The court system in Maryland consists of four levels. There are two appellate courts: The Court of Appeals and the Court of Special Appeals. And there are two trial level courts: the Circuit Court and the District Court of Maryland. There is also an independent Orphan's Court for each county and Baltimore City. The exceptions are Harford and Montgomery counties where Circuit Court judges sit as Orphan's Court judges.
The Court of Appeals is the highest court in Maryland. Judges are appointed by the Governor. It hears cases primarily on review. It also has appellate jurisdiction over death penalty cases and questions of law under the Uniform Certification of Questions of Law Act. The decisions of the Court of Appeals are reported in the Maryland Reports, the Atlantic Reporter, 1st - 3d series, and the Maryland Reporter. This last title is a reprint of the Maryland cases reported in the Atlantic Reporter. The Library has the opinions of the court in print. The Maryland Reports are shelved on Level 2 - at the beginning of the Maryland section [KFM 1245]. The Atlantic Reporters [KF 135.A71] are located on Level 3 with the other regional reporters. Opinions are also found in a number of places online.
Until 1966 there was only one appellate court in Maryland. In that year an intermediate court - the Court of Special Appeals - was created to help the Court of Appeals with its caseload. Except for death penalty cases, which are appealed directly to the Court of Appeals, this court has exclusive initial appellate jurisdiction over actions of a Circuit Court or Orphan's Court. Judges are appointed by the Governor. The decisions of this court can be found in print in the Maryland Appellate Reports [KFM 1248], the Atlantic Reporter 2d-3d series, and the Maryland Reporter. The Maryland Appellate Reports are located immediately after the Maryland Reports on level 2. The Atlantic Reporter is located on Level 3 with other regional reporters. These opinions are also available online.
Circuit Courts are trial courts of general jurisdiction. There are eight circuits. Each circuit has common law and equity powers in both civil and criminal cases. Judges are appointed by the Governor. The Circuit Courts replaced a system of county courts in 1851. However, Baltimore City did not replace its old system of courts until 1983 when the Supreme Bench of Baltimore City became the Circuit Court (Eighth). Decisions of these courts are usually not reported. But some information can be found in the Maryland Judiciary Case Search.
The District Courts of Maryland began operation in July of 1971. This court was created by a constitutional amendment [ Chapter 789 of the Acts of 1969]. It replaced a varied system of justices of the peace, county trial magistrates, People's Courts, and a number of courts in Baltimore City. There are twelve District Courts. Judges are appointed by the Governor. The District Court has jurisdiction over landlord-tenant cases, small claims of $5000 or less, replevin actions, motor vehicle violations, misdemeanors, some felonies and peace/protective orders. The District Court does not conduct jury trials. If a party is entitled to and requests a jury trial, the case is moved to a Circuit Court. There are no reported decisions in this court, but basic docket information can be found in the Maryland Judiciary Case Search .
The Orphans Court of Maryland is responsible for probate matters. It also has jurisdiction over guardianships of minors. With the exception of Harford and Montgomery Counties, each county and Baltimore City elects judges to the court. The judges of the circuit courts of Harford and Montgomery counties serve on the Orphans Court. Information on the Orphans Court is not reported.
Primary Case Law
Maryland court decisions are available in print and online. Appellate level opinions are readily available, but trial level judgments are usually not published and must be requested from the clerk's office of the court in question. Circuit and District Courts retain trial records for a set period of time. Records are then transferred to the Maryland State Archives and the researcher must request the information from there.
Print copies of the Maryland appellate opinions can be found in a number of commercially published sources:
- Maryland Reports (Md.) (1658 to date) - This set contains the full text of opinions handed down by the Maryland Court of Appeals and its predecessor, the General Court of Maryland. Opinions are arranged chronologically. In addition to the text of the opinions, each volume has a table of cases reported, names of the judges of the court, an index of petitions for writ of certiorari, a list of words and phrases construed, a table of statutes cited, and an index-digest. The Maryland Reports are located on Level 2 of the library - at the beginning of the Maryland section [KFM 1245]
- Maryland Appellate Reports (Md. App.) (1967-date) - This reporter sets out the full text of Maryland Court of Special Appeals opinions. The format is the same as that of the Maryland Reports. Volumes are shelved on Level 2 immediately following the Maryland Reports. [KFM 1248]
- Atlantic Reporter (1st - 3d series) (1885-date) - An unofficial reporter for Maryland cases published by the West Publishing Co. West gathers published appellate decisions from all states in seven regional reporters. The Atlantic Reporter includes cases from: Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Vermont. Editorial help in the form of headnotes and Key Numbers aids with research. This reporter is located on Level 3 of the library [KF 135.A71]
- Maryland Reporter (A. 2d, A. 3d) (1938 to date) - These are reprinted pages of the Atlantic Reporter that contain Maryland decisions. Pagination is th same as the Atlantic Reporter. The Maryland Reporter is located on Level 2 of the library [KFM 1247.M2]
- The Daily Record (1888 to date) - The daily newspaper published in Baltimore City and self-described as "Maryland's Business & Legal News." This publication contains legal announcements, court calendars, articles, opinions of the Attorney General, and the text of important decisions. The library keeps the print edtion for a limited time. The paper is shelved in the Reading Room on Level 2.
