900 A.2d 753 (Md. 2006), 104, Charles County Com'rs v. Johnson

Docket Nº:104.
Citation:900 A.2d 753, 393 Md. 248
Opinion Judge:HARRELL, J.
Party Name:CHARLES COUNTY COMMISSIONERS, et al. v. Anne Marie JOHNSON, et al.
Attorney:John F. Breads, Jr., Columbia (Betty Stemley Sconion, Asst. Atty. Gen., Pikesville, on brief), for petitioners., Douglas Desjardins (R. Jack Clapp & Associates Co., L.P.A., Washington, DC, on brief), for respondents.
Case Date:June 09, 2006
Court:Court of Appeals of Maryland
 
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Page 753

900 A.2d 753 (Md. 2006)

393 Md. 248

CHARLES COUNTY COMMISSIONERS, et al.

v.

Anne Marie JOHNSON, et al.

No. 104.

Court of Appeals of Maryland

June 9, 2006

John F. Breads, Jr., Columbia (Betty Stemley Sconion, Asst. Atty. Gen., Pikesville, on brief), for petitioners.

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Douglas Desjardins (R. Jack Clapp & Associates Co., L.P.A., Washington, DC, on brief), for respondents.

Argued before BELL, C.J., RAKER, WILNER, CATHELL, HARRELL, BATTAGLIA and GREENE, JJ.

HARRELL, J.

[393 Md. 250] We granted (390 Md. 284, 888 A.2d 341 (2005)) the Petition for Writ of Certiorari filed by the Board of County Commissioners for Charles County, Maryland (denominated as the Charles County Commissioners below and elsewhere in this opinion), the Office of the Sheriff of Charles County, and the State of Maryland ("Petitioners"), to consider whether the Court of Special Appeals erred when it vacated summary judgment granted to Petitioners on a complaint brought against them in the Circuit Court for Charles County by Anne Marie Johnson and Jolene Johnson, Respondents, alleging causes of action under §§ 19-101 and 102 of the Transportation Article of the Maryland Code. 1 The intermediate appellate court concluded that, under the totality [393 Md. 251] of the factual circumstances reflected in the pleadings, discovery responses, and reasonable inferences able to be drawn therefrom in a light most favorable to the non-moving party (Respondents here, who were plaintiffs in the trial court), there existed material factual disputes sufficient to require a jury determination of whether a police officer or officers "directed" decedent civilian, Joseph Johnson (Respondent Anne Marie Johnson's husband and Respondent Jolene Johnson's father), to assist in the apprehension of a fleeing suspect and/or "directed" him to participate in a roadblock for that purpose in the course of which he was injured and ultimately died.

I.

The prefatory facts leading to the denouement at the intersection of Route 301 and Smallwood Drive are undisputed. At approximately 8:54 a.m. on the morning of 25 August 1999, Corporal Wayne Boarman

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of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police observed, from his post at the Governor Harry Nice Bridge on the Maryland side of the Potomac River at its border with Virginia, a green Chevrolet sports utility vehicle ("SUV") traveling northbound in the southbound lanes of Interstate Route 301 at a speed of approximately 60 miles per hour. Corporal Boarman noted that as the SUV passed in the wrong direction through the southbound-only toll plaza, it swayed as it proceeded between the concrete toll abutments, accelerating at a high rate of speed after it did so. The SUV continued traveling northbound on Route 301 in the southbound lanes. Corporal Boarman immediately used his radio to contact Officer Lawrence M. Collins, a Maryland Transportation Authority Patrol Officer, to watch for the green SUV, traveling northbound in the southbound lanes.

At 9:02 a.m., Corporal Boarman also contacted by radio the Charles County Sheriff's Office to advise that a "dark green Blazer," driven by a white male, passed through "the tolls at approximately 100 miles per hour," and "was going northbound in the southbound lanes of Route 301." Three minutes [393 Md. 252] later, the Charles County Sheriff's Office Communications Officer for District 1 broadcasted a lookout.

Shortly after the lookout broadcasted, several Deputy Sheriffs, who heard the radio lookout for the green SUV, observed the vehicle driving northbound in the southbound lanes on Route 301 at speeds ranging from 60 to 100 miles per hour, using the shoulder and grass median to pass other vehicles in its path. Corporal Donald Belfield, Corporal Joseph Gibson, and an Officer Burroughs all activated emergency equipment in their respective marked cruisers and engaged in pursuit of the vehicle. Due to the high rate of speed of the SUV, however, they were unable to overtake it. Corporal Belfield and Officer Burroughs abandoned their pursuit. Corporal Gibson continued the chase.

