Simpkins v. Ford Motor

Annotate this Case
Download PDF
Wendy J. Simpkin s v. Ford M otor Cred it Comp any, et. al. No. 2, September Term, 2005 CIVIL PROCED URE - MD . RULE 8-131(a) - The issue of Petitioner s involvem ent in a class action suit in Califo rnia and its res judicata effect, if any, on the insta nt case w as not subs tantively considered by the trial court. Generally, we may only review issues raised in, or decided by, the trial court, as such, this C ourt is not in position to definitively rule on those issues in the instant case and in respondents motions to dismiss. CIVIL PROCEDU RE - MD. RULE 8-604 - REMAND - Because the merits of the instant case cannot be determined on the record before us, the matter must be remanded, providing the parties with an opportunity to engage in additional proceedings at the trial court as the purposes of justice may requ ire. APPELLATE PROCEDURE - QUESTIONS O F LAW - Affirmance of the trial court s decision in the instant appeal was inappropriate because the issue of res judicata had become ripe subsequent to the trial court s final judgment and should have been resolved prior to the resolution of the other statutory iss ues tha t were r aised. In the Circu it Court for P rince Geo rge s Cou nty Civil No. CAL01-03232 IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF MARYLAND No. 2 September Term, 2005 ______________________________________ WENDY J. SIMPKINS v. FORD MOT OR C RED IT CO MPA NY, et al. ____________________________________ Bell, C.J. Raker Wilner Cathell Harrell Battaglia Greene, JJ. ______________________________________ Opinion by Greene, J. ______________________________________ Filed: November 15, 2005 This matter originated with the filing of a class action complaint1 in connec tion with the legality of late fees charged to a lessee pursuant to an automobile lease. In 1996, Wendy Simpkins leased an automobile from Primus Automotive Financia l Servic es, Inc., a subsidiary of Ford Motor Credit Company ( FMC ). The leasing contract established a monthly payment an d a late charge of 7.5% of the full amount of the scheduled payment or $50.00, whichever is less, for each payment not received within 10 days after its due date. Ms. Simpkin s paid at least o ne late charge in accordance with two leases with FMC , one in 1996 and anoth er in 1999 . Since the filin g of the initial c omplaint, the parties an d claims in the instant case have gone through several incarnations.2 The dismissal of the Second Ame nded C ompla int is the o rigin of this app eal. In the Second Amended Complaint, Ms. Simpkins alleges that any late payment fee 1 Ms. Simpkins filed her Motion for Class Certification on September 9, 2002. The record does n ot indica te that this initial mo tion wa s ruled u pon. Ms. Simpkins filed an additional Motion for Class Certification and Memorandum in Support of that motion on December 20, 200 2. FM C filed an opp osition to Ms. S impkins s Motion for Class Certification . The only indication of the Circuit Court s decision on this motion lies in the docket entries for January 17, 2003. The docket entries note: Plaintiff Motion for Class Certification Reserved. The instant case was later dismissed, as noted infra, and the Motion for Class Certification was never considered. In the event the instant case proceeds on the merits on remand, the Circuit Court will have to determine whether the matter can be mainta ined as a class a ction. M d. Rule 2-231 (c). 2 The instant case began with the filing of a Class Action Complaint against Mazda American Credit Corporation t/a Mazda American Credit by Wendy Simp kins and Lynford Martin in the Circu it Court for P rince Geo rge s Cou nty. Mr. Ma rtin was vo luntarily dismissed from the suit on February 4, 2003, and is not a party to this appeal. That Complaint was subsequently amended to add FMC Company t/a Mazda American Credit and Primus Automotive Financial Services, Inc. (both responde nts shall be ref erred to collectively as Ford Motor C redit or FMC ). charged by FMC in excess of 6% per annum to its Maryland lease finance customers is an unlawful penalty under the Maryland Constitution and the common law.3 Ms. Simpkins asked the trial court to f orce FM C to refun d all excessive late fees collected, plus prejudgment interest, to her