your complaint) what the cost for the service is. It is your responsibility to find out whether or not the person has been served. The sheriff will send the clerk a "return of service" to prove the sheriff served the papers. You may have to call the Clerk several times before the other party gets served.
There are two ways to serve someone by private process: (1) by a private process serving company for a fee or (2) by an adult over the age of 18. You CANNOT serve the papers yourself.
This method is often fast and is also good if the other side is hard to locate. Ask the Clerk of Court to send you the Writ of Summons to mail. If you are representing yourself in a case of divorce, custody, visitation, child support, alimony, name changes or contempt, the judiciary has an form to give to the process server. Give the process server the papers to be served. Ask the process server to return the completed Affidavit of Service to you once the other side is served. Once you have all the necessary documents, you must go back to the court and file the completed Affidavit with a copy of the Writ of Summons attached with the Clerk of Court. With each return of service, you MUST provide the Court with the following:
If the Private Process Server name is unreadable, service will be considered unacceptable.
If you are representing yourself in a case of divorce, custody, visitation, child support, alimony, name changes or contempt, you must use the domestic relations forms CCDR 55 and CCDR 56 located on the Circuit Court website 
This is an inexpensive way to serve someone. THE PRIVATE PROCESS SERVER CANNOT BE YOU. The adult serving the papers must give the papers directly to the other side. The adult serving the papers may NOT leave the package on the other side’s doorstep, however you can leave it at the opposing party's home with a roommate or with a relative if they are over 18 and reside in that home. Use discretion, its better to serve someone who is close to the opposing party than someone who is not, even if they live in the same residence. If serving the opposing party directly, the service package need not be placed in the other side’s hands, they just need to be given notice that they are being served and given the documents. Not holding the documents or dropping them is not a defense to service, you can leave the documents at their feet. The person who served the other party person must complete an Affidavit of Service (Private Process, DR 55  for cases of divorce, custody, visitation, child support, alimony, name changes or contempt). You must file the Affidavit of Service along with a copy of the Writ of Summons with the Clerk of Court, to prove the other side was served.
This is a good method of service if the other side lives far from you. It does require that the other side accept the papers and personally sign the receipt (green card). The adult serving the papers (other than you) should take the papers to the Post Office and follow the instructions for mailing by certified mail, restricted delivery, return receipt requested. The adult must fill out an Affidavit (the judiciary has a form for self-represented litigants in domestic relations cases - DR 56 ) indicating that he or she mailed the papers and the other party received them. If the other side receives the papers, the receipt (green card) will be returned to you with the other side's signature. Attach the receipt (green card) and a copy of the Writ of Summons to the completed Affidavit, and file the Affidavit with the Clerk of Court as proof that the other side received the papers.
There are, however, problems with this type of service. Hostile opposing parties may not want to, and refuse to sign for the letters or simply not go to the post office to pick them up. In these cases, other service types such as by sheriff or by private service would be preferable.
If the receipt (green card) is returned with the wrong signature or if the entire envelope comes back undelivered, you will have to make another attempt at service or see an attorney.
If you have problems serving a party by certified mail you can contact the sheriff of the county where the party lives. You should explain to the sheriff that you have been unsuccessful at serving the party by mail and request their help. Ask the sheriff the cost of this service and any other requirements. A blank certificate of service and or certificate of evasion of service may have to be mailed to the sheriff.
You must mail a copy of the Answer and a copy of everything you are filing to the other side. Fill in the Certificate of Service at the bottom of the Answer. Do not forget to file your answer with the Clerk of Court.
If you are serving a counterclaim with your answer, you may serve the counterclaim (including all other domestic relations forms you have attached to the counterclaim) by mailing copies of everything to the other side. Fill in the Certificate of Service at the bottom of the counterclaim. Do not forget to file the counterclaim and all the forms attached to the counterclaim with the Clerk of Court. Read the Rules: MD Rules 2-321, 2-323, 3-307 
If the person you are serving is currently incarcerated you must obtain their inmate number. You can obtain this by calling the jail with the inmate’s social security number. You will need to have the inmate’s number on all necessary documents.
