Balt. Cnty. v. Morrison

Decision Date15 September 2017
Docket NumberNo. 1242,1242
PartiesBALTIMORE COUNTY, MARYLAND v. JAMES MORRISON
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

UNREPORTED

Wright, Shaw Geter, Eyler, James R., (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned) JJ.

Opinion by Wright, J.

*This is an unreported opinion, and it may not be cited in any paper, brief, motion, or other document filed in this Court or any other Maryland Court as either precedent within the rule of stare decisis or as persuasive authority. Md. Rule 1-104.

This appeal arises out of a worker's compensation action. Appellee, Officer James Morrison, is employed as a police officer by appellant, Baltimore County, Maryland ("the County"). Morrison brought a workers' compensation claim for injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident on May 12, 2015, while Morrison was traveling home from attending a training, held at a different location from his usual workplace, and held on a day he was scheduled to be using leave.

The County contested Morrison's claim, and a hearing was held by a Workers' Compensation Commission ("the Commission") on August 5, 2015. On November 6, 2015, the Commission ruled that Morrison's accident arose out of and in the scope of his employment, under the special mission or errand exception, and was, therefore, compensable.

The County then appealed the Commission's award to the Circuit Court for Baltimore County. Cross motions for summary judgment were filed along with memoranda of law. A hearing on the motions was held on July 18, 2016. On that same day, the circuit court granted Morrison's motion for summary judgment and remanded the case to the Commission for further proceedings.

It is from that order that the County appealed, questioning whether the circuit court erred in granting Morrison's motion for summary judgment.1

For the following reasons, we affirm the judgment of the circuit court granting summary judgment in favor of Morrison and remanding the case to the Commission for further proceedings.

FACTS

The material facts are not in dispute.2

Morrison is a sworn Baltimore County police officer. In calendar year 2015, and at all times relevant hereto, Morrison was assigned to the Police Training Academy ("the Academy") as an instructor. His normal working hours were 7:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m.

Morrison had requested leave days from the Academy to be used on May 11, 2015, and May 12, 2015. Several weeks before his scheduled leave, he was approached by one of his training officers about attending a two day training seminar at the Maryland State Highway Administration complex ("State Highway complex") in Hanover, Maryland. This two day seminar was designed to "train the trainers" and was scheduled for May 11, 2015, and May 12, 2015, Morrison's scheduled days off.

When asked why he went to the training on his day off, Morrison responded: "My Lieutenant ordered me to go so we had two people trained in case one person couldn't make it. We always like to have a back up instructor." On cross-examination, the following exchange occurred:

COUNTY: So, in any event, at some point Officer Peach indicated to you that there was an opening in the training, the trainer course, and that they needed somebody to sort of serve as a backup trainer. You weren't orderedto go. You volunteered to go, didn't you. Didn't you say I'll do it; I'll fill in?"
MORRISON: Yeah. Because there was nobody else. The lieutenant thought it was the right thing to do.
COUNTY: Okay. But my point is - - the lieutenant's here - - if I asked her I suspect she would tell me she didn't order you to go in a sense that there would be consequences if you didn't.
MORRISON: Yeah. There's never consequences. She asked if I could clear my schedule to go.
COUNTY: And you did?
MORRISON: Yes.

On May 11, 2015, Morrison rode his motorcycle from his home in Bel Air to the offices of the Baltimore County Crash Team ("Crash Team site"), located on Belair Road. Once at the Crash Team site, he and three other officers carpooled together in an unmarked police car to the State Highway complex where the training was to be held. Morrison testified that the four officers involved in the carpool met at the Crash Team site because it was centrally located for each of them. The four officers drove to the State Highway complex, attended the training, and drove back to the Crash Team site. From there, each of the officers went their separate ways in their separate vehicles.

On May 12, 2015, the next day, the four officers again met at the Crash Team site and carpooled together to the State Highway complex. The class worked through lunch and they were allowed to go home early. The carpool group returned to the Crash Team office site again, and again each went their separate ways using their personal vehicles.Morrison's transportation that day was the same motorcycle. He got on it a little after 12:00 p.m. on May 12, 2015.