and the members of the putative class. Ms. Simpkins also requested a declaratory judgment holding that the Maryland Consumer Motor V ehicle Leasing Contra cts Act , Md. C ode (19 75, 2000 Repl. Vol.), § 14-2001 et seq. of the Commercial Law Article did not permit motor vehicle lessors like FMC to charge and collect a late fee in excess of the 6% per annum constitutional limit on interest set forth in Art. III, § 57 of the Maryland Constitution.4 Finally, Ms. Simpkin s alleged tha t she was e ntitled to statutory penalties and dama ges provided und er Md. Cod e (1975, 2000 R epl. Vol.), § 14- 3 Ms. Simpkins relies on our decision in United Cable Televison v. Burch, 354 Md. 658, 732 A .2d 887 (1999 ), superceded by 2000 Md. Laws 59, in support of her argument that late fees in excess of 6 % per annum violate Maryland common law. In Burch, consumer subscribers of cable television service brought a class action suit against their provider challenging the five dollar per mo nth late f ee cha rged to them. Burch, 354 Md. at 662, 732 A.2d at 889. The Circuit C ourt for Baltimore City found that the late fee was a penalty and not an enforceable liquidated damages provision, because it unreasonably overestimated the supplier s costs resulting from late payment. Id. This Court held that under Maryland common law when money is not paid by a date certain in a contract for the payment of a definite sum of money [,] the measure of damages is the amount of money promised to be paid, with legal interest . . . . Burch, 354 Md. at 669, 732 A.2d at 89 3. (citations omitted). Therefore, United Cable Televison was entitled to charge a late fee, when the principal was not paid by th e due d ate, only at the lega l rate of in terest. See Dua v . Com cast Ca ble of M d., Inc., 370 M d. 604, 6 12, 805 A.2d 1 061, 10 66 (20 02). 4 Article III, § 57 provides that the legal rate of interest in Maryland shall be 6% unles s otherw ise prov ided by th e Gen eral As sembly. -2- 2002(g)(1)(I). 5 The trial court dismissed Ms. Simpkins s remaining claims concluding that the amount of the late fee assessed is the amount specified by the lease, and not the 6% interest rate established by Md. Co nst. Art. III, § 57. Ms. Sim pkins filed a timely appeal, and the interme diate ap pellate c ourt aff irmed th e decisio n of the trial cou rt. Simpkins v. Ford Motor Credit Co., 160 Md. App. 1, 862 A.2d 471 (2004). We granted Ms. Simpkins s petition for writ of certiorari. 6 Simpkins v. Ford Motor Credit, 386 Md. 180, 872 A.2d 46 (2005). Ms. Simpkins presents two questions for our review, which we have recast for c larity: 1. 2. 5 Does Md. C ode (197 5, 2000 R epl. Vol.), § 14-2002(g)(1) of the Commercial Law Article and the Maryland Consumer Motor Vehicle Licensing Contracts Act authorize motor veh icle lessors to charge consumer lessees a late fee in excess of 6% per annum? Does Md. Cod e (1975, 2000 R epl. Vol.), § 14-1315 of the Commercial Law Article authorize FMC to charge Ms. Simpkins a late fee in excess of 6% per annum on the lease she entered into in 1999? Section 14-2002(g)(1)(i) provides: (g)(1) If the lease permits, a lessor may impose on the lessee: (i) A late or delinquency charge for payments or portions of payments that are in default under the lease[.] 6 FMC f iled, in this Court, a motion to dismiss the instan t appeal pursuant to Md. Rules 8-602(a)(1) and (10) and 8-603. For the reasons stated herein, we deny FMC s motion to dismiss and reverse the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals. We remand this case to the intermediate appellate court with directions to vacate the judgment of the Circuit Court for Prince George s County and remand the case to that court for proceedings consistent w ith this opinion. -3- We decline to reach the issues presented by Ms. Simpkins and remand the instant case for proceedings to address the effect, if any, of Ms. Simpkins s involvement with the settlement of the class action suit in Stickles v. Ford Motor Credit Co., Case No. 981289, filed in the Superior Court for the State of California, County of San Francisco, and related issues. Facts Wendy Simpkins and Lynford Martin filed a class action complaint on February 20, 2001, in the Circuit Court for Prince George s County naming Mazda America n Credit Corporation t/a Mazda American