Williams v. Mayor & City Council of Balt. City

CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Citation226 A.3d 858,245 Md.App. 428
Docket NumberNo. 3095, Sept. Term, 2018,3095, Sept. Term, 2018
Parties Monique WILLIAMS v. MAYOR and City Council OF BALTIMORE CITY
Decision Date07 April 2020

Argued by: Craig Grabo (DuBoff & Associates, on the brief), Silver Spring, MD, for Appellant.

Argued by: Michael Redmond (Rachel Simmonsen, Andre M. Davis, City Solicitor, on the brief), Baltimore, MD, for Appellee.

Panel: Leahy, Wells, J. Frederick Sharer (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.

Leahy, J.

In the early morning on November 25, 2015, Monique Williams, appellant, applied her brakes as another car pulled in front of hers on Franklin Square Drive. At that moment, her vehicle began to sway and then slid in a circular motion before landing on its side. Ms. Williams remained in the flipped vehicle until paramedics arrived to remove her. Subsequently, the paramedics transported Ms. Williams to Franklin Square Hospital where she was treated for multiple injuries.

In 2017, Ms. Williams filed a complaint alleging two counts of negligence in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, naming the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore City (the "City") as one of the defendants. In her complaint, Ms. Williams alleged that she lost control of her vehicle and sustained personal injury because a fire hydrant, for which the City was responsible, was leaking water and created a dangerous condition on Franklin Square Drive. On a motion for summary judgment filed by the City, the circuit court ruled that, although the City had notice of the defective condition of the hydrant, the City was entitled to summary judgment because Ms. Williams failed to meet her burden to show that "water or ice or some other defect in the roadway was the cause" of her accident.

Ms. Williams timely noted her appeal from the court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the City. She presents one question for our review:

"Did the trial court err in granting Baltimore City's Motion for Summary Judgment on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence to establish that the dangerous condition was a cause of Ms. Williams'[s] accident?"

For the reasons that follow, we hold that the trial court did not err in granting summary judgment in favor of the City.

The Leaky Hydrant

During the fall of 2015, the City received notice of a leaking fire hydrant on Franklin Square Drive near the intersection with King Avenue.1 A work order dated October 30, 2015 indicates that a Baltimore City Department of Public Works (DPW) employee investigated the location and referred the hydrant to the maintenance department to have the hydrant "overhauled." As explained by Gary Billups, a utility investigator for DPW who was deposed by Ms. Williams's counsel, "overhaul" means to "put in a new hydrant because that one is not functioning right." The October work order had a priority of "medium." Jammie Booker, a supervisor with DPW who was also deposed, articulated the meaning of "medium priority":

It means something is broken and needs attention, but it's not – I would say it wouldn't be, like, extreme but when you get a high priority job, I guess that's when it's a broken main, and people are not getting water. Any time water is not being distributed to the consumer or a hydrant not there to put out a fire, those are high priority jobs. Public safety.

On November 2, 2015, the City logged a citizen service request for a "water break" "at the intersection of king avenue and franklin square drive." The citizen indicated that the water was coming from the "Street" and the water flow was "Heavy." A responding DPW employee observed a "leaking hydrant" at the location. On November 17, 2015, the City received another citizen service request, which stated "Hydrant is on Franklin Square Dr (on NW side of Rd), NE of King Ave. Looks like it may have been recently replaced, it is leaking all over the road." A DPW employee arrived the next day, November 18, and observed that "there were no leaks, no noise." The employee "[g]reased the operating nut" and noted "[c]lean-lines." Both the work order from October 30 and the service request from November 2 were marked as "Closed" to reflect that the work had been performed. On November 19, the City received a citizen service request identical to the request from November 17. That same day, both were marked as "Duplicate (closed)" which, Mr. Billups explained, indicates that a request was for "the same location, and someone had been there, and then closed it out" after performing the work.