You should not serve an inmate by certified mail. The inmate will not be able to sign for the package and the court may find that the service was not valid.
You should serve by a sheriff or private process server. If you do not have the money to pay for this type of service you may want to have someone you know over the age of eighteen serve the papers.
You must then file this affidavit with the court.
There may have to be several attempts to serve the other side by using different methods. A Writ of Summons is only good for 60 days, this means you must have the other party served within those 60 days. You will have to ask the Clerk of Court in writing to issue a new Writ of Summons if the other side has not been served within 60 days. If several attempts to serve the other side have been unsuccessful you may have to consider serving the other side through alternative methods of service such as Posting or Publication.
Service by Posting or Publication is only done when the person who has filed has shown by affidavit that the whereabouts of the opposing party are unknown. Additionally, the person who has filed must show that reasonable efforts have been made in good faith to locate the opposing part. After those criteria have been satisfied, the court may order service by the mailing of a notice to the opposing party's last known address and by the posting of the notice by the sheriff at the courthouse door or on a bulletin board within its immediate vicinity, or by publishing the notice at least once a week in each of three successive weeks in one or more newspapers of general circulation published in the county in which the action is pending.
The person served has 30 days to answer if he or she is served in Maryland, 60 days to answer if he or she is served out of state, and 90 days to answer if he or she is served outside the United States. Read the Rules: MD Rules 2-321, 2-323, 3-307 
On the day your case is scheduled, make sure you are there early. Often you will need to check in with the court personnel in the courtroom. If you are not there when your case is called, your case could be thrown out or the court could rule in favor of the other side. If you have to miss your court date because of an emergency, contact the court BEFORE you are scheduled to be in court.
You may be able to have the court look at documents or other evidence, such as pay stubs or pictures. That day, have your documents and other evidence with you, have them in order, and have extra copies.
The other side and his or her witnesses also will have a chance to tell his or her story and can present the same kinds of evidence. You will have a chance to cross-examine the other side and his or her witnesses.
18 Md. L. Ency., Process.
What is a motion?
A motion is a request asking the court to give an order that the court or another party must do something. During a hearing or trial, you can make a motion verbally. At any other time, you must make your motion in writing. Your motion must say what you are asking the court to do.
What do I do with the motion?
You must file your written motion with the court. You must also give or mail a copy to the other parties in the case. If another party is represented by a lawyer, you must give or mail that party’s copy to their lawyer. After being served with a motion, another party has a set amount of time, usually 15 days, to file a written response with the court. Generally, the court will not decide your motion until the other party has had this chance to respond.
Read the Rules: Rules 1-321, 1-322, 2-311 
How can I respond to a motion by the other party?
Generally, other parties have to send you a copy of any motion they file against you in your case. Read the motion, and if you wish to, write a response. You must send the other parties a copy of your response, and file your response with the court. After being served with a motion, you must file your response with the court within the set time limit, usually 15 days.
If the other party served you with a motion by mail, the court will allow you 3 extra days to file your response. In other words, you must usually file your response within 18 days of the date on which the other party mailed you the motion.
Read the Rules: Rule 1-203 
Is it possible to change the deadline for a response?
In some circumstances, the court may be willing to issue an order shortening or extending the time allowed for a response to a motion. To ask the court to shorten or extend the time, you must file an additional motion.
This additional motion might be called a “Motion to Extend [or Shorten] Time Requirements to Respond to [Title of Motion].” You must go through all the necessary steps to file and serve this additional motion.
As with any motion, the court may grant your motion to change the deadline, or the court may deny it. If you are asking for more time to respond to another party’s motion, be sure to file your motion to extend time before the original deadline passes.
Read the Rules: Rule 1-204 
What should I include in a motion or response?
1. Case caption. Every paper you file must have a caption with the names of the parties (or, in some cases, the name of the case), the case number, and the name of the court hearing the case. This should appear at the top of the first page of your motion or response. Rule 1-301  See sample caption below:
2. Title. Give your motion a short title describing the nature of the request. If you have no idea what to call your motion, you can call it “Motion for Appropriate Relief.” If you are responding to a motion, use a title like “Response to [Title of Motion] filed by [the party who filed the motion].” If you are requesting a hearing on the motion, you must state that in the title. The responding party can also request a hearing.
