Bd. of Educ. of Prince George's Cnty. v. Marks–Sloan

Decision Date21 August 2012
Docket NumberSept. Term, 2011.,No. 117,117
Citation428 Md. 1,283 Ed. Law Rep. 992,50 A.3d 1137
PartiesBOARD OF EDUCATION OF PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, et al. v. Stephanie Lynn MARKS–SLOAN.
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Abbey G. Hairston (Sarah M. Burton of Thatcher Law Firm, LLC, Greenbelt, MD), on brief, for Petitioners.

Michael J. Winkelman (McCarthy, Winkelman & Morrow, LLP, Bowie, MD), on brief, for Respondent.

Leslie R. Stellman, Esquire, Hodes, Pessin & Katz, P.A., Towson, MD, Stephen C. Bounds, Esquire, Director of Legal and Policy Services, Maryland Association of Boards of Education, Annapolis, MD, for Amicus Curiae brief of Maryland Association of Boards of Education in Support of the Appellants.

Argued before BELL, C.J., HARRELL, BATTAGLIA, GREENE, ADKINS, BARBERA and McDONALD, JJ.

GREENE, J.

In the instant case, Stephanie Marks–Sloan (Respondent) was injured in an automobile collision involving Norman Iglehart on September 26, 2007, while both were acting within the scope of their employment with the Board of Education of Prince George's County (the Board). In the discussion that follows, we will refer to Mr. Iglehart and the Board, collectively, as Petitioners.1 Respondent thereafter applied for workers' compensation benefits. The Workers' Compensation Commission awarded her compensation for medical expenses, temporary total disability, and attorney's fees after determining that Respondent had sustained an accidental injury arising out of and in the course of her employment. The Board, as a self-insured employer, began making the required payments to Respondent.

Subsequently, Respondent filed a Complaint in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, naming Mr. Iglehart, the Board, and Prince George's County (the County) as defendants. In her Complaint, Respondent sought damages for her injuries as a result of Mr. Iglehart's alleged ordinary negligence and the respondeat superior liability of the Board and the County. The parties ultimately stipulated to the dismissal of the County as a party to the case. Petitioners, as the remaining defendants in the tort suit, filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment. In their Motion, Petitioners contended that, pursuant to Md.Code (1957, 2008 Repl.Vol.), § 9–509 of the Labor and Employment Article (LE), Respondent's exclusive remedy against the Board, her employer, was through the Workers' Compensation Act. According to Petitioners, because Respondent had received an award from the Workers' Compensation Commission, she was prohibited from pursuing a tort suit against the Board. In addition, Petitioners claimed in their Motion that Md.Code (1990, 2006 Repl.Vol.), § 5–518 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article (CJ) provided immunity for Mr. Iglehart as a county board of education employee acting within the scope of his employment and without malice or gross negligence; thus, Petitioners asserted that the Complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

After consideration of Petitioners' Motion, and Respondent's opposition thereto, the trial judge denied the Motion with regard to Mr. Iglehart but granted the Motion with regard to the Board. The judge concluded that the Board was dismissed; however, he directed that it “remain a party in this case for the purposes of any potential indemnification [of Mr. Iglehart] required under Maryland Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article § 5–518(h) (2006).” Following a series of motions and responses filed by the parties, the trial judge issued an Order entering judgment on behalf of Respondent in the amount of $100,000 against the Board.2 The judge's Order also indicated that the parties agreed that Petitioners had not waived their rights to pursue post-judgment relief or to file a timely appeal. In an attempt to further clarify the respective positions of the parties in the suit, the judge later issued an Amended Order, which ordered that judgment be entered against Mr. Iglehart and the Board and added the stipulation that Mr. Iglehart was dismissed from the action.