Another citizen service request for a leaking hydrant at the location "between Franklin [S]quare Dr & Baltistan Ct & [K]ing [A]ve" was logged on November 23, 2015. Mr. Billups responded the next day, November 24, and noted "There is a leaking valve at this location – making medium water – no damage." Mr. Billups explained that "medium water" means "[i]t's not a real heavy flow of water. It's just barely coming out of the street or either the valve." In response to a question about whether medium water "would refer to water that you could see with your naked eye on the street," Mr. Billups indicated that, although not a heavy flow, it was a "constant flow" of water. Mr. Billups defined "no damage" as "[n]o damage done to the street[.]" He further stated that his job duty after observing "medium water" and "no damage" would be to "call and report it to the valve truck."

During his deposition almost three years later, Mr. Billups testified that he did not remember responding on November 24, 2015 (the day before Ms. Williams's accident), but that, based on the Service Request Summary Report, he knew he went to the location for a leaking valve. According to Mr. Billups, if he had noticed that the "medium water" had created an icy condition on the road, he "would [have] let [dispatch] know it was an icy condition that needed immediate response" and "put cones out." Because the report did not indicate the presence of an icy condition, Mr. Billups testified, it was correct to say that the leak was not creating an icy condition on that date.

At her deposition, Ms. Williams testified that she had seen water coming out of the hydrant "periodically""more than once" as she drove to and from work. She explained:

This problem with the hydrant was on and off for a while. Sometimes you would see water. Sometimes you would not see water. Maybe within a month or so, maybe sometime in October, sometime in November. So I don't really have exact dates.

With regard to the water coming out of the hydrant, she stated, "It wasn't a little leak. It was enough where I could visibly see. While I'm driving, I can see water coming out of it." Although she "felt like [the hydrant] should be fixed," Ms. Williams "never called anyone to see about getting it fixed." She emphasized that "[i]t wasn't every single day"; rather, "it was periodically."

The Accident

Sometime between 6:30 and 7:30 a.m. on November 25, 2015, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Ms. Williams drove her 2003 Chevy Trailblazer to Sam's Club to pick up peanut oil for the turkey she planned to cook the next day. The weather, as Ms. Williams recalled, was that of "a regular November day": "It was kind of early in the morning. There was no sun out. It was cold. I know it was cold, because I had a cloak." She did not "recall it being windy" that morning. Though there were two routes she could take for the ten-minute drive to Sam's Club, Ms. Williams chose to go down Franklin Square Drive, which has two lanes in each direction. The road was clear, and Ms. Williams did not remember seeing any traffic or encountering any problems on her way. She also did not see any crews working on the street at that time. After shopping for around 30 minutes, she left Sam's Club, again taking the Franklin Square Drive route. As Ms. Williams approached the turn to her neighborhood, she was in the far-right lane, with the hydrant near the King Avenue intersection three lanes to her left.

Ms. Williams recalled that, when she was "no more than two minutes" away from home, another car got over in front of her. She had been driving "anywhere from 30 to 35 miles per hour," about the speed limit on Franklin Square Drive. Although the car did not cut her off, she "made sure [she] applied brakes to have appropriate spacing, so [she] wouldn't hit them." Ms. Williams did not see any brake lights or notice the car skid or slide as it moved in front of her. Then, maybe a "few seconds" after she applied her brakes, Ms. Williams "just started experiencing sliding." Ms. Williams explained:

When I was experiencing the sliding, I just felt the [Trailblazer] start to sway and it hit me, like, Oh, man, this is ice.
So I know that my father has taught me, you're on ice, you don't want to hit your brakes anymore because it can go out of control. So I'm just trying to steer my way to make sure that I don't have an accident.
At that time – it all happened really fast – the car began to go in a circle, a turning type of motion. It just turned. When it hit the sidewalk, it kind of flipped over. It jumbled. The big thing is I just remember the car swaying. I remember feeling like I was going in some type of circular motion or something and hitting the curb, and everything else is kind of a blur.

(Emphasis added).

At her deposition, Ms. Williams could not recall if there was another car next to her, what speed she had slowed down to, or whether she was turning the steering wheel. She did remember that she did not take her hands off the wheel, and that she was not "pumping the brakes[.]" She testified as to her thoughts at the time her car was sliding: "It must be something like ice or something on the road, because you wouldn't do this normally when you're driving and apply your brakes. I've never experienced that before." According to Ms. Williams, from the time she left Sam's Club until the time of her accident, she was watching the road and "did not see anything on the road."

Ms. Williams called 911 from her...

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