Intersection of MDJA & Contracts

The Maryland Declaratory Judgment Act (“MDJA”) directly enshrines provisions and procedures that explicitly provide courts with authority to entertain requests for declatory relief such as the relief sought herein by Plaintiffs, and moreover to adjudicate those requests at any stage of a proceeding. Parties often use these provisions to obtain declarations of their rights or obligations under, or even the enforceability of, contracts.

The MDJA is codified within Md. Courts & Jud. Proc. (“CJP”) §§ 3-401, et seq. Within its provisions, any person, which includes an executor or administrator of an estate, may petition a court “to settle and afford relief from uncertainty and insecurity with respect to rights, status, and other legal relations.” CJP §§ 3-401 (defining person); and 3-402 (providing purpose and noting it “shall be liberally construed and administered”).

More specifically, the MDJA allows that any “person interested under a [ … ] written contract [ … ] may have determined any question of construction or validity” of that contract, and “obtain a declaration of rights, status, or other legal relations under it.” CJP § 3-406.

Indeed, it also authorizes review of a contract “before or after” any breach, CJP § 3-407, and further provides that any estate’s personal representative may pursue such a declaration in order to determine “any question arising in the administration” of the estate, “including questions of construction of [ … ] other writings.” CJP § 3-408.

Nor must a declaratory judgment necessarily end an entire matter or proceeding, as it may be issued “whether or not further relief is or could be claimed” and where it will either “terminate the controversy or remove an uncertainty.” CJP § 3-403.

The only facial limitation in the MDJA is that a declaratory judgment or decree may be granted resolving an underlying uncertainty or controversy where “an actual controversy exists between contending parties”; “antagonistic claims are present between the parties” suggesting “imminent and inevitable litigation”; or a “party asserts a legal relation, status, right, or privilege and this is challenged or denied by an adversary party, who also has or asserts a concrete interest in it.” CJP § 3-409(a).

By its terms, the MDJA also directly provides that a “court may order a speedy hearing of an action of a declaratory judgment and may advance it on the calendar,” and that such a process may occur notwithstanding any other legal remedies or claims. CJP § 3-409(c) & (e). See also Murray v. Midland Funding, LLC, 232 Md.App. 411 (Md. App. 2017) (declaratory relief may be sought at any time).

The underlying relief sought in declaratory judgment actions is a written statement of the court declaring the rights of the parties. Bowen v. City of Annapolis, 402 Md. 587, 608, 937 A.2d 242 (Md. 2007) (explaining that a declaratory judgment defines the rights and obligations of parties and must be in writing).

Judgments may be obtained either based upon law or equitable factors, based upon “the nature of the claim asserted and the relief requested.” Fisher v. Tyler, 24 Md. App. 663, 668-69 (Md. 1975). Within that framework, claims reviewing breaches or the enforceability of contracts are normally construed as legal claims. Id.

Courts in Maryland routinely review requests for declaratory judgments coincident with requests for injunctive relief, regardless of whether separate and distinct other claims for damages exist. See, e.g., Murray v. Midland Funding, LLC, 233 Md.App. 254, 163 A.3d 271 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2017) (noting original counts seeking monetary damages had been dismissed but reviewing lower court’s ruling on remaining counts seeking declaratory and injunctive relief).

Translate »