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The Legal Standard for Fraud in Maryland

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

To prevail on a claim of fraudulent misrepresentation in Maryland, a plaintiff must establish, by the heightened evidentiary standard of clear and convincing evidence:

“(1) that the defendant made a false representation to the plaintiff, (2) that its falsity was either known to the defendant or that the representation was made with reckless indifference as to its truth, (3) that the misrepresentation was made for the purpose of defrauding the plaintiff, (4) that the plaintiff relied on the misrepresentation and had the right to rely on it, and (5) that the plaintiff suffered compensable injury resulting from the misrepresentation.”  VF Corp. v. Wrexham Aviation Corp., 350 Md. 693, 703 (1998), quoting Nails v. S&R, 334 Md. 398, 415 (1994).

The defendant must actually be aware of the falsity, or atleast the potential for falsity.  The requirement concerning knowledge of the falsity or reckless indifference as to the truth of the representation means either the defendant’s actual knowledge that the representation was false or the defendant’s awareness that he does not know whether the representation is true or false. Ellerin v. Fairfax Savings, 337 Md. at 231, 652 A.2d at 1124.  

Negligence or misjudgment, “‘however gross,’” does not satisfy the knowledge element. Ellerin, 337 Md. at 232, 652 A.2d at 1125, quoting Cahill v. Applegarth, 98 Md. 493, 502, 56 A. 794, 796 (1904). See also VF Corporation and Blue Bell, Inc. v. Wrexham Aviation Corp., 350 Md. 693 (1998).

A defendant must have the intent, the scienter, to cheat another: “It is well recognized under Maryland law that an action for fraud cannot be supported … without any design to impose upon or cheat another.”  VF Corp. v. Wrexham Aviation Corp., 350 Md. 693, 703 (1998).  

The complaining party though, must have reasonably relied on the defendant’s representations.  To determine whether one party’s reliance upon the allegedly fraudulent statements of another party is reasonable, a court looks to all the facts and circumstances present in the particular case.  “In determining whether reliance is reasonable, a court is required to view the act in its setting….” Parker v. Columbia Bank, 91 Md. App. At 361-362. 

The One of the most important circumstances in this regard is the plaintiff’s background and experience.  For example, a complaining person who is knowledgeable in the commercial real estate realm could not be said to have reasonably relied on another’s false representations in that realm, as the complainant would have the requisite knowledge and resources to determine whether such statements were true in the first place.

 

 

Mere Projections Cannot Constitute Fraud

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

In Flynn v. Everything Yogurt, et al., 1993 U.S. Dist. Lexis 15722 (D. Md. 1993), the Maryland Federal District Court granted a motion to dismiss a fraud claim for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). The Court held that ““Projections of future earnings are statements of opinion rather than statements of material fact. Projections cannot constitute fraud because they are not susceptible to exact knowledge at the time they are made. Layton v. Aamco Transmissions, Inc., 717 F. Supp. at 371 (D. Md. 1989); See also, Johnson v. Maryland Trust Co., 176 Md 557, 565, 6 A.2d 383 (1939) (statement referring to value of securities representing collateral for the payment of trust notes was a matter of expectation or opinion). Thus, the Defendants’ projections can not constitute statements of material fact under § 14-227(a)(1)(ii).”

The Maryland Federal District Court also held in Payne v. McDonald’s Corporation, 957 F.Supp. 749 (D. Md. 1997) that claims of fraud against McDonald’s must be dismissed: “McDonald’s projections concerning the future building costs of the Broadway restaurant and concerning the impact of new restaurants on future sales of the Broadway facility are just as much predictions of ‘future events’ as are projections of future profits. Accordingly, this Court concludes that it was unreasonable for plaintiff Payne to rely on any of McDonald’s predictive statements as a basis for the assertion of fraud-based claims in this case.”

In addition to the McDonald’s case cited above, see Miller v. Fairchild Industries, Inc., Finch v. Hughes Aircraft Co., and Hardee’s v. Hardee’s Food System, Inc., all of which stand for the proposition that predictions or statements which are merely promissory in nature and expressions as to what will happen in the future are not actionable as fraud.