3. Facts. State the facts that show why the court should grant the order you are seeking (or should not grant the order requested by the other party). It is not enough to write down your allegations and conclusions – you must include particular facts.
4. Law. State the legal authority that supports your motion or response. This authority can consist of any kind of law, including a statute, a court rule, case law, or a previous court order in this case.
5. Optional request for hearing. If you want a hearing on your motion or response, you must request a hearing under the heading “Request for Hearing.”
6. Signature. If you are not represented by a lawyer, you must sign any paper you file with the court. You must also include your address and telephone number. Rule 1-311 
7. Certificate of service. In order to file your motion or response with the court, you must include a signed certification stating that you gave or sent a copy to the other parties to the case, and stating the manner in which you did so (for example, by hand; by first-class mail, postage prepaid; by certified mail; or by another specified method). Include the name and address of any parties you mailed a copy to. Rule 1-323 
Click here for a blank certificate of service. 
8. Affidavit. If your motion or response is based on facts that are not contained in the record, you must also file an affidavit to support those new facts. Rules 2-311, 1-304 
9. Exhibits. If your motion or response is based on other papers or documents, or if you believe the court needs to consider another document in deciding the motion, attach that document as an exhibit.
How will the court handle the motion?
In many cases, after leaving time for the other parties to respond, the court will simply read the motion and response(s) and issue an order. In some cases, the court will schedule a hearing, to give you and the other party a chance to explain your arguments further. In most cases, the court does not have to grant a hearing.
Remember, if you want the court to hold a hearing before deciding your motion or response, you have to ask for that. First, the title of your motion or response must state that you are requesting a hearing. Second, in the body of your motion or response, you must request a hearing under the heading “Request for Hearing.”
Read the Rules: Rules 2-311, 1-301 
The Maryland State Law Library and many local or Circuit Court law libraries have form books with examples of motions that you can edit to meet your needs. Here are some frequently used Maryland form books:
Maryland Civil Procedure Forms: with Practice Commentary, Robert Dale Klein (LEXIS Publishing).
Maryland Practice: Civil Procedure Forms, George W. Liebmann (West Publishing Co.)
Practice Manual for the Maryland Lawyer, Maryland State Bar Association, Young Lawyer' Section.
Maryland Practice Forms, Paula M. Junghans, David McI. Williams (Eds.) (Maryland Institute for Continuing Professional Education of Lawyers & Young Lawyers Section of the Bar Association of Baltimore City)
American Jurisprudence Pleading and Practice Forms, annotated (Lawyers Co-operative Publishing Co.)
In addition to these titles, there are also form books with motions that are focused on specific areas of law (family law, landlord-tenant, employment law, etc.). Your local law library will also be able to help you identify these sources. To find information about your local law library visit: http://www.lawlib.state.md.us/researchtools/otherlibraries.html 
"Discovery" is a general word that describes the process by which you will find information to support your lawsuit. The purpose of discovery is to obtain the information necessary to prove your case or defend against the claims being made against you. You must determine who you believe knows information that may be important to your case.
Using several discovery "devices," or methods, you can ask the opposing party questions about the relevant facts and the opinions of any experts. You may learn about the identity of fact witnesses and expert witnesses and their knowledge through interrogatories to the opposing party. You will also want to locate documents or tangible items that are important to your lawsuit. You can obtain the information through requests for production of documents to your opposing party. If you believe that there are facts about which both you and your opponent agree, you can serve your opponent with request for admissions. You may decide that you would like to find out in detail what the opposing party and his witnesses know and what the opinions the opposing party’s experts hold. You may explore their opinions and knowledge through depositions. During discovery, your opponent will also ask you questions, which you will have to answer.
These articles will describe the discovery devices and explain how you can use them. In addition, you will learn about your obligations during discovery.
