The Maryland Rules of Civil Procedure allow parties to conduct discovery (i.e., Interrogatories and Requests for Production of Documents) as a means of gathering relevant information from other parties to the case. Discovery is an essential component of most cases and gives the parties an opportunity to obtain written responses, documents and other information ahead of trial.
If a party fails to provide full and complete discovery responses in a timely fashion, the Maryland Rules allow the party propounding discovery to file a motion with the Court seeking to compel the requested discovery responses. Oftentimes, a motion to compel discovery responses is accompanied by a request for the Court to impose sanctions on the non-responding party. The Court has a broad array of tools at its disposal in imposing discovery sanctions – including prohibiting the non-responding party from introducing evidence at a hearing or trial.
Recently, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland addressed discovery sanctions in the context of a custody dispute in the matter of A.A. v. Ab.D., 246 Md. App. 418 (2020). In its decision, the A.A. Court made clear that “the best interests of the child standard is the leading consideration for the court in deciding whether to preclude a party from introducing evidence as a discovery sanction in a child custody case.” Id. at 422. While acknowledging the broad discretion that the trial court has to regulate and control discovery, the A.A. Court noted that “in a child custody case, the court has an absolute and overriding obligation to conduct a thorough examination of all possible factors that impact the best interests of the child,” and that “[t]his supreme obligation may restrain the court’s broad authority to exclude evidence as a discovery sanction.” Id. at 444.
Put simply, the Court’s decision in A.A. imposes an obligation on the trial court to consider the best interests of the child before excluding a party’s evidence as a discovery sanction. This case is by no means a “free pass” for a party who fails to comply with their discovery obligations – indeed, a trial court may still exclude evidence as a discovery sanction so long as it has given due consideration to the best interests of the child in making such a ruling. Moreover, a party facing exclusion of evidence as a discovery sanction cannot claim protection under A.A. for issues which have no bearing on the best interests of the child, including alimony, marital property and other issues.
Family law and domestic litigation is often contentious and difficult to navigate. The law firm of Greenberg Legal Group LLC is here to guide you through that process. Contact our office at (410) 650-4242 to learn more about how we can help you.