Credit as the sole d efendan t.7 Ms. Simpkins a nd Mr. Martin filed a First Amended Class Action Complaint on July 17, 2001, adding FMC Company t/a Mazda American Credit and Primus Automotive Financial Services, Inc.8 The intermediate appellate court summarized Ms. Simpkins s relationship with FMC: On September 5, 1996, Wendy Simpkins leased a Mazda automob ile from Primus Automotive Financial Services, Inc, a subsidiary of Ford Motor Credit Company. The contract 7 Mr. Martin s and Ms. Simpkins s first Complaint alleged the following against Mazda America n Credit C orporation only: Count I: Restitution of Unlawful Liquidated Damages; Count II: Unjust Enrichment/M onies Had and Received; Co unt III: Declaratory Judgme nt; Count IV: V iolation of the Maryland M otor Vehicle Leasing Act, Md. Code (2000 Repl. Vol.), § 14-2001 et seq. of the Commercial Law Article; Count V: Breach of Implied Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing; Count VI: Violation of Md. Code (2000 R epl. Vol.), § 2A-504 of the Commercial Law Article; and Count VII: Violation of the Maryland Consumer Protection Act, Md. Code (1975, 2000 Repl. Vol.), § 13-301 et seq. of the Commercial Law Article. 8 Primu s Auto motive Financ ial Serv ices, Inc ., was a wholly owned subsidiary of FMC until A ugust 1 , 1999, w hen Pr imus b ecame a divisio n of FM C. -4- established a monthly payment of $430.70 f or three years. It also stated: You will pay a late charge on each payment that is not received within 10 days after it is due. The charge is 7.5% of the full amount of the scheduled payment or $50.00, whichever is less. Simp kins paid at least one late charge under this lease. On September 6, 1999, Simpkins entered into another three-year lease agreement with Ford Motor. This agreement provided for a monthly payment of $437.73 and contained the same late charge provision, to which Simpkins was subjected at least once. Simpkins, 160 Md. App. at 4, 862 A.2d at 473. On August 23, 2001, Ms. Simpkins and Mr. Martin removed the case to the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, Southern Division. A Motion for Remand filed by Ms. Simpkins and Mr. Martin was granted on November 28, 2001, and the Federal Court issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order remandin g the case b ack to the C ircuit Court f or Princ e Geo rge s C ounty. After the case w as remand ed, Ms. S impkins an d Mr. M artin filed the aforementioned Second Amended Complaint on September 10, 2002. Respondents filed motions to dismiss. The first hearing (on FMC s motion to dismiss) was held on January 17, 2003.9 On February 4, 2003, a Rule 2-502 10 hearing was held for the Circuit C ourt s determ ination of c ertain 9 Prior to argument, Ms. Simpkins and Mr. Martin voluntarily withdrew Counts V and VI. After hearing argumen t, the Circuit Court merged Counts I (unjust enrichm ent) and II (restitution) and denied the respo ndents Motions to Dismiss Coun ts III (Declaratory Judgment), IV (Violation of the Maryland Motor Vehicle Licensing Act, Md. Code (1975, 2000 Repl. Vol.), § 14-2002(g)(1 )), and VII (Violation of the Maryland Consumer Protection Act, Md. Code (1975, 2000 Repl. Vol.), § 13-301 et seq. of the Comm ercial Law Article). 10 Md. R ule 2-502 provides in pertinent pa rt: (contin ued...) -5- issues of law in accordance with a stipulated statement of facts.11 During the hearing, the court noted that the defe ndants had requested a stay based on the nationally certified case of [Stickles]. 12 At this time, the trial judge briefly addressed Stickles: 10 (...continued) If at any stage of an action a question arises that is within the sole province of the court to decide, whether or not the action is triable by a jury, and if it would be convenient to have the question decided before proceeding further, the court, on motion or on its own initiative, may order that the question be presented for decision in the mann er the court deems expe dient. In resolving the question, the court may accept facts stipulated by the parties, may find facts after receiving evidence, and may draw inferen ces fro m these facts. The proceedings and decisions of the court shall be on the record, and the decisions shall be reviewab le upon appeal after entry of an appealable order or judgmen t. 11 At this hearing, the parties made certain stipulations. Ms. Simpkins withdrew Count VII of the Second Amended Complaint, alleging violations of the Maryland Consumer Protection Act. The parties also agreed that what has been designated as the late fees in the instant case, and also as provided in [Md. Code (2000 Repl. Vol.), § 14-2002 of the Commercial Law Article] is the category of late fees which falls under Class 4, as designated in . . . [United Cable v. Burch, 354 M d. 658, 6 78, 732 A.2d 8 87, 898 (1999 )]. 