Morrison testified that he was going to take Harford Road home because it was the most direct route. Morrison's usual route to his normal place of employment, the Academy at 7200 Sollers Point Road, was to take Route 24 from his house in Bel Air to 1-95 to I-695 to Merritt Boulevard to Sollers Point Road, and then to follow the same route on his way home. When asked, "So when you're coming home from . . . your normal workplace . . . do you ever take Harford Road?" Morrison replied "Not normally, no. It's always up 95."

Had Morrison driven directly to the State Highway complex rather than carpooling, he would have been paid mileage for the extra miles that he had to travel beyond his normal work duty station. Since the mileage to the Crash Team site from which he car pooled was less than the mileage to his normal work station, he did not request nor was he paid mileage.

Morrison was paid for the full day from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. even though the officers completed the training early, around noon.

On the motorcycle ride home, Morrison was involved in a single-vehicle accident and was badly injured. The crash occurred at approximately 12:36 p.m.

DISCUSSION

"Workers' compensation cases . . . occupy a special niche in Maryland civil law." Baltimore Cty. v. Kelly, 391 Md. 64, 67 (2006). Therefore, before we turn to the merits,we first revisit the procedural considerations of workers' compensation appeals and the relevant case law.

The Maryland Workers' Compensation Act (the "Act") provides benefits to employees who suffer an accidental injury that "arises out of and in the course of employment." Md. Code (1993, Repl. Vol. 2008), Labor & Employment Article ("L&E") § 9-101(b)(1).

The "course of employment" test directs our attention to the time, place, and circumstances of the accident. Montgomery Cty. v. Wade, 345 Md. 1, 11 (1997) (citations omitted). Specifically, "[i]n determining whether an injury occurred 'in the course of employment,' we consider the time, place, and circumstances of the accident in relation to the employment." Livering v. Richardson's Rest., 374 Md. 566, 576-77 (2003) (quoting Wade, 345 Md. at 11).

"'Arises out of' refers to the causal connection between the employment and the injury." Id. at 574. However, the phrase "arises out of" does not require that the injury be directly caused by the performance of an employment-related task, but rather requires, "more broadly, that the injury be incidental to the employment, such that it was by reason of the employment that the employee was exposed to the risk resulting in the injury." Id. at 574-75 (quoting Mulready v. Univ. Research Corp., 360 Md. 51, 57 (2000)).

The facts and circumstances of each individual case determine whether an injury arises out of and in the course of employment. Id. at 574 (citing Knoche v. Cox, 282 Md. 447, 454 (1978)).

The Act is "remedial, social legislation designed to protect workers and their families from various hardships that result from employment-related injuries." Id. (citation omitted). Therefore, the Act is to be construed liberally in favor of injured employees in order to effectuate its "benevolent purposes." Id. (quoting Bethlehem-Sparrows Point Shipyard, Inc. v. Hempfield, 206 Md. 589, 594 (1955)).

"Ordinarily, an employee that suffers an injury going to or returning from their place of work is not considered to be acting in the course of their employment." Garrity v. Injured Workers' Ins. Fund, 203 Md. App. 285, 293 (2005) (citations omitted). However, there are a several exceptions to this "going and coming" rule barring recovery. Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs for Frederick Cty. v. Vache, 349 Md. 526, 532 (1998).

An employee seeking compensation for a work-related injury first files a claim with the Commission. See L&E § 9-709. The "Commission is an administrative agency and was created specifically to develop an expertise in its field. The Commission forms part of a comprehensive scheme of liability set up by the Workmen's Compensation Act, which largely abrogates the common law." Newell v. Richards, 323 Md. 717, 732 (1991) (citations omitted).

"A party dissatisfied by the action of the Commission may seek review in a circuit court by either proceeding on the record made before the Commission (much like a judicial review of the final action of most state administrative agencies) or receive a new evidentiary hearing and decision before a jury (much like an original civil complaint brought in a circuit court)." Kelly, 391 Md. at 67-68; S.B. Thomas, Inc. v. Thompson, 114 Md. App. 357, 364-66 (1997) (extensively detailing the two pathways for an appeal of adetermination by the Commission); L&E § 9-745.3 On appeal, the Commission's decision is entitled to a presumption of correctness, i.e. prima facie correct, that must beovercome. Kelly, 391 Md. at 68. However, the presumption of correctness "is only pertinent when the issue on appeal to the circuit court is one of fact and not of law." Simmons v. Comfort Suite Hotels, 185 Md. App. 203, 211 (2009) (citations omitted). Essentially, although courts accord deference to an administrative...

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