Corporal Gibson observed the SUV pass through a red traffic signal at the intersection of Route 301 and Billingsley Road/Route 225 at a speed in excess of 90 miles per hour. He passed along that observation over his radio. Just prior to the vehicle passing through the intersection, Sergeant Daniel Gilmer of the Charles County Sheriff's Office broadcast that he would attempt to halt the vehicle using stop sticks. 2 This attempt failed. Sergeant Gilmer notified at 9:07 a.m. all units listening of the failed attempt and canceled the participation of all LaPlata-based units, with the exception of Corporal Gibson, who was now approximately 900 to 1200 feet behind the speeding SUV.

The SUV was now traveling between 75 and 100 miles per hour. It continued using the grass median to swerve past [393 Md. 253] traffic on Route 301. At 9:10 a.m., Corporal Gibson inquired over the police radio if "stop sticks" were available in Waldorf. The dispatcher advised him that the State Police would attempt to deploy stop sticks at the intersection of Route 301 and Smallwood Drive, an entrance to the St. Charles

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community in Waldorf, Maryland, approximately 1.25 miles north of the intersection of Route 301 and Billingsley Road/Route 225.

Sergeant Michael McGuigan of the Charles County Sheriff's Office initially was located at the District III Station in Waldorf when he heard radio calls about the high speed chase of a vehicle traveling northbound on Route 301. Knowing that he had stop sticks in the trunk of his marked police vehicle, he activated the emergency equipment of his vehicle and proceeded westbound on Smallwood Drive towards its intersection with Route 301. As he reached the intersection, he noticed that the light controlling traffic westbound on Smallwood Drive turned from red to green. At 9:10 a.m., as he entered the intersection, he asked the dispatcher in what lanes of traffic on Route 301 the suspect's vehicle was approaching. Eight seconds later, the dispatcher advised that the suspect's vehicle was "passing Billingsley [Road] at this time." Twenty seconds later, Sergeant McGuigan asked, "Is it northbound or southbound coming into Waldorf?" One second passed before the dispatcher responded, "That's correct. It's coming into Waldorf." Unsure of in which lane of traffic the suspect was traveling, Sergeant McGuigan later would explain that he positioned his marked police vehicle, emergency lights still flashing, in the center of the intersection, past all northbound lanes, stopping close to the turn lanes from southbound Route 301. By doing so, he prevented traffic from eastbound Smallwood Drive from entering the intersection. Just after he so positioned his vehicle, an unmarked burgundy State Police vehicle (operated by Maryland State Trooper First Class Thomas Ford) entered the intersection from southbound Route 301 and pulled up next to him.

At 9:11 a.m., twenty seconds after transmitting the last previous radio messages, the dispatcher advised Sergeant McGuigan that the suspect's vehicle now was traveling in the [393 Md. 254] grass median of Route 301. Looking south toward the oncoming northbound lanes, the Sergeant saw the emergency lights of a police car in the distance. He then focused on the scene immediately around him, noting that approximately 10 cars in the five lanes of northbound Route 301 were stopped at the red traffic light. Sergeant McGuigan got out his car, ran to the trunk, and grabbed the stop sticks. He ran with them towards the northbound lanes of Route 301. Looking south, he saw the oncoming suspect vehicle approaching at a high rate of speed. He guessed that the suspect would either turn onto eastbound Smallwood Drive or proceed north by using the unobstructed right shoulder, across the northbound lanes of Route 301. Intending to deploy his stop sticks there, he continued to run towards the shoulder of Route 301.

Contemporaneously with Sergeant McGuigan's activities, Private First Class William Donley and Probationary Officer Donald Raby entered the intersection, each in their marked police cruisers. Officer Donley noticed that cars in the northbound lane of Route 301 were stopping at the red traffic light. He also noticed Sergeant McGuigan's vehicle, with emergency equipment activated, proceed to the center of the intersection. Officer Donley later would attest that he directed Officer Raby to activate the emergency equipment on his vehicle and position his cruiser in front of, and perpendicular to, traffic on westbound Smallwood Drive in order to prevent that traffic, which now had a green signal, from entering the intersection with Route 301. Officer Donley did likewise with his vehicle. Shortly thereafter, Officer Donley looked south on Route 301 and observed the suspect's vehicle traveling

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north at an extremely high rate of speed, dodging other northbound cars as they slowed in apparent anticipation of arriving at the Route 301/Smallwood Drive intersection.

At about that time, Trooper Ford reached the intersection of Route 301 and Smallwood Drive in his unmarked cruiser. He observed two Sheriff's Office vehicles, with emergency lights activated, in or near the intersection. He later would state that he positioned his vehicle adjacent to Sergeant McGuigan's vehicle. Trooper Ford also represented that he [393 Md. 255] did not believe that either vehicle was positioned near, or impeded traffic from, the northbound lanes of Route 301. After asking Sergeant McGuigan about the suspect's location, Trooper Ford also sought out stop sticks from his cruiser. As he did so, he saw the suspect's vehicle imminently in the northbound lanes of Route 301 at the intersection.

As Corporal Gibson...

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