Cosby v. Dep't of Human Res., 74

CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland
Citation425 Md. 629,42 A.3d 596
Docket NumberSept. Term, 2011.,No. 74,74
PartiesJohnette COSBY v. DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN RESOURCES, Allegany County Department of Social Services.
Decision Date25 April 2012

425 Md. 629
42 A.3d 596

Johnette COSBY
DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN RESOURCES, Allegany County Department of Social Services.

No. 74, Sept. Term, 2011.

Court of Appeals of Maryland.

April 25, 2012.

[42 A.3d 598]

Ramon Rozas, III (Friend & Rozas, LLC, Cumberland, MD), on brief, for petitioner.

Sandra Barnes, Asst. Atty. Gen. (Douglas F. Gansler, Atty. Gen. of Maryland, Baltimore, MD), on brief, for respondents.

Argued before BELL, C.J. HARRELL, GREENE, ADKINS, BARBERA, WILNER, ALAN M. (Retired, Specially Assigned), CATHELL, DALE R. (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ.


[425 Md. 632]Johnette Cosby (“Ms. Cosby” or “Petitioner”) requested an administrative hearing to challenge a determination by the Allegany County Department of Social Services (“the Department” or “Respondent”) that she was responsible for “indicated child neglect,” a finding which would result in her placement into the Department's central registry of child neglectors. Prior to the hearing, her son was adjudicated to be a Child in Need of Assistance (CINA) based on the same allegations of neglect presented in the administrative action. As a result, the administrative law judge granted the Department's motion to dismiss Ms. Cosby's administrative appeal based on collateral estoppel. Ms. Cosby filed a petition for judicial review, arguing that amendments to Maryland Code (1984, 2006 Repl.Vol.) § 5–706.1 of the Family Law Article precluded application of the common law defense. The Circuit Court for Allegany County agreed and reinstated Ms. Cosby's administrative appeal, however, the Court of Special Appeals reversed that determination. See Dep't of Human Res. v. Cosby, 200 Md.App. 54, 24 A.3d 199 (2011). Upon review of the applicable statutory provision and prior appellate case law, we agree with the Court of Special Appeals that the provision was not amended so as to preclude the common law defense of collateral estoppel when the elements are otherwise satisfied. Petitioner concedes that the required[425 Md. 633]elements of collateral estoppel are present in the instant case. Therefore, we shall hold that the dismissal of the administrative appeal was proper.


On October 7, 2008, the Department notified Ms. Cosby that, following a Child Protective Services investigation, it had found her responsible for “indicated child neglect.” As a result, Ms. Cosby's name would be placed into a central registry of child neglectors pursuant to Maryland Code (1984, 2006 Repl.Vol.)

[42 A.3d 599]

§ 5–714(e) of the Family Law Article.1 The underlying basis of the finding according to the Department's report, was that on September 23, 2008, Ms. Cosby had refused to allow Michael, her 17 year-old adoptive son, who was paralyzed from the waist down, to return home after he and Ms. Cosby's live-in paramour “got into a verbal altercation ... [that] became physical in nature.” Ms. Cosby further refused to allow the Department to coordinate a voluntary placement and instead insisted that Michael be placed in foster care “as a punishment.” Due to her refusal to either allow Michael to return home or to grant permission for him to live with a voluntary caregiver, the Department placed [425 Md. 634]Michael into shelter care and filed a CINA petition in the Circuit Court for Allegany County. On December 15, 2008, the Circuit Court granted the petition, adjudicated Michael to be a CINA 2 based on Ms. Cosby's neglect, and placed him in the care of the Department for transfer into foster care.3

Meanwhile, on December 1, 2008, Ms. Cosby challenged the Department's finding that she was responsible for “indicated child neglect,” by filing a timely request for a contested case hearing before the Office of Administrative Hearings (“OAH”) pursuant to § 5–706.1(b) of the Family Law Article. Following the CINA determination, Respondent moved to dismiss the administrative hearing on grounds of collateral estoppel, arguing that the Circuit Court's finding of neglect precluded Petitioner from challenging the Department's determination of “indicated child neglect” based upon the same facts.4 Ms. [425 Md. 635]Cosbyfiled