- Free Access:
Maryland Judiciary homepage (1996 to date)
Google Scholar - (1950's to date)
- Subscription Access (password required):
BloombergLaw - The Court of Appeals opinions cover the years 1659 to the present. Court of Special Appeals decisions begin in 1967.
High Court of Chancery decisions include the years 1793-1853.
FastCase - Maryland appellate level opinions date from 1949. Available in-house via the Thurgood Marshall Law Library web page. The
Maryland State Bar Association also offers access to members via its web page.
HeinOnline - a new partnership with FastCase will allow Hein to provide federal and state case law powered by Fastcase to
HeinOnline subscribers via inline hyperlinks.
LexisAdvance - Maryland opinions are available from 1770. The Daily Record coverage starts begins in 1995.
LoisLaw - Coverage for the Maryland Court of Appeals and Maryland Court of Special Appeals coverage dates from 1899 and 1967 respectively.
VersusLaw - Maryland Court of Appeals and Maryland Court of Special Appeals begins in 1949.
WestlawNext - Opinions dating from 1658 are posted for the Maryland Court of Appeals. Information for the Maryland Court of Special Appeals
begins in 1967. And selected coverage of trial court orders begins in 2001.
Sources of Historical Decisions: Older case law can be cited in Maryland court opinions. The Thurgood Marshall Law Library owns paper copies of these older reporters. But a good place to find them is at the Maryland Archives Online page.
High Court of Chancery decisions published in the reports of Bland and Johnson are of historical importance. They are often cited in opinions. Print copies of these volumes are located at the end of the Maryland Reports on Level 2 of the library [KFM 1249.C5 B53]
Reports of other colonial era courts can also be found on the Maryland Archives Online web page.
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Records and Briefs
Records and briefs are an excellent resource for understanding the legal reasoning and authorities behind a case. In addition, Record Extracts can be useful for finding lower court opinions, supporting documents and sometimes transcripts of the suit. The Thurgood Marshall Law Library owns a number of resources for Maryland Records and Briefs. The best place to start is the online catalog. Use a search strategy such as "records and briefs" and maryland in the title mode in order to find call numbers and locations.
Maryland records and briefs can be found in three formats: paper, microfiche and electronic. Coverage begins in 1948.
- Records and briefs for both the Maryland Court of Appeals [KFM1245.9] and the Maryland Court of Special Appeals [KFM1248.9] in paper format are located on Level 2 in the Maryland Collection. Our holdings for the Court of Appeals begin in 1948 and stop in 1979. Documents for the years 1948 through 1955 are arranged by docket number. From 1955 to 1979 the briefs are arranged by Maryland Reports citation (vol. 210-228). The Maryland Court of Special Appeals was created by statute in 1966 and the first opinions were handed down in 1967. Paper format records and briefs for this court include the years 1967 through 1979. They are arranged by Maryland Appellate Reports citation (vol. 1-46).
- Microfiche format replaced paper in 1980 for both the Court of Appeals and Court of Special Appeals. These records and briefs are located on Level 1 in cabinet 9 at the front of the journals room. Coverage is 1980 to the present and the briefs for both courts are arranged by docket number.
- Electronic copies of Maryland records and briefs are available via Lexis and Westlaw.
- Lexis - Includes documents from the Court of Appeals, Court of Special Appeals and Circuit Courts. Coverage is 2000 to the present. Search: Lexis Advance>Explore Contents>Maryland>Briefs, Pleadings and Motions It's best to search by the name of the case and/or the issues involved.
- Westlaw - This database contains documents from the Court of Appeals and the Court of Special Appeals. Selected coverage dates from 1997 to the present. PDF format copies are available. Search: Westlaw>State Materials>Maryland>Briefs
- Historical Searches - Documents from older cases can be found in other libraries:
- Maryland State Archives - Call for additional information 410-260-6400 or e-mail: email@example.com
- Maryland State Law Library - Coverage in paper format for the Court of Appeals is 1886 - 1981 and the Court of Special Appeals is 1967-1984. Microfiche coverage dates from 19980. Call for additional information 410-260-1430
- Baltimore Bar Library - Call for additional information 410-727-0280
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