12 In its February 4, 2002 motion to dism iss, and in supp ort of its request for a s tay, FMC brought th e potential effects of Simpkins on the instant case to the hearing court s attention: Here, sev eral factors w eigh heav ily in favor of granting a stay . . . . [A] nation wide class action proc eeding in California, Stickles v. Ford Motor Credit Co., Case No. 981289, in the Superior Cou rt of California in and for the County of San Francisco, addresses the same issues presented in this case - the validity of Ford Credit motor vehicle lease payment late fees. Attached as Exhibits A and B, respectively, are the amended complaint and the order granting nationwide class certification in the California action. Discovery in Stickles has been (contin ued...) -6- [THE COURT]: Stickles v. Ford M otor Cred it Comp any. This is a case filed in the California Superior Court in the County of San Francisco, Case No. 981289. And there was a settlement reached in that ca se. A nd it s po tenti ally possible, and I emphasize just potentially, it s pote ntially possible tha t the sole plaintiff in this case, Ms. Simpkins, may be a party to that case. Howeve r, it is my understanding that that settlement is now under appeal. The appeal was filed by one of the members of the class. And since there is n o final resolu tion to that case, there is, at least as far as this case is concerned, no reason to hold up my decision in this case. Is that a fair statement? Do either one o f you wan t to add to tha t? [COUNSEL FOR FMC]: The only thing I would add, Your Honor, is that, it s a correct statement. If and when that case becomes final and there is a non-ap pealable or der in California, we would make application to the Court for res judicata effect, but we are not in that position at the present time. 12 (...continued) comp leted an d the ca se is read y for trial. Maryland consumers have been included in the Stickles class, to the extent that Ford Credit does not have a countercla im against them. Therefore, there will be a significant overlap between the purported class members in this case an d in Stickles. These class members should not be permitted to have two bites at the app le . . . . It will be a hard ship for Fo rd Credit to have to defend both the California class action and this class action, both addressing the same issues, a t the sam e time. It will be a hardship for Ford Credit should the different actions have different results because it will be impossible for them to know how to structure their late fees so a s to be in com pliance w ith any different rulings. FMC also raised the issue in its list of affirmative defenses, stating that Ms. Simpkins s claims, in whole or in part, were barred as a result of her membership in the national class with some or all of [her] claims . . . being adjudicated in Stickles. -7- [TH E CO URT ]: Than k you. [COUNSEL FOR M S. SIMP KINS ]: With that state ment, I ll fight tha t battle w hen I ha ve to fig ht that ba ttle. This colloquy was the only discussion that took place at the hearing on the implications of Stickles. On June 6, 2003, the Circuit Court dismissed the remaining claims of Ms. Simpkin s s Secon d Ame nded C omplaint a nd in its Memorandum Opinion and Order held: (1) that the holding in United v. Burch is not binding on the Motor Vehicle Leasing Contracts Act, CL § 14-2002 et seq.; (2) that the amount of the late fees Defendants charge pursuant to CL § 14-2002(g)(2) shall be the amount specified in the lease, subject to the Consumer Leasing Act codified at 15 U .S.C. § 1667 through 1667(e), and regulations promulgated pursuant thereto, as amended. CL § 14-2001(e), until May 31, 2000; (3) that commencing June 1, 2000, lessors in Maryland became subject to CL § 14-1315(a) (e) and commencing October 1, 2000, lessors