Appiah v. Hall

Decision Date27 October 2010
Docket NumberNo. 33, Sept. Term, 2009.,33, Sept. Term, 2009.
Citation7 A.3d 536,416 Md. 533
PartiesBetty A. APPIAH, et al. v. Bruce Edward HALL, et al.
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

M. Albert Figinski and Jeffrey J. Utermohle (The Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos, P.C., Baltimore; David E. Haynes, The Cochran Firm, Washington, D.C.), on brief, for petitioners.

Thomas J. Minton (Goldman & Minton, P.C., Baltimore), on brief, for respondents.



In this case, we consider an appeal from the grant of summary judgment in favor of Respondents, the Maryland Port Administration ("the MPA") and P & O Ports of Baltimore, Inc. ("P & O"). Petitioners, Betty A. Appiah and Veronica Agyarko, filed suit in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City against Respondents, alleging liability for the death of Stephen Appiah, Petitioners' husband and son, respectively, after he sustained mortal injuries while working at the Seagirt Marine Terminal ("Seagirt"). Seagirt is owned by the MPA and, pursuant to contract, operated by P & O. For reasons we shall explain, we hold that the Circuit Court properly granted summary judgment in Respondents' favor.


Seagirt is a shipping terminal located in the Port of Baltimore that facilitates the ground transportation of cargo containers arriving in Baltimore by ship. Although the MPA owns Seagirt, the agency does not conduct stevedoring (loading and unloading vessels) or terminal operations at that terminal. To provide these services during the time period relevant to this appeal the MPA contracted with P & O. At that time, P & O was responsible for the operations on 190 acres of the 284 acres comprising Seagirt. While P & O provided oversight for the operations at Seagirt, various other contractors leased space at Seagirt from the MPA to provide services directly to shipping and other companies doing business at Seagirt.

Marine Repair Services ("Marine Repair"), a company that stores, monitors, repairs, services, and loads refrigerated shipping containers called "reefers," leased space at Seagirt in an area known as "Reefer Row." Once reefers are delivered to Reefer Row, Marine Repair connects them to shore power and monitors their temperatures.

Mr. Appiah worked for Marine Repair as a longshoreman. A few days before the accident involving him, Respondent P & O unloaded a reefer containing a shipment of Bailey's Irish Cream from a vessel owned by Mediterranean Shipping Lines ("Mediterranean") and placed the reefer in a slot on Reefer Row. The reefer was to bedelivered to Washington Wholesale Liquors ("WWL") in Washington, D.C. On September 30, 2003, the day of the accident, a customs broker notified Den-El Transfer, Inc. ("Den-El"), a trucking company hired by WWL to pick up and deliver reefers, that the reefer was available for pick up. Later that same day, Den-El sent a driver, Bruce Hall, to Seagirt to pick up the reefer. Upon his arrival, a P & O employee reviewed Mr. Hall's paperwork and directed him to Marine Repair's office trailer. There Mr. Hall met Marine Repair's mechanic supervisor who informed him that Mr. Appiah, who was at Reefer Row, would help hook the reefer to the truck.

When Mr. Hall arrived at Reefer Row, he found Mr. Appiah, who then confirmed Mr. Hall's paperwork and went to retrieve a forklift to install a mobile generator ("genset") on top of the reefer. Mr. Appiah returned with a forklift, ladder, and genset. He parked the forklift behind Mr. Hall's truck, which was parked a few feet in front of the reefer. Mr. Appiah then began installing the genset on top of the reefer. Before Mr. Appiah finished, however, the mechanic supervisor arrived and removed the forklift from between the truck and the reefer.

Mr. Hall saw the supervisor drive the forklift away and give what appeared to be an "all clear wave." Mr. Hall then began to back up his truck to hook it to the reefer. Mr. Hall at that time was unaware that Mr. Appiah was standing between thetruck and the reefer while winding up the power cord from the shore power source no longer plugged into the reefer. As a result, Mr. Appiah was pinned between the truck and the reefer. He suffered severe injuries from which he died on October 3, 2003.

The Litigation

Petitioner Betty Appiah, as the personal representative and surviving spouse of Mr. Appiah, filed a wrongful death and survivorship action in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, naming as defendants Mr. Hall, Den-El, P & O, and the MPA. She twice amended the complaint, first, to add Samuel Shapiro & Co., Inc. ("Shapiro") and, then, to add WWL as defendants.