There are detailed rules about discovery practice and procedure in Circuit Court. You can find them in Chapter 400 of Title 2 of the Maryland Rules. You can find the rules in paper format at a law library or electronically at http://www.lexisnexis.com/hottopics/mdcode . This article will touch on the rules. However, you should still read those rules carefully and make a copy with you so you can refer to it when you have questions.
You should read the Maryland Discovery Guidelines. They are prepared by the Maryland State Bar Association. They are not the law, but they contain the best practices for conducting discovery and for resolving common problems that occur during discovery. You should follow the Guidelines.
Some courts will issue a scheduling order with the deadlines. In other jurisdictions, the court will ask the parties to agree to deadlines for "designating" expert witnesses, for completing the depositions of witnesses, and for concluding discovery. You may have noticed that the discovery rules include details about dates and deadlines. You should communicate with your opponent to resolve any problems meeting deadlines. If you need more time to answer discovery, you may ask the opposing party for an "extension." Be sure to get opposing party’s agreement to extensions in writing. The Maryland Rules encourage the parties to work together to schedule and complete discovery. See Md. Rule 2-401(c).
It is important to understand what information is "discoverable." If information is "discoverable," your opponent must share it with you if you ask for it in the proper way. Similarly, if information is "discoverable" and your opponent asks you for it, you must disclose the information. The Maryland Rules encourage broad discovery. Generally, information that is "not privileged" and "relevant to the subject matter involved in the action" is discoverable. Md. Rule 2-402(a).
Information may be "privileged" – and not discoverable – under some circumstances. Volumes of books have been written about the many types of privileges. The most commonly-asserted ones are the attorney-client privilege and the work-product doctrine. The attorney-client privilege protects communications between a party and her attorney. The work-product doctrine, which is discussed below, protects the mental impressions of counsel and work prepared in anticipation of litigation. If you would like to invoke these privileges, make sure you have a solid basis for doing so because the party asserting the privilege bears the burden of proving the existence of the privilege. Most information will not be privileged. Information is "relevant" if it will help you prove your case or if it will help you defend against the lawsuit against you. Almost all information will be relevant.
All types of information may be discoverable, including documents (e.g., contracts, deeds, photographs), electronically-stored information (e.g., emails, word processing documents, spreadsheets, accounting books), tangible items (e.g., shoes and clothes worn in a slip-and-fall case, the automobile involved in a car accident), and knowledgeable persons (e.g., witnesses to accidents). See Md. Rule 2-402(a).
Discovery "devices" are the different tools you can use to get information. The most common devices are oral depositions, written interrogatories, and requests for production of documents. Other less frequently used devices are written depositions, requests to enter land or property, requests for mental or physical examinations, and requests for admissions. See Md. Rule 2-401(a).
Many cases will require the help of experts. For example, in a slip-and-fall case, a plaintiff may claim that she suffered permanent physical injuries for which she needs future medical care. In such a case, the plaintiff will likely support her case with a physician’s testimony. The defendant may use his own physician expert.
There are special discovery rules that apply to experts, which are set forth in Maryland Rule 2-402(g). There are also evidentiary rules that apply to an expert’s qualifications, opinions, and bases. Those will not be discussed in this article but you should familiarize yourself with the rules, which can be found in Chapter 700 of Title 5 of the Maryland Rules of Civil Procedure.
There are two types of experts: "consulting" experts who are not expected to be called at trial and experts whom you intend to call as witnesses at trial. If you hired an expert as a consulting expert and do not intend to ask the expert to testify at trial, it is unlikely that you will have to disclose the expert’s identity and her opinions. Md. Rule 2-402(g)(2). Under rare circumstances, you may have to disclose the expert’s identity and opinions in discovery, such as when the opponent shows that he has "substantial need" for the information and "is unable without undue hardship to obtain the substantial equivalent of the materials by other means." Md. Rule 2-402(d). That is a high bar to meet.