becam e subject to CL § 1 4-1315(f); (4) that CL § 14-1315 applies to and regulates late fees charged by motor vehicle lessors to consumer lessees after June 1, 2000. This Court also concludes that it is unnecessary to address Questions V [Whether the applicable statute of limitations for plaintiffs constitutional and common law claims is three years or a greater period?] and VII [Whether plaintiff Wendy Simpkins states a cause of action under any commercial motor vehicle lease?] sinc e its rulings den y Plaintiff any and all relief she req uested . Ms. Simpkin s filed a timely N otice of A ppeal, and the intermed iate appellate court issued its reported opinion on December 3, 2004, affirming the trial court s judg ment. 13 This 13 As we shall discuss infra, we need not consider the reasoning of the Court of (contin ued...) -8- court iss ued its m andate on Jan uary 3, 20 05. The Stickles Settlement Agreement14 Stickles v. Ford Motor Credit Company is a class action suit filed by Connie Stickles and others in the Superior Court of California. The class action complaint asserted contract claims and violations of California s version o f the Uniform Commercial Code against FMC as a result of alleg ed illegal pen alties and/or late fee charg es impose d upon m otor vehicle lessees. In May 2002, the parties reached a settlement and executed a Settlement Agreement and Release.15 The Final Judgment stated that all members of the class certified in Stickles have released and are hereby permanently enjoined and restrained from filing or prosecuting any Settled Claim 16 against any of the Released Parties. Plaintiff Class was defined by 13 (...continued) Special Appeals in detail as we do not find the court s consideration of the issues to be proper . 14 Ordinarily, we do not consider issues that are not raised in the petition for certiorari or any cross-petition. Md. Rule 8-131(b). The issue of res judicata was not raised in the petition for writ of certiorari or in any cross-petition. Notwithstanding, in the exercise of our discretion, we have considered respondents motion to dismiss and, under Rules 8-604(a)(5) and 8-604(d), remand for the trial court to reconsider the issue of res judicata. See State v. Parker, 334 Md. 576, 596-97, 640 A.2d 1104, 1114 (1994) ( The use o f the term ord inarily [in Md. Rule 8-1 31(b)] implies that this Court possesses the discretion to consider issues that were not necessa rily raised in the petition or order for a Writ of C ertiorari. ). 15 A copy of the Settlement Agreement and Release that was intended to be sent to the members of the class was provided to the hearing court in the instant case as a part of the Order Pr eliminarily Ap proving th e Settlemen t Agreem ent. 16 The Final Judgment defined Settled Claim as follows: (contin ued...) -9- the Final Judgment as: [A]ll persons in the United States . . . who, at any time from September 24, 1992 to March 1, 2002: (1) entered into a lease of a vehicle for personal and/or business use for which Fo rd Motor Credit Company (but not one of its dbas) either directly or by assignment from a dealer, provided retail lease financing; (2) made one or more required lease payments after the payment due date; (3) were thereafter charged late fees by Ford Motor Credit Company; (4) paid those late fees; and (5) were not subject to counter claims from Ford Motor Credit Company. On August 1, 1999, Primus Automotive Financial Services, Inc. was merged into Ford Credit. The Plaintiff Class also includes 16 (...continued) a. Any and all claims, actions, causes of action, offsets or liabilities, whether known or unknown, suspected or unsuspected, contingent or matured, related to fees or other charges for delinquency, defau lt or late paymen t, including claims for excessive late fees or improper disclosure of such fees or other charges, which any named plaintiff or any Class member has had, or now has, b. Under (a) of the federal Consumer Leasing Act (15 U.S.C. §1667 et seq.), (b) any state law governing personal property leases (including but not limited to any state s version of the Uniform Commercial Code, such a California Com mercia l Code Divisio n 10), (c) any state s law governing vehicle leases or consumer vehicle leases (such as California Civil Code section 2985.7 et seq.), (d) any state