The trial judge denied Petitioners' Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment. Petitioners then noted a timely appeal to the Court of Special Appeals. Bd. of Educ. v. Marks–Sloan, 202 Md.App. 59, 30 A.3d 1026 (2011). The intermediate appellate court affirmed the judgment of the trial court, concluding that, similar to the Local Government Tort Claims Act, CJ § 5–518 contains an indemnification provision, rather than an immunity provision, that allows a tort suit to be brought against Mr. Iglehart and requires that the Board be joined as a party. Marks–Sloan, 202 Md.App. at 69–70, 30 A.3d at 1031–32. The Court of Special Appeals interpreted CJ § 5–518 as requiring the Board to indemnify Mr. Iglehart by paying any damages entered against him in the negligence suit. Marks–Sloan, 202 Md.App. at 70, 30 A.3d at 1032. In addition, the Court of Special Appeals concluded that the Legislature's decision to require the Board to indemnify Mr. Iglehart does not violate the exclusivity rule in the Workers' Compensation Act. Marks–Sloan, 202 Md.App. at 67–68, 30 A.3d at 1031.

We granted Petitioners' petition for writ of certiorari, Bd. of Educ. v. Marks–Sloan, 424 Md. 628, 37 A.3d 317 (2012), to address the following issues:

1. Can an employee of a county board of education who receives workers' compensation benefits for injuries sustained in the course and scope of her employment circumvent the exclusivity rule and sue her co-worker in a negligence action?

2. Does CJ § 5–518 grant employees of county boards of education immunity from suit and judgment absent malice and gross negligence?

3. Did the Court of Special Appeals improperly rely upon the Maryland Tort Claims Act and the Local Government Tort Claims Act to determine that an employee of a county board of education may be sued in his individual capacity in a negligence action?

We shall affirm the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals and hold that CJ § 5–518 contains an indemnification provision that allows an injured party to bring a tort suit against the county board of education employee who caused the injury. In accordance with the statute, the injured party must join the employer county board of education as a defendant in the action. Any damages awarded may be executed and levied against the county board of education only and may not be collected from the negligent employee. Furthermore, we hold that, as it pertains to the case sub judice, this statutory scheme does not violate the exclusivity rule in LE § 9–509, which states that an injured employee's sole remedy against his or her employer for an accidental personal injury sustained during the course of employment is through the Workers' Compensation Act. The purpose of the exclusivity rule is to ensure swift compensation to the injured employee and to prevent a double recovery, through a workers' compensation award and a tort judgment, from an employer by an injured employee.

The Workers' Compensation Act, Md.Code (1957, 2008 Repl.Vol.), § 9–902 of the Labor and Employment Article, provides that in a suit against a third party tortfeasor, brought by an employer or injured employee,3 the employer is entitled to reimbursement in the amount of any workers' compensation paid or awarded to the injured employee. Thus, in a situation where, as here, an injured county board of education employee brings a suit in tort against a negligent co-employee, and the county board of education is joined for purposes of indemnification, the county board may set off the amount of workers' compensation paid or awarded to the injured employee from the amount of damages awarded in the tort action. Such a procedure satisfies the letter and spirit of the statutory provisions at issue by protecting the county board of education from the unfairness of double recovery, while allowing the injured employee to obtain his or her entitlement to compensation for workplace injuries.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The facts of the instant case are relatively simple and undisputed by the parties. On September 26, 2007, Respondent, while acting in the course and scope of her employment with the Board, was driving a motorcycle on the access road from a school bus lot in Prince George's County. At the same time, Mr. Iglehart, also acting in the course and scope of his employment with the Board, was operating a school bus and traveling in the opposite direction on the access road. Due to Mr. Iglehart's negligent operation of the bus, Respondent was forced off the road and suffered injuries.

Respondent filed a claim with the Workers' Compensation Commission for injuries she sustained as a result of the incident. The Commission determined that Respondent had sustained an accidental injury arising out of and in the course of her employment with the Board. On February 25, 2008, the Commission awarded Respondent compensation for medical expenses, temporary total disability, and attorney's fees. At the time of the incident, the Board was a self-insured employer, and it began paying compensation to Respondent in accordance with the Commission's award.

On October 31, 2009, Respondent filed a Complaint in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, naming Mr. Iglehart, the Board, and Prince George's County as defendants. In her Complaint, Respondent sought damages based on Mr. Iglehart's negligence and the respondeat superior liability of the Board and the County. Ultimately, the parties stipulated to the dismissal of the County as a party to the suit. Petitioners, the remaining defendants, filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment. With regard to the claims against Mr. Iglehart, Petitioners asserted that CJ § 5–518(e) provided immunity for Mr. Iglehart as a county board of education employee acting within the scope of his employment, without malice or gross...

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