The identity and opinions of experts expected to be called at trial is discoverable. In interrogatories, you may ask your opponent to identify his expert witnesses, to state the subject matter on which the expert is expected to testify, to state the expert’s findings, opinions, and the grounds for each opinion, and to produce a written report, if one was authored. Md. Rule 2-402(g)(1)(A). You may also ask in interrogatories that the opposing party summarize the qualifications of the expert witness, produce the list of publications written by the expert, and state the expert’s fee schedule. Md. Rule 2-402(g)(1)(B). You may depose the experts. Md. Rule 2-402(g)(1)(A). If you wish to depose an opposing party’s experts, keep in mind that customary practice requires you to pay the expert for the time she spends attending the deposition and for travelling to and from the deposition, unless the opposing party agrees otherwise. Md. Rule 2-402(g)(3).
Do not ignore discovery requests! The Rules require that you respond. Remember to be timely in your response. If you cannot meet the deadlines for responding, request a reasonable extension. Do not forget to supplement your discovery responses if "material" information changes. Do not try to hold back information so that you can "surprise" the opposing party later. If there are witnesses you would like to call at trial, be sure to disclose their identity. Courts do not like it when parties spring surprises on each other.
Linda M. Schuett & Paul V. Niemeyer, Maryland Rules Commentary (3d ed. 2003)
Paul W. Grimm, Charles S. Fax, & Paul Mark Sandler, Maryland Discovery Problems & Solution (MSBA 2008)
A deposition is a question-and-answer session during which the witness provides her testimony under oath. There are two types of depositions – written and oral. Because written depositions are so rarely used, this article will address only oral depositions. You should consult Maryland Rule 2-417 if you receive written deposition questions.
You may depose opposing parties, witnesses with personal knowledge of the events in the litigation, and expert witnesses. Depositions are a useful tool for learning what the witness knows and her opinions. In addition, a witness’s deposition may be used for a number of purposes. See Md. Rule 2-419. For example, if the witness later testifies at trial, the deposition transcript may be used to contradict or impeach the deponent. Md. Rule 2-419(a)(1). Unlike most discovery devices, which are answered with the lawyer’s help, a witness must answer questions during depositions personally. Generally, a witness may only be deposed once, so you should prepare thoroughly for a deposition. See Md. Rules 2-411, 2-415(i).
Before the deposition, the parties will work together to find a mutually convenient date for everyone involved. The party that wants to depose the witness will then contact a court reporting agency to arrange for a court reporter. At least ten days before the deposition, the party will also send a “Notice of Deposition” to the opponent and the witness. Md. Rule 2-412(a). You may also choose to subpoena the witness. Md. Rule 2-412(a). The notice must include the deponent’s name and address. It should also include the date, time, and location of the deposition. If the deposition will be recorded, the notice should also state whether the recording will be by videotape or audiotape. Md. Rule 2-412(b). If you would like the deponent (the person being deposed) to bring documents or other tangible things to the deposition, you should include the list of requests in the notice or issue a subpoena to the deponent. Md. Rule 2-412(c). If your Notice includes a request for documents or tangible items, it must be served at least thirty days before the deposition. Md. Rule 2-412(c).
In a typical deposition, the parties’ attorneys and the deponent will appear before a court reporter. The parties may also choose to attend depositions if they wish. At the start of the deposition, the court reporter will ask the deponent to swear an oath to tell the truth. See Md. Rule 2-415(a). Whoever asked for the deposition will ask the deponent questions, which the deponent will answer. Then, the other party or her attorney will have an opportunity to ask the deponent questions, too. The entire deposition will be recorded and the testimony will be transcribed. See Md. Rule 2-415(a). If the deponent refers to documents during the deposition, those documents should be marked as exhibits and made a part of the deposition record. Md. Rule 2-415(c).
During the deposition, you may have objections to some of the questions being asked. If you have an objection, after the question is asked and before the deponent answers, state, “Objection.” The court reporter will record your objection, and the witness will answer the question. Some objections are preserved even if you do not say, “objection,” which means you can later object to the question that was asked. Other objections are waived unless you voice the objection during the deposition, meaning that you lose the chance the challenge the testimony later. For example, if you have an objection to the form of a question because it is compound (asks more than one question at a time), you must object during the deposition or your objection will be waived. Maryland Rule 2-415(g) explains which objections are waived if not timely made during depositions, and you should consult the rule. Generally, you do not need to state the reason for the objection unless requested by the other party. If you do state the grounds for your objection, you should do it in a way that does not suggest an answer to the witness. If you feel that the reason you provide for your objection will improperly suggest an answer to the witness, you should ask the witness to be excused while you state the reason on the record. As a general matter, the deponent should not refuse to answer questions and the opposing attorney should not instruct the witness to not answer questions.