law governing liquidated damages or unconscionable contract pro visions (suc h as Califo rnia Civil Code sections 1670.5 and 1671), or (e) any other statute or common law principle or rule of law, c. Arising out of or co nnected in any way with late payments to Ford M otor Cred it Company or Primus Automotive Financial Services, Inc. -10- former Primus customers who paid late fees to Ford Credit after Augu st 1, 199 9. The Re lease provid ed in part: 5. As of the Effective Date of this Ag reement, each Plaintiff, and each member of the Plaintiff Classes who has not opted out in accordance with the procedures set forth in paragrap h 10 below , acknow ledges full satisfaction of, and fully, finally and forever releases, settles and discharges the Released Parties of and from all Settled Claim s. * * * * b. For purposes of this paragraph, Settled Claims means and includ es: I. Any and all clams, actions, causes of action, offsets or liabilities, whether known or unknown, suspected or unsuspected, contingent or matured, related to fees or other charges for delinquency, default or late payment, including claims for excessive late fees or improper disclosure of such fees or other charges, which any named plaintiff or any C lass me mber h as had, o r now has[.] Paragraph 14b of the Settlement Agreement provided that each settlement check m ailed to a member of the Settlement Class contain a statement on the reverse side of the check reserved f or endorse ment by the p ayee indicating : In full satisfaction and release of a ll claims respecting Ford Motor Credit vehicle lease late fees and/or disclosures thereof as provided in paragraph [4.7]17 of the judgment in [Stickles v. 17 The specific paragraph of the Stickles judgment was not referenced in the original (contin ued...) -11- Ford Motor Credit Co.], no. 981289 in the San Francisco Superior C ourt. The Ford Motor Credit settlement period began on September 24, 1992, and ended on March 1, 2002. The Primus settlement period began on August 1, 1999, and ended on March 1, 2002.18 Ms. Simpkins received a notice providing her with an opportunity to opt out of the Stickles settlement cla ss, but she did not. Discussion FMC filed a Motion to Dismiss the instant appeal pursuant to Md. Rules 8-603, and 8-602(a)(1), (10), 19 on the grounds that Ms. Simpkins s claims, and the issues raised on appeal, are moot in light of Ms. Simpkins s voluntary participation as a c lass mem ber in Stickles. FMC supports its argument by noting that Ms. Simpkins filed a claim form and 17 (...continued) Settlement Agreem ent; however, as an exhibit to its brief in this Court, FMC provided a copy of th e settlem ent c heck that c onta ined the e ndorsem ent la nguage i n its e ntire ty. 18 As noted infra, Prim us w as a w holly owned subsidiary of FMC until August 1, 1999, when Primus became a division of FM C. As such, and as stipulated by the parties, FMC assum ed the lia bilities of Primu s by oper ation of law. 19 Md. Rule 8-602(a)(1) and (10) provide: (a) Grounds. On motion or on its own initiative, the Court may dismiss an appeal for any of the following reasons: (1) the appeal is not allowed by these rules or other law; *** (10) the cas e has beco me moo t. -12- subsequently received a settlement payment of $24.11 as a class member, thus settling and releasing her claims against FMC regarding excessive late fees. Ms. Simpkins counters th at, through the act of depositing the settlement check she received, she did not release her claims against FMC, nor did that act constitute an accord and satisfaction.20 The issues raised by FMC s Motion to Dismiss and Ms. Simpkins s respons e were not considered substantively by the lower court. It is asserted here that Ms. Simpkins signed a release purportedly as a member of the Stickles class and deposited the settlement check she received from FMC. The court did not make findings of fact as to Ms. Simpk ins s participation in that case nor did it explore what effect, if any, the alleged deposit of Ms. Simpkins s settlement check had on the present case and what Ms. Simpkins s exact actions were in connection with the receipt and execution of the Settlement Agreem ent purpo rtedly sent to her by FMC. Moreover, there is some dispute raised before us as to whether Ms. Simpkins met the requirements