Maryland Mediation Confidentiality Act: Invoking the Magic WordsPosted November 21, 2012 by Alternative Dispute Resolution Publications, Articles & Publications in
The Maryland legislature recently passed the Maryland Mediation Confidentiality Act that took effect on October 1, 2012. It created a new subtitle 18 of Article 3, Courts and Judicial Proceedings of the Annotated Code of Maryland.
The Act requires mediators to certify, in writing, “that the mediator has read and, consistent with state law, will abide by the Maryland Standard of Conduct for mediators…” for the confidentiality protections to apply (See Article 3-1802 (A) (2))
The provision in the Act requiring mediators to certify adherence to ethical standards means that the statutory confidentiality protections can be lost if the mediator fails to so certify, in writing. In essence the parties, not the mediator, are punished by a mediator’s failure to invoke the magic words. They can lose the confidentially protection in the Act, often the sine qua non of mediation.
Mediators in Maryland must be aware of with this statute because it affects our practice; failure to follow the Act could result in parties losing the confidentiality provisions of the statute and expose the mediator to liability.
It is not hard to imagine that a party, having lost the confidentiality protection because of the mediator, could be pretty unhappy. Enough to sue the mediator.
Here is a brief summary of some other important provisions of the statute.
With certain exceptions, the Act applies to cases in which the parties have agreed in writing that the Act applies or when they are required to mediate by law, except in court-referred cases under Title 17 of the Maryland Rules of Procedure.
However, the Maryland act does not apply to:
- Maryland Court-annexed mediation conducted under Title 17 of the Maryland Rules;
- Collective bargaining disputes;
- Actions to enforce agreements to arbitrate under common law and the various Arbitration Acts;
- Lien foreclosure mediation under Maryland Rule 14-209.1;
- Certain parental matters under Maryland Rules 2-541; 2-542, 2-543, or 9-205.2;
- Mediation cases conducted by a judge who might rule based on the dispute; and
- Cases in which the parties and the mediator agree in advance in writing to exclude all or parts of mediation communication from the application of the statute.
- The Act also provides that signed agreements between the parties are not confidential unless the parties agree otherwise in writing.
- Section 3-1804 (B) of the Act sets our specific exceptions to the confidentiality standard. Those are:
- A reasonable belief that the disclosure is necessary to prevent serious bodily harm or death;
- To assert or defend against allegations of mediator misconduct or negligence or attorney professional misconduct or malpractice; or
- To deal with allegations that, because of fraud, duress, or misrepresentation (emphasis added), a contract arising out of a mediation should be rescinded or damages should be awarded.
Finally, Section 3-1804 (C) has a general exception to the confidentiality provisions in the Act that allows a court to order mediation communications disclosed:
“…only to the extent that the court determines that the disclosure is necessary to prevent an injustice or harm to the public interest that is of sufficient magnitude in the particular case to outweigh the integrity of mediation.”
This, ‘prevent an injustice’ provision to allows the courts to act, when necessary, to protect threats to the public health, to address rare cases of potential denial of civil due process and even to protect a criminal defendant's constitutional rights. Absent such a general exception, it is possible that the statute would allow an injustice in the name of protecting mediation confidentiality. For an example of how a statute written to absolutely prohibit disclosure can result in such injustices, see my blog posts here.