Legal Development: Clarifying Contempt With Breona C. V. Rodney D.

Author: Mosson Law, LLC | | Categories: Attorney, Civil Litigation, Family Law, Family Law Attorney, Lawyer

In Breona C. v. Rodney D., the Court of Special Appeals has clarified the law of contempt especially in custody, child support, and divorce matters, though the ruling deals with the statutory contempt process primarily and should apply broadly.  Id., No. 0299, Sept. 2021 Term (Slip Op. Nov. 17, 2021). 

When a court order issues, it must be followed or willful refusal can considered contempt of that court order.  Sometimes it’s called contempt of court. 

In Breona C. v. Rodney D., the alleged contempt involving child custody and it had been cured and resolved before the hearing was held after the filings and wait time for the hearing date.  The Court of Special Appeals ruled, that considering the coercive and remedial nature of the contempt process, at Md. Rule 15-201 et. seq., there was nothing for the court to coerce.  So, the contempt was moot.  The hearing should have been dismissed rather than adjudicated about past problems.

I have handled two contempt trials in 2022 in Baltimore City and Baltimore County, Maryland. Presiding Judges may take different positions on what has been resolved or not, and the facts must be examined closely.  Legal advice and representation is advisable.  This being said, the rationale of the Court of Special Appeals encourages these matters be dismissed if the substance has been addressed.  As one colleague of mine also noted, the higher court may be seeking to stop some parents sometimes being punished if they have, belatedly and/or grudgingly complied, regardless of the past.

The issue of contempt is either direct or constructive.  For most matters outside of the Judge's actual presence, the contempt alleged is constructive, and this is clarified in State v. Roll, 267 Md. 714, 298 A.2d 867 (1973), based on statutory interpretation and due process grounds.  In State v. Roll, the court also clarifies that direct contempt truly involves an interruption of a judicial proceeding, and not a refusal to testify as happened in State v. Roll.

How do you prove contempt?  Documents always help.  However, if one party is simply not to be believed, this can establish contempt because the believable party's evidence establishes what occurred.  While that may be extreme scenario, in Rawlings v. Rawlings, the trial court found just that, which was then upheld on appeal.  362 Md. 535, 766 A.2d 98 (2001).

There, the Court found that “Petitioner's testimony to be less than credible.  The trial judge stated that Petitioner's 'credibility is at least zero, perhaps minus.  So that you have a tendency to believe the opposite of what he says.’”  Id. at Md. 563. 

In any contempt matter, and until further appellate precedent comes down, Breona C. v. Rodney D. is a roadmap, including on the purge provision and sanction provision required, and not discussed here.

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Gregg H. Mosson, Esq.

Mosson Law, LLC