B. Frank Joy Co. v. Isaac

Decision Date01 September 1993
Docket NumberNo. 73,73
Citation333 Md. 628,636 A.2d 1016
PartiesB. FRANK JOY COMPANY et al. v. Benjamin ISAAC. ,
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

David O. Godwin, Jr., (Brian C. Kent, Montedonico, Hamilton, & Altman, P.C. all on brief), Frederick, for petitioner.

Steven M. Nemeroff, (Wortman, Nemeroff & Bulitt all on brief), College Park, for respondent.

Argued before MURPHY, C.J., RODOWSKY, McAULIFFE, * CHASANOW, KARWACKI and ROBERT M. BELL, JJ., and CHARLES E. ORTH, Jr., Judge (retired), Specially Assigned.

CHARLES E. ORTH, Jr., Judge, Specially Assigned.

I
A

We have ofttimes been called upon in resolving an appeal to divine the Legislature's intendment in its enactment of a particular statute. At times the legislative intent seems to be phantasmagoric. See Michael S. Miller, Ghost Hunting: Finding Legislative Intent in Maryland, A Checklist of Sources (October 1984) (unpublished manuscript available in the Maryland State Law Library); Michael S. Miller and Judith C. Levinson, "Ghost Hunting: Searching for Maryland Legislative History," Maryland Bar Journal, July-August 1989, at 11-16. Over the years, however, we have adopted guidelines or canons to assist us in our task of construing or interpreting a statute. See, e.g., Kaczorowski v. City of Baltimore, 309 Md. 505, 513-516, 525 A.2d 628 (1987); Franklin Square Hosp. v. Laubach, 318 Md. 615, 619-620, 569 A.2d 693 (1990); Brodsky v. Brodsky, 319 Md. 92, 98, 570 A.2d 1235 (1990); Morris v. Prince George's County, 319 Md. 597, 603-604, 573 A.2d 1346 (1990); Fairbanks v. McCarter, 330 Md. 39, 46, 622 A.2d 121 (1993); and cases cited in those opinions.

There is no doubt that the beginning point of statutory construction is the language of the statute itself.

Morris, 319 Md. at 603, 573 A.2d 1346.

But our endeavor is always to seek out the legislative purpose, the general aim or policy, the ends to be accomplished, the evils to be redressed by a particular enactment.

Id. at 603-604, 573 A.2d 1346. "Of course, in our efforts to discover purpose, aim, or policy we look at the words of the statute." Kaczorowski, 309 Md. at 513, 525 A.2d 628. But, "we are always free to look at the context within which statutory language appears." Morris, 319 Md. at 604, 573 A.2d 1346. See Fairbanks v. McCarter, 330 Md. at 46, 622 A.2d 121.

The purpose, in short, determined in light of the statute's context, is the key.

Kaczorowski, 309 Md. at 516, 525 A.2d 628.

B

The statute we are called upon to interpret here is Maryland Code (1957, 1985 Repl.Vol.) Article 101, § 52, a part of the Workers' Compensation Act. 1

At any time after a claim for compensation under this article has been filed with the Workmen's Compensation Commission by any claimant, the said claimant and/or his or her dependents may, with the approval of the Commission, enter into an agreement with the employer or insurer of such employer, with the Subsequent Injury Fund, or with the Uninsured Employers' Fund providing for a final compromise and settlement of any and all claims which the said employee or his or her dependents might then or thereafter have under the provisions of this article, upon such terms and conditions as the Commission shall, in its discretion, deem proper. Any such settlement when approved by the Commission shall be binding upon all parties thereto, and no such settlement shall be effective unless approved by the Commission. Any final compromise and settlement of a claim between the claimant or his or her dependents and the employer and insurer shall also preclude the right of the claimant or his dependents to proceed against the Subsequent Injury Fund on the claim, unless the Commission specifically orders otherwise. Upon death, any balance payable under such final compromise and settlement shall be an asset in the hands of the personal representative of the deceased party to such final compromise and settlement.

Article 101, § 52 now appears in Md.Code (1991), § 9-722 of the Labor and Employment Article. See note 1, supra. Section 9-722 does not change the substance of Article 101, § 52. It merely dissects the narrative language of the former codification and presents it in a more readable format. We set § 9-722 out here because it is easier to sort out the various provisions of the section under the new format. LE § 9-722 reads:

Claim settlement.

(a) In general.--Subject to approval by the Commission under subsection (b) of this section, after a claim has been filed by a covered employee or the dependents of a covered employee, the covered employee or dependents may enter into an agreement for the final compromise and settlement of any current or future claim under this title with:

(1) the employer;

(2) the insurer of the employer;

(3) the Subsequent Injury Fund; or

(4) the Uninsured Employers' Fund.