At the end of the deposition, the court reporter will ask the deponent if she wants to waive reading or signing. If the deponent agrees to waive reading or signing, she will not have an opportunity to review the transcript and verify that it accurately contains her testimony. If the deponent does not agree to waive, after the court reporter finishes transcribing the testimony, she will send the transcript to the parties and the deponent. The deponent will then have thirty days during which she may review and correct any inaccuracies in the transcript. If the deponent is making changes, she will attach to the transcript a correction sheet with the corrections and the reason for each change. The deponent will also have to sign the transcript. Md. Rule 2-415(d).
Interrogatories are written questions that you serve on the opposing party. Unlike depositions, which may be directed toward non-parties, interrogatories may only be served on parties to the lawsuit. The Rules allow you to serve thirty interrogatories against each party. Thus, if you have two opponents, you may serve thirty interrogatories to one opponent and another thirty to the other opponent. In addition, the Maryland Rules do not require you to serve all interrogatories to a party at the same time. Therefore, you may serve some interrogatories to a party at the beginning of the lawsuit and the remainder at a later time.
Do be aware that an interrogatory that contains many subparts may count as multiple interrogatories. When drafting interrogatories, make sure that each interrogatory asks a single question. There is an exception to this Rule: the Appendix to the Maryland Rules has “form” interrogatories. Maryland Rule 2-421(a) specifically states that “[e]ach form interrogatory contained in the Appendix” counts as a single interrogatory. You should consult the form interrogatories and use those applicable to your case.
Interrogatories are generally served early in the lawsuit. Some plaintiffs will even serve interrogatories with the Complaint. The party answering must serve the answers to interrogatories either thirty days after the service of the interrogatories or fifteen days after the date on which the party’s initial pleading or motion is due, whichever is later. The answers must be in writing under oath and signed by the party answering. Md. Rule 2-421(b). To the extent possible, you must answer the interrogatories. If you object to any interrogatory, you should state the grounds in the answer to the interrogatory. See below for a discussion of valid objections.
You may ask your opposing party to produce documents, tangible things, and electronically-stored information (“ESI”), and to permit you to enter land or property. See Md. Rule 2-422(a). The Rules do not set a limit on the number of documents you may request. However, you should be reasonable in your requests. Each request should describe the individual item or category. If you would like to inspect a tangible item or examine land or property, you should specify a reasonable time, place, and manner for inspecting.
Just like answers to interrogatories, written responses to request for production should be served within the later of thirty days after service of the request or within fifteen days after the party’s initial pleading or motion is required. Md. Rule 2-422(c). If you have objections to a request, you need to respond and explain the reason for your objection.
It has become increasingly popular for parties to ask each other for ESI. Consult Maryland Rule 2-422(d). If your opposing party asks for ESI, you must produce them either “as they are kept in the usual course of business or organize and label them to correspond with the categories in the request.” Md. Rule 2-422(d)(1)(A). If your opponent asks you to produce the ESI in a specific form, you should produce it that way. If the request does not specify, you should produce the documents how they are normally maintained or in a format that is reasonably usable.
This device is not used as commonly as others, so you should review Maryland Rule 2-423 before you make such a request. When a party’s mental or physical condition is in controversy in a lawsuit, the Court may order the party to undergo a mental or physical examination by a professional. If you want your opponent to undergo a mental or physical examination, you must make a motion to the Court and demonstrate good cause. If the Court agrees that an examination is appropriate, it will enter an order permitting the examination. This device is only used when a party’s mental or physical condition is at issue and must not be used to harass or embarrass the opposing party. For example, if a plaintiff claims to have suffered permanent physical injuries following a motor vehicle accident, the defendant may seek to have an independent physician to conduct a physical examination of the plaintiff.
