Conaway v. State, No. 337

CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Writing for the CourtROSALYN B. BELL
Citation600 A.2d 1133,90 Md.App. 234
PartiesGregory CONAWAY v. STATE of Maryland, et al. ,
Decision Date01 September 1991
Docket NumberNo. 337

Page 234

90 Md.App. 234
600 A.2d 1133
STATE of Maryland, et al.
No. 337, Sept. Term, 1991.
Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.
Jan. 31, 1992.

Page 236

Samuel D. Hill (Hill, Johnson, Foley, Stone & Miles, and David Kimmelman, Towson, on the brief), for appellant.

Lawrence P. Fletcher-Hill, Asst. Atty. Gen. (J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Atty. Gen., on the brief), Baltimore, for appellee, State of Md.

[600 A.2d 1134] Daniel Karp (Allen, Johnson, Alexander & Karp, on the brief), Baltimore, for appellee, Frank Basil, Inc.

(Susan L. Howe, Staff Atty., Baltimore, on the brief), for appellee, Md. Div. of Correction.

Argued before ALPERT, ROSALYN B. BELL, and DAVIS, JJ.


While a prisoner in the Maryland Division of Correction, Gregory Conaway was injured. Believing that the State's treatment for his injuries was negligent, Conaway filed a claim for damages, pursuant to the Maryland Tort Claims Act (MTCA). The State denied Conaway's claim on the grounds that the notice provided to it was defective. This determination was upheld by both the Health Claims Arbitration Office (HCAO) and the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.

During the pendency of the HCAO proceedings, Conaway learned that Frank Basil, Inc. had been the health care provider under a contract with the State when Conaway was injured. Conaway therefore amended his HCAO complaint to include Basil, but did not do so until after three

Page 237

years had passed from his original claim with the State. Both the HCAO and the circuit court granted Basil's motion to dismiss Conaway's claim as barred by the statute of limitations.

In this appeal, Conaway contends that:

-- the circuit court erred in granting the State's motion to dismiss because Conaway filed a claim with the State within the time period called for in the Maryland Tort Claims Act; and

-- the circuit court erred in granting Basil's motion to dismiss because Conaway did not learn of his claim against Basil until December of 1989.

As to Conaway's claim against the State, we will reverse and remand the case to the circuit court. With respect to his claim against Basil, however, we will affirm the judgment of the circuit court.


Conaway suffered a broken finger in May of 1986 while he was incarcerated in the Maryland Division of Correction Brockbridge facility at Jessup. Although the State provided him treatment for his injury, Conaway was left with a permanently disfigured and painful ring finger on his right hand. In September of 1986, through an attorney, Conaway filed a claim against the State, allegedly pursuant to the MTCA. Conaway's "claim" did not contain a demand for specific damages. Subsequently, over a two-year period, Conaway's attorney endeavored, with little success, to obtain from the State the medical records necessary to substantiate Conaway's claims. Finally, in November of 1988, Conaway, now in possession of the medical records, attempted to engage the State in settlement discussions. Although its agents were in contact with Conaway's attorney for over two years following the September 1986 letter, the State now denied Conaway's claim, alleging that the September 1986 letter did not meet the requirements of the MTCA, as the claim did not demand specific damages.

Page 238

Conaway then filed a claim with the HCAO. The State moved to dismiss, again contending that the September 1986 letter did not comply with the MTCA. Alternatively, the State alleged that Conaway had not exhausted his administrative remedies, as he did not file a claim with the Inmate Grievance Commission (IGC). In investigating this assertion, Conaway's attorney learned, for the first time, that the medical services provided to Conaway were not provided by state employees, but by a company with which the State contracted to provide medical care to inmates. As a result, Conaway could not have filed a claim with the IGC because the grievance was not with state employees, but with individuals under contract to the State. After learning this information, Conaway then amended his HCAO complaint to include PHP Healthcare Corporation (PHP), the State's present service provider.

While the State's motion to dismiss was pending before the HCAO, Conaway's attorney[600 A.2d 1135] learned that, although PHP was the current health care provider for the State's prisons, it did not begin its contract with the State until July 1, 1986. At the time Conaway was originally treated, therefore, it was not PHP, but Frank Basil, Inc., which was under contract with the State. For yet another time, Conaway amended his complaint, adding Basil as an additional defendant.