of Stickles class membership because FMC had filed a counterclaim against her. 21 The Stickles Final Judgme nt Order, w hich defin es both w ho is 20 Ms. Simpkins also argues that FM C failed to r aise and thu s preserve in the Circuit Court its affirmative defenses of res judicata and release. We find this to be an incorrect characterization, as the record reflects that the matter was discussed by the parties and the hearing judge at the February 2003 h earing. See pages 6 -8, supra. We disagree with Ms. Simpkins s contention that the issues of res judicata and release are not threshold issues of law to be considered by the Circuit Court, especially where additional fact finding may be necessary to resolve these issues. To the contrary, the resolution of these issues determines whether this, or the intermediate appellate court, will ever reach the statutory and constitu tional iss ues pre sented by Ms. S impkin s. 21 FMC dismissed its counterclaim against Ms. Simpkins on November 16, 2002. -13- a member of the Plaintiff Class and what is a Settled Claim, were no t a part of the record before the Circ uit Cou rt. There was limited mention of Ms. Simpkins s actions in connection with the receipt of the Settlement Agreement and Release, but little or no consideration or analysis of these actions at either the circuit or intermediate appellate court levels. It was admitted by counsel that Ms. Simpkins deposited the settlement check she received from FMC and ne ver retu rned th e mon ey. Gen erall y, we may only review issues raised in, or decided by, the trial court. Md. Rule 8-131(a). As the bulk of these issues were not considered substantively by the trial court, we are no t in a position to rule definitively whether Ms. Simpkins s was a member of the Stickles class, and what effect, if any, the alleged execution of the Settlement Agreement will have in the instant cas e. The C ircuit Court, in the first instance, is in the best position to deve lop this r ecord a nd dec ide thes e issues . Md. Rule 8-604 dictates our determination of a matter on appeal, 22 and Section (d)(1) 22 Rule 8-604(a) provides: (a) Gene rally. As to each party to an app eal, the Cou rt shall dispose of an appeal in one of the following ways: (1) dismiss the appeal pursuant to Rule 8-602; (2) affirm th e judgme nt; (3) vacate o r reverse the ju dgment; (4) modif y the judgme nt; (5) remand the action to a lower court in accordance with section (d) of this Rule; or (6) an appropriate combination of the above. -14- details whe n a reman d to the low er court is pro per: Genera lly. If the Court concludes that the substantial merits of a case will not be determined by affirming, reversing or modifying the judgment, or that justice will be served by permitting further proceedings, the Court may remand the case to a lower co urt. In the order remandin g a case, the a ppellate court shall state the purpose for the remand. The order of remand and the opinion upon which the order is based are conclusive as to the points decided. Upon remand, the lower court shall conduct any further proceedings necessary to determine the action in accordance with the opinion and order of the app ellate court. Because the merits of the case cannot be determined on the record before us, the matter must be remanded, providing the parties w ith an oppo rtunity to engage in additional proceedings at the trial court a s the pu rposes of justic e may req uire. Campbell v. Lowe, 9 Md. 500, 511 (1856). We are permitted to remand a case if the purposes of justice will be advanced by permitting further proceedings in the cause, either through amendment of any of the pleadings or the introduction of furthe r evidence, making a dditional parties, or otherwise[.] State Rds. Comm n of Md. v. Hudson, 210 Md. 59, 62, 122 A.2d 553, 554 (1956) (quoting Code 1951, Art. 5, § 42) (internal alterations om itted). Where there is solid ev idence in support of disputed factual allegations, it is proper to place the responsibility for resolving such a conflict w ith the trial court, a tribunal which is in a position vastly superior to that of an appellate court to perform this very important task. Kowell Ford, Inc. v. Doolan, 283 Md. 5 79, 584 , 391 A .2d 840 , 843 (1 978). -15- The Stickles case and its potential res judicata 23 