Thereafter, Petitioner Veronica Agyarko (Mr. Appiah's mother) filed a complaint in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, naming these same six defendants and presenting substantially the same allegations as in Ms. Appiah's complaint. Consequently, the Circuit Court ordered that the two cases be consolidated. Subsequently, Petitioner Betty Appiah filed a Third Amended Complaint, citing new allegations and facts in support thereof.

Respondents MPA and P & O each filed a motion for summary judgment against both Petitioners. In support of those motions, Respondents argued, inter alia, that they were not liable for the negligent acts that caused Mr. Appiah's death because those acts were performed by independent contractors over whose work Respondents retained insufficient control to subject them to liability. Respondents further argued that Petitioners' claims were time-barred under the Maryland Wrongful Death Act, Maryland Code (2006 Repl. Vol.), §§ 3-904(g)(1) and 5-101 of the Courts & Judicial Proceedings Article.

The Circuit Court, on December 14, 2007, heard Respondents' motions for summary judgment and, on December 17, 2007, granted summary judgment in their favor. The Circuit Court determined that Respondents were not subject to liability as employers for the negligent acts that contributed to Mr.Appiah's death because Respondents did not retain sufficient control over the work of the independent contractorswhose negligence caused the accident. In reaching that determination, the court relied in part on § 414 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, which provides:

One who entrusts work to an independent contractor, but who retains the control of any part of the work, is subject to liability for physical harm to others for whose safety the employer owes a duty to exercise reasonable care, which is caused by his failure to exercise his control with reasonable care.[[1

The court also cited Comment c to that section of the Restatement, which explains that, under the principles set forth in § 414, an employer will only be liable for the negligent acts of an independent contractor "if the employer [has] retained at least some degree of control over the manner in which the work is done." The court noted that Comment c further explains that the control retained must entail more than "a general right to order the work stopped or resumed, to inspect its progress or to receive reports, to make suggestions or recommendations ... or to prescribe alterations and deviations" and that the employer's supervision must be such "that the contractor is not entirely free to do the work in his own way."

The Circuit Court then looked to Maryland cases interpreting and applying this principle. The court determined that an employer will not be liable in Maryland for the negligence of an independent contractor unless the employer had control over the details of the contractor's work, specifically the "very thing from which the injury arose." (Internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Rejecting Petitioners' argument that Respondent P & O's contractual safety responsibilities and the terms of Respondent MPA's lease agreement with Marine Repair requiring certain accident protocol constitutedcontrol over the details of the independent contractors' work, the court determined that Petitioners failed "to offer any evidence that MPA or P & O had control over the methods, techniques, or sequences of the specific work performed by Marine Repair Services or Den-El." The court further found that the "evidence show[ed] that ... P & O had no control over the actions of independent contractors such as Marine Repair Services" and, even if Respondents exercised control over safety at Seagirt, Petitioners offered "no evidence that the MPA or P & O controlled the very thing which caused the injury to Mr. Appiah." Because the court determined that the evidence did not support Petitioners' claims against Respondents and granted summary judgment on that basis, the court did not address the statute of limitations issue.

Petitioners timely noted appeals to the Court of Special Appeals.2 The Court ofSpecial Appeals affirmed the judgmentof the Circuit Court. Appiah v. Hall, 183 Md.App. 606, 612, 962 A.2d 1046, 1049 (2008).

On appeal to that court, Petitioners argued that the Circuit Court erred when it determined that Petitioners presented insufficient evidence that Respondents had retained sufficient control to subject them to liability under the principles outlined in § 414. Id. at 611, 962 A.2d 1046, 1049 (2008). Petitioners further argued that the Circuit Court's grant of summary judgment in Respondents' favor was in error because that judgment disregarded disputed material facts. Id., 962 A.2d at 1049. In turn, Respondents argued that the Circuit Court did not err when it granted summary judgment in their favor and, further, that the Court of Special Appeals should determine whether Petitioners' claims were time-barred under the Maryland Wrongful Death Act. Id., 962 A.2d at 1049.

The Court of Special Appeals concluded that Respondents could not be held liable under § 414 because Petitioners failed to provide any evidence that Respondents had retained sufficient control of the specific work that caused Mr. Appiah's death. Id. at 621-22, 962 A.2d at 1054-55. The Court of Special Appeals rejected Petitioners'...

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