The parties will agree to a suitable time and place for conducting the examination. They will also reach agreements about the scope of the examinations and the person who will conduct the examination. Of course, the person conducting the examination will have to be paid, and the parties will have to reach an agreement about payment of the fees.
There are two types of request for admissions. The first type asks the opposing party to admit or deny the truth of facts. The second asks the opposing party to admit or deny the genuineness of documents or ESI. Md. Rule 2-424(a). Each separate fact or document should be a separate request.
Just like answers to interrogatories and responses to request for production of documents, responses to request for admissions must be served within the later of thirty days after service of the request or within fifteen days after the date on which the party’s initial pleading or motion is required. It is very important that you do not ignore requests for admissions. If you fail to respond to a request for admission, the admission will be deemed admitted. Md. Rule 2-424(b). The response must be signed by the party or the party’s attorney.
If you are answering requests for admissions, you may object. You will need to respond by admitting, denying, or stating the reason for which you cannot truthfully admit or deny the admission. You may admit part of a request and deny the remainder. If you do not know the answer to a request, you must make a “reasonable inquiry” to answer the request. If after making such an inquiry, you still cannot admit or deny the request, then you may state that.
Under the Maryland Rules, you must provide the opposing party with your answers within either thirty days after service of the request or fifteen days after the date on which the party’s initial pleading or motion is required, whichever is later. NOTE: If you fail to answer Requests for Admission within the appropriate period, the requests are deemed admitted, which may have a harmful effect on your case. If you require additional time, seek an extension from the opposing counsel/party as soon as possible. Once you obtain your opponent’s consent, file a “Consent Motion to Modify the Scheduling Order” with the Court, including with your Motion a “proposed Order” with the new due date.
The most important thing to remember when answering discovery is to tell the truth. If you do not, you risk sanctions from the court, including the possibility of costs (i.e., a fine) or dismissal of your case.
When answering discovery, review the discovery material carefully for any objectionable requests. Under the Rules, a party has the right to obtain discovery on any non-privileged matter that is relevant to the subject matter of the action. Md. Rule 2-402. Do your best to answer each question. If you really feel that a request is objectionable, you can object for one or more of the following reasons:
Overly Vague and/or Broad – This objection is reserved for discovery requests that are very difficult to comprehend, leave material (meaning important and relevant) terms undefined, or request information that is not limited to the timeframe of the relevant events.
Unduly Burdensome – This objection is reserved for those discovery requests that seek information and/or documents that would be very time-consuming and/or cost prohibitive to locate or produce. If a request is truly cost prohibitive, consider seeking a protective order under Maryland Rule 2-403.
Irrelevant/Not Reasonably Calculated to Lead to the Discovery of Admissible Evidence – This objection is reserved for those discovery requests that are completely unrelated to the subject matter of the litigation. If the information sought is in any way related to the issues presented by the case, do your best to answer the request.
Work Product Doctrine – This objection covers material that was prepared in anticipation of litigation or for trial (for example, your notes that document your analysis or valuation of the case; an outline of your cross-examination of the opposing party) and should be used sparingly. Again, this doctrine does not apply to any documents and/or information shared with an expert witness whom you intend to have testify at trial. NOTE: The party seeking the information can obtain discovery of work product materials if she can show that she has a substantial need for the information and that she cannot obtain the materials without undue hardship.
See Md. Rule 2-402; Discovery Guideline No. 5. NOTE: When answering interrogatories, if you object to one part of an interrogatory, you cannot refuse to answer the entire interrogatory if the rest of the interrogatory is not objectionable.
You will have to answer the interrogatory or request once the opposing party clarifies or amends the objectionable part of the request. Also, keep in mind that the opposing party can file a motion to compel, asking the Court to require you to answer requests to which you have objected. If the Court does not agree with your objection, it can order you to respond.