effect on the instant case was brought to the hearing court s attention in both FMC s motion to dismiss and in open court on February 4, 2002. Prior to the intermediate appellate court s decision in the instant case, several key matters w ere d ecid ed in connect ion w ith M s. Sim pkin s s case: mos t notably, FMC dismissed its counterclaim against Ms. Simpkins on November 16, 2002, and the appeal of the Stickles case was dismissed on August 29 , 2003. There is some va lidity to the argument that the facts required to discuss these issues were not in place at the time of the hearing in February 2003; however, a final judgment in Stickles was issued on November 1, 2002, and all appeals of that decision were dismissed on August 29, 200 3. The hearing cou rt could have reasonably continued this matter as early as February 2003 at the Rule 2-502 hearing or in June 2003, at the time of its dismissal, to await resolution of the Stickles 23 Maryland law requires the following elements for the application of res judicata: 1) that the p arties in the present litigation are the same or in privity with the parties to the earlier dispute; 2) tha t the claim pre sented in the current action is identical to the one determined in the prior adjudication; and 3) that there was a f inal judg ment o n the m erits. Colandrea v. Wilde Lake Cmty. Ass'n, Inc., 361 M d. 371, 392, 761 A.2d 899, 910 (2000) (citing Blades v. Woods, 338 M d. 475, 4 78-79 , 659 A .2d 872 , 873 (1 995)). See also M ackall v. Zayre Corp., 293 M d. 221, 2 27-28 , 443 A .2d 98, 101-102 (1982) . Acco rdingly, a judgment between the same parties and their privies acts as a final prohibition to any other proceeding upon the s ame cau se of action and is final, n ot only as to all m atters decide d in the origina l suit, but also as to matters that could have b een litigated in the original s uit. Colandrea, 361 Md. at 392, 761 A.2d at 910 (citation omitted ). Res judica ta is applied notwithstanding the type o f court w hich ren dered th e earlier f inal judg ment, De Maio v. Lumbermens Mut. Cas. Co., 247 Md. 30, 34, 230 A.2d 279, 281 (1967), provided that the earlier final judgment was rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction. Moodhe v. Schenker, 176 Md. 259, 268, 4 A.2d 453, 458 (1939). The judgment of a court, acting w ithin the limits of its jurisdic tion, that has n ot been rev ersed mu st be accepted as conclusive by all other courts. Powles v. Jordan, 62 M d. 499, 5 03 (18 84). -16- proceedings. FMC actually requested a stay during the February 2003 hearing, but that request was not ruled upon by the trial court. In any event, the issue of res judicata is now ripe. It w ould be improp er for th is court to consid er this issu e on the merits. Moreover, the Stickles appeal was dismissed prior to the decision of the intermed iate appellate court, and the issue of res judicata should have been resolved prior to the resolution of the othe r statutor y issues tha t were r aised. It is a longstanding tenet of Maryland law to decide questions of law in advance of a determination of the main issue, if it is convenient so to do, by sp ecial ca se stated or othe rwise. Commissioners of Cambridge v. Eastern Shore Pub. Serv. Co., 192 Md. 333, 341, 64 A.2d 151, 155 (1949) (citation omitted ). See also Md. Rule 2-502. We shall reverse the decision of the intermediate appellate court and remand th is matter in order to permit the Circuit Court to reconsider the implication of the Stickles settlement. Specifically, consideration should be given to whether M s. Simpkins executed a valid release, precluding any further litigation between herself and FMC, and wha t, if any, res judicata effect the Stickles settlement had on Ms. Simpkins s claims in the instant case. Consideration of these, and other related issues, are necessary to determine whether Ms. Simpkins s case will proceed. JUDGMENT OF THE COURT OF SPECIAL APPEALS REVERSE D. CASE IS REMANDED TO THE COURT OF SPECIAL APPEALS -17- WITH DIRECTIONS TO VACATE THE JU DGM ENT O F THE C IRCUIT COURT FOR P RINC E GEO RGE S COUNTY AND TO REMAND THE CASE TO THAT COURT FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS CONSISTENT WITH THIS OPINION. COSTS IN THIS COURT AND IN THE COURT OF SPECIAL APPEALS TO BE DIVIDED EQUALLY BETWEEN THE PAR TIES . -18-