On October 2, 1990, the HCAO granted the State's and Basil's motions to dismiss, ruling that Conaway's September 1986 letter did not meet the requirements of the MTCA, and that Conaway's claim against Basil was barred by the statute of limitations. The HCAO later granted summary judgment in favor of PHP.

Conaway then notified the HCAO of his rejection of the decision and filed his complaint in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City against the State and Basil. The State and Basil filed motions in circuit court similar to those filed with the HCAO. Conaway filed answers to those motions. On January 30, 1991, the motions judge granted the motions of

Page 239

the State and Basil after a short hearing. Conaway then noted an appeal to this Court.

--Substantial Compliance--

Appellant first contends that the trial court erred in ruling that his September 1986 letter did not meet the requirements of the MTCA, specifically Md. State Gov't Code Ann., §§ 12-106--107 (1984, 1991 Cum.Supp.). Section 12-106(b) states:

"(b) Claim and denial required.--A claimant may not institute an action under this subtitle unless:

"(1) the claimant submits a written claim to the Treasurer or a designee of the Treasurer within 180 days after the injury to person or property that is the basis of the claim;

"(2) the Treasurer or designee denies the claim finally; and

"(3) the action is filed within 1 year after the claim is denied finally or 3 years after the cause of action arises, whichever is later."

Section 12-107(a) sets forth the requirements for a "claim":

"(a) Form.--A claim under this subtitle shall:

"(1) contain a concise statement of facts that sets forth the nature of the claim, including the date and place of the alleged tort;

"(2) demand specific damages;

"(3) state the name and address of each party;

"(4) state the name, address, and telephone number of counsel for the claimant, if any; and

"(5) be signed by the claimant, or the legal representative or counsel for the claimant."

Appellant argues that, although his September 1986 letter to the State Treasurer did not contain a demand for specific damages, as required by § 12-107(a)(2), the letter was a sufficient statement of a "claim" to meet the requirements

Page 240

of § 12-106(b). Implicit in this argument is the notion of "substantial compliance" with the "claim" requirements of the MTCA.

The State, on the other hand, proffers several reasons to support its assertion that the September 1986 letter was not a sufficient statement of a claim for purposes of the MTCA. First, because the MTCA waives the State's sovereign immunity, the State argues that such waiver should be construed strictly. Second, the State argues, cases interpreting the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) have, with virtual unanimity, concluded that the failure to demand specific damages is fatal to a claimant's cause of action.

For the reasons which follow, we reject the State's arguments. We will hold that appellant's September 1986 letter substantially complied with the requirements of §§ 12-106 and 12-107. As a result, we hold that the circuit court erred in dismissing appellant's claim against the State.

The General Assembly has waived the State's sovereign immunity for tort claimants who satisfy the requirements of [600 A.2d 1136] the MTCA. A threshold requirement, per §§ 12-106--107, is the presentation of a claim to the State Treasurer within 180 days of the injury. The Court of Appeals has recently held that this provision is a condition precedent to filing suit against the State. Simpson v. Moore, 323 Md. 215, 225, 592 A.2d 1090 (1991). The analysis of the Court of Appeals in Simpson provides the basis for our decision here.

In that case, a police officer was killed in a helicopter accident while on duty in 1986. Just short of three years later, the officer's surviving spouse, Simpson, filed an action for wrongful death and survivor's benefits. In that action, Simpson alleged that the accident resulted from the negligence of two other officers, and that the State of Maryland should be liable for damages. Simpson had filed no claim of any kind with the State within 180 days. The State filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, contending that the filing of a claim with the State Treasurer within

Page 241

180 days was a condition precedent to the State's waiver of sovereign immunity. The trial court granted the State's motion, and Simpson appealed.

According to the legislative history, the 180-day rule in § 12-106 was derived from Md.Cts. & Jud.Proc.Code Ann., § 5-306 (1974, 1984 Repl.Vol.), 1 which set time limits for making claims against a county or municipal corporation. As a result, argued Simpson, the Legislature, in amending § 12-106, must have also intended to incorporate the "good cause" and "absence of prejudice" criteria, adopted as § 5-306(c) in 1972, for waiver of the notice requirement. 2 Section 12-106 itself, however, unlike § 5-306, makes no mention of any exceptions to the 180-day notice requirement.

The Court of Appeals rejected Simpson's argument, holding that "[i]n adopting a 180-day requirement without also adopting any exception to that requirement, the legislature has imposed a condition precedent which carries with it the rigors...

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