(b) Contents.--The final compromise and settlement agreement shall contain the terms and conditions that the Commission considers proper.

(c) Approval.--A final compromise and settlement agreement may not take effect unless it has been approved by the Commission.

(d) Effect.--(1) When approved by the Commission, a final compromise and settlement agreement is binding on all of the parties to the agreement.

(2) Unless the Commission orders otherwise, a final compromise and settlement agreement between a covered employee or the dependents of a covered employee and the employer or its insurer precludes the right of the covered employee or the dependents of the covered employee to proceed against the Subsequent Injury Fund on the claim.

(e) Survival of right to payment.--If an individual entitled to payment under a final compromise and settlement agreement dies before the individual receives the total amount payable, the balance payable is an asset of the estate of the individual.

Article 101, § 52, as a part of the Workers' Compensation Act, is not haunted by a ghost of legislative intent. The Legislature long ago pronounced loudly and clearly the legislative purpose of the Workers' Compensation Act, its general aim and policy, the ends to be accomplished and the evils to be redressed.

Eighty years ago, aware of a national trend to protect and compensate industrial workers injured on the job, the General Assembly passed Chapter 800 of the Acts of 1914, which has since become the Workers' Compensation Act. In the preamble to the Act, the legislators recognized that industries necessary for the prosperity of the state involve "injury to large numbers of workmen, resulting in their partial or total incapacity or death" and that, under the legal system at the time, determining the responsibility of the employer meant "great and unnecessary cost ... in litigation, which cost is borne by the workmen, the employers and the taxpayers...." Beyond that,

the State and its taxpayers are subjected to a heavy burden in providing care and support for such injured workmen and their dependents, which burden should, in so far as may be consistent with the rights and obligations of the people of the State, be more fairly distributed....

Acts of 1914, ch. 800.

To alleviate the burden on both the citizens of Maryland and the workers and their families, the Act withdrew from private controversy all questions of fault in accidents arising in hazardous employment. To provide "sure and certain relief for workmen injured in extra-hazardous employments and their families and dependents," the General Assembly created the State Industrial Accident Commission, which is now the Workers' Compensation Commission. The Legislature bestowed upon the Commission the exclusive administrative and supervisory authority over the Act. The Commission's duties, in the main, were to examine individual cases and decide whether to order employers to compensate injured employees, and, if so, in what amount, so as to fulfill the expressed policy, aims and objectives of the legislation.

This Court has long recognized the purposes and aims of the Act as expressed by the Legislature. See Gross v. Sessinghause & Ostergaard, 331 Md. 37, 39, 626 A.2d 55 (1993); Queen v. Agger, 287 Md. 342, 343, 412 A.2d 733 (1980). We have construed its provisions as liberally as possible in favor of injured employees and their families, in compliance with the Legislative command to interpret the Act in ways that "effectuate its general purpose." Art. 101, § 63. 2 See Alitalia v. Tornillo, 329 Md. 40, 48-49, 617 A.2d 572 (1993); Howard Co. Ass'n, Retard. Cit. v. Walls, 288 Md. 526, 530, 418 A.2d 1210 (1980).

II

The call for us to interpret Article 101, § 52 came in this fashion:

Benjamin Isaac 3 filed a claim with the Workers' Compensation Commission against B. Frank Joy Company, his employer, and Zurich American Insurance Company, Joy's insurer, 4 to recover benefits under the Act resulting from an accidental personal injury arising out of and in the course of his employment. The injury occurred on 4 April 1984. On 1 July 1990, the parties executed the following document:

AGREEMENT OF COMPROMISE AND SETTLEMENT

THIS AGREEMENT made on this 1st day of July, 1990, by and between BENJAMIN ISSACS, [sic] hereinafter referred to as "Claimant", B. FRANK JOY COMPANY, hereinafter referred to as "Employer", and ZURICH AMERICAN INSURANCE COMPANY, hereinafter referred to as "Insurer",

WITNESSETH:

WHEREAS, the Claimant has filed a claim with the Workmen's Compensation Commission of Maryland, hereinafter referred to as the Commission, to recover Workmen's Compensation benefits for disability resulting from accidental personal injury, arising out of and in the course of his employment with the Employer, which injury occurred on or about April 4, 1984; and

WHEREAS, the Employer and/or Insurer deny the allegations of the Claimant, either in whole or in part, so that there now exists a dispute between the Claimant on the one hand, and the Employer and Insurer on the other, as to whether the Claimant is entitled to any Workmen's...

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