When you are ready to serve the opposing party with discovery requests or discovery responses, you will also include a document called “Notice of Service of Discovery Material.” The “Notice” will state the type of discovery material served, the date and manner of service, and the party or person served. See Md. Rule 2-401(d)(2). You should always keep the original of the discovery request and send a copy to your opponent. If you are producing documents in response to requests by your opponent, you should keep the original documents and send your opponent a copy. Keep all originals stored in a safe location until litigation is over. If there are multiple parties involved, make sure to send copies of the discovery materials and Notice of Service of Discovery Materials to every party.
Unlike the pleadings and motions, discovery is not filed with the Court. That means when you send requests for production of documents or interrogatories to the opposing party, you do not file the requests and interrogatories with the Court. When you send responses to requests for production of documents or answers to interrogatories to opposing party, you also do not file those documents with the Court. Instead, you will only file with the Court the “Notice of Service of Discovery Material” that you sent to the opposing party.
In most cases, you issue discovery and you receive discovery requests in the early stages of litigation. As a result, you may not know all the answers to your opponent’s questions, and you may not have all the documents necessary for answering the requests. You must still respond to your opponent’s discovery requests within the time requirements. If you later receive additional information that changes your prior answers, you must “supplement” your prior response “promptly.” See Md. Rule 2-401(e). As a practical matter, parties generally supplement their discovery before the discovery deadline. That way, if the other party has questions about the newly-disclosed information, she will have time to ask questions about the new information. The opposing party does not have to ask you to supplement; you are under a continuing duty to do so. If you do not supplement material information promptly, the court may later preclude the information at trial, meaning you will not be permitted to use it as evidence.
What should I do if my opposing party is not responding to my discovery requests?
If the opposing party has not responded to your requests, follow up in writing to see when she expects to have responses. Give your opposing party reasonable time to respond after your request in writing. It is beneficial and expected by the Court that you participate in good faith discussions and grant an extension, if reasonable. Courts do not like to become involved in these disputes unless absolutely necessary.
If the opposing party still fails to respond within a reasonable time after your request, inform her that you will file a motion to compel with the court. A motion to compel asks the court to order the opposing party to respond to discovery by a certain date. These motions are typically acts of last resort, which you should save for when your opponent fails to respond to any of your requests. When filing a motion to compel, state specifically the relief you request and describe the steps that you have taken to attempt to resolve the discovery dispute on your own. The Maryland Rules require you to certify at the end of your motion that, after taking steps to resolve the discovery dispute, you were unable to reach an agreement with opposing party. The Rule requires you to include the date, time, and circumstances of each discussion or attempted discussion. Md. Rule 2-431.
What should I do if I feel my opposing party’s discovery responses are insufficient?
If you have a good faith basis for believing the response is insufficient, send a letter to the opposing party explaining why you believe the response was insufficient and what additional information you are requesting. Give the party reasonable time to respond to your request. Sometimes the opposing party may respond that she believes the information requested is objectionable or that she does not have the information. You will have to decide whether you believe the information is truly objectionable or necessary.
If you feel that you are absolutely entitled to the information, inform your opposing party that you will file a motion to compel with the court. Once again, when filing the motion, state specifically the relief you are requesting and describe the steps that you have taken to attempt to resolve the discovery dispute on your own. Do not forget to include a certification of good faith attempts to resolve the dispute. Md. Rule 2-431.
Opposing party already knows the information she is asking me to provide, do I have to tell her?
Yes, Maryland Rule 2-402(a) states that “[i]t is not ground for objection that the information sought is already known to or otherwise obtainable by the party seeking discovery.” Thus, even if your opponent already knows the answer to a discovery request or can easily obtain the necessary information, you must still provide a response.
I mailed my opponent paper copies of my interrogatories and document requests. Now, he wants me to e-mail him copies in Word. Do I have to do it?
Yes, you should. The answer to the question is in a Committee Note to Rule 2-401, which encourages parties to give each other discovery materials in an electronic format when it is requested.
Do I have to answer an interrogatory that calls upon me to answer legal questions?
Yes, see Maryland Rule 2-402(a).
What should I do if I think my opponent is just trying to embarrass or harass me through her discovery requests?
Seek a protective order from the court pursuant to Maryland Rule 2-403.