In Maryland civil actions, admissibility of other crimes, wrongs or acts is governed by Rule 403

Ruffin Hotel Corporation of Maryland, Inc. v. Gasper, changed the common understanding as to the applicability of Rule 404(b) in civil cases. In that case, a hotel employee brought suit against her former employer following her termination. The Complaint contained claims for sexual harassment and retaliatory discharge. Plaintiff claimed that her manager, as well as another co-worker, had both sexually harassed her. Moreover, she claimed that she was fired because she complained to her manager about the harassment by the co-worker. She further alleged that her manager had previously been fired by the same hotel in 2002 for sexual harassment, but was subsequently rehired.

During trial, Plaintiff asked the court to reverse a previous in limine ruling that excluded evidence of what was referred to as the "2002 incident." Although the opinion never explicitly states what the "2002 incident" was, it apparently involved sexual harassment by the manager and was the reason he was originally fired. The court refused the request and gave three reasons why the evidence should be excluded. First, the evidence, even if assumed to be true, was irrelevant and therefore inadmissible under Rule 5-401. Second, the probative value of the evidence was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice and the likelihood that its introduction would confuse the issues. Finally, the evidence was inadmissible under Rule 5-404(b) because "the fact that [the manager] did or did not commit an offense in 2002 has nothing to do with his motive or his intent . . . in this particular case."

The Court of Appeals, however, took issue with this last justification. It explicitly held that "Md. Rule 5-404(b) is not applicable to evidence offered in a civil case by either a plaintiff or a defendant." The Court acknowledged that certain prior opinions from the Court of Special Appeals as well as opinions interpreting Federal Rule 404(b) on which the Maryland Rule is derived, have held the opposite. Nevertheless, the Court explained that because the Maryland Rule required "clear and convincing" evidence of other crimes, rather than "only such evidence as would permit the jury to find the existence of the other misconduct," as the federal rule requires, the Maryland Rule should be confined to criminal cases. Such evidence, therefore, is only limited in civil cases by considerations of relevancy under Rule 5-401 and unfair prejudice under Rule 5-403.
Categories: Maryland