[42 A.3d 600]

an untimely opposition, arguing that amendments to § 5–706.1 of the Family Law Article made clear that a CINA finding does not bar a subsequent administrative appeal. The administrative law judge (ALJ) granted the motion based on collateral estoppel and dismissed the appeal in an order dated March 25, 2009.5 In reaching this conclusion, the ALJ relied on the intermediate appellate court's decision in Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services v. Tamara A., 178 Md.App. 686, 943 A.2d 653 (2008)[Tamara A. I] which, as explained infra, held that CINA determinations do, in fact, preclude the re-litigation of issues presented in contested case hearings where the elements of common-law collateral estoppel are satisfied. Tamara I, 178 Md.App. at 700–01, 943 A.2d at 660–61. The ALJ stated that “[t]he Court [in Tamara A. I ] specifically noted that the definition of child neglect used in the CINA hearing was identical to the definition of child neglect applicable in neglect cases such as the present matter.” The ALJ concluded, therefore, that collateral estoppel barred the contested case hearing because Ms. Cosby had the opportunity “at the CINA hearing to fully litigate the issues in question,” as the CINA conclusion “was based on the same events giving rise to the child neglect investigation in the present case, i.e. the incident of September 23, 2008 wherein [Ms. Cosby] refused reentry of the [c]hild into [her] home.”

On April 2, 2009, Petitioner filed a motion to reconsider, arguing that the ALJ's decision was incorrect because the [425 Md. 636]Court of Appeals had reversed Tamara A. I prior to the administrative hearing in Tamara A. v. Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, 407 Md. 180, 963 A.2d 773 (2009) [Tamara A. II ]. The Department responded that, despite the reversal, Tamara A. I remained persuasive because this Court had specifically declined to review the merits of the decision, but, rather, vacated it as an improper interlocutory appeal. The ALJ agreed with the Department and reaffirmed its decision that Ms. Cosby's administrative action was barred as a matter of law by collateral estoppel.

Ms. Cosby then filed a petition for judicial review of the ALJ's decision with the Circuit Court for Allegany County.6 On March 5, 2010, after a hearing, the Circuit

[42 A.3d 601]

Court reversed the ALJ's dismissal and remanded for further proceedings on the contested case based on its reading of both § 5–706.1 and Tamara A. II. While it recognized that this Court in Tamara A. II “declined to address the merits of the case,” it interpreted certain dicta to suggest that Ms. Cosby “was entitled to further proceedings on her appeal.” Therefore, according to the Circuit Court, “the ALJ's reliance upon the analysis and holding of Tamara A. [I] ... was inappropriate in light of the Court of Appeals['s] reversal.”

Following this decision, Respondent appealed to the Court of Special Appeals. That court reversed and held that dismissal was the appropriate disposition because collateral estoppel did, in fact, bar Cosby's administrative appeal. Dep't of Human Res. v. Cosby, 200 Md.App. 54, 24 A.3d 199 (2011). The intermediate appellate court based this conclusion on its interpretation of the legislative history surrounding the [425 Md. 637]amendments to § 5–706.1, and its review of the Tamara A. decisions. The court made clear that Tamara A. II “did not determine whether collateral estoppel would preclude [an] appeal from [an] indicated neglect finding,” but that dicta within the opinion was consistent with such a holding. Cosby, 200 Md.App. at 71–72, 24 A.3d at 209–10. We granted Petitioner's request for a writ of certiorari, Cosby v. Soc. Servs., 422 Md. 352, 30 A.3d 193 (2011), to resolve the issues surrounding the interpretation of § 5–706.1 and the Tamara A. decisions, and now address the following question, as restated by the intermediate appellate court:

Where there was a prior finding of child neglect in a CINA case to which Cosby was a party, did the ALJ err in a subsequent administrative proceeding when he granted the Department's motion to dismiss Cosby's appeal of the Department's finding of indicated child neglect based on collateral estoppel?

We answer that question in the negative, and therefore affirm the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals, as the administrative appeal was properly dismissed on grounds of collateral estoppel.


The instant case presents an action for judicial review of an administrative decision. In such cases, the Court of Appeals “take[s] the same posture as the circuit court or the intermediate appellate court, and [we] limit our review to the agency's decision.” Anderson v. General Casualty, 402 Md. 236, 244, 935 A.2d 746, 751 (2007) (citation omitted); accord MVA v. Shea, 415 Md. 1, 17, 997 A.2d 768, 777 (2010) (“[O]ur role is not to review the [c]ircuit [c]ourt's judgment, but rather to review the decision of the ALJ....”); Charles County Dep't of Soc. Servs. v. Vann, 382 Md. 286, 294, 855 A.2d 313, 318 (2004) (noting that this Court “reevaluate[s] the decision of the agency under the same statutory standards as would the circuit court, and we do not employ those standards to reevaluate the decision of the circuit or intermediate appellate court” (citations omitted)). As we explained in [425 Md. 638]Board of Physician Quality Assurance v. Banks, 354 Md. 59, 67–68, 729 A.2d 376, 380 (1999):

A court's role in reviewing an administrative agency adjudicatory decision is narrow, it is limited to determining if there is substantial evidence in the record as a whole to support the agency's findings and conclusions, and to determine if the administrative decision is premised upon an erroneous conclusion of law.

Id. (internal quotations omitted) (citations...

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