Garrity v. Injured Workers' Ins. Fund

Decision Date09 February 2012
Docket Number2010.,Sept. Term,No. 1185,1185
Citation37 A.3d 1053,203 Md.App. 285
PartiesScott GARRITY v. INJURED WORKERS' INSURANCE FUND, et al.
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Dennis E. Cuomo (William R. Bacon, Jr., on the brief), Baltimore, MD, for appellant.

Jules H. Rosenberg (Injured Workers' Insurance Fund), Towson, MD, for appellee.

Panel: EYLER, DEBORAH S., HOTTEN, and RAYMOND G. THIEME, JR. (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ.

HOTTEN, J.

Appellant, Scott Garrity, a part-time bailiff at the District Court for Baltimore City, was involved in an automobile accident as he returned to the courthouse. Appellant submitted a claim to the Workers' Compensation Commission (“the Commission”), which concluded appellant's injury arose out of and was in the course of his employment. Appellees, the District Court of Maryland and Injured Workers' Insurance Fund, filed a petition for judicial review. The Circuit Court for Baltimore County reversed and remanded the decision. Appellant noted an appeal, and in his own words, presents the following question:

1. Did the trial judge err in its reversal of the Commission's finding that the Appellant had suffered a compensable injury arising out of and in the course of employment?

For the reasons that follow, we affirm the judgment of the circuit court.

BACKGROUND

On June 8, 2006, appellant arrived at the District Court for Baltimore City, Hargrove Courthouse, and realized that he was wearing a Christmas tie. Appellant did not believe the tie was appropriate because, according to him, a bailiff was supposed to wear a blue blazer, a pair of gray slacks, a dress shirt, and a light or dark blue tie. Appellant, thus, decided that he would call his son and ask him to bring a different tie. Before he called his son, appellant spilled coffee on his shirt and tie. Because appellant was assigned to courtroom five, and there were two bailiffs assigned to that courtroom, he decided that he would drive home and change. According to appellant, in courtroom five, “one bailiff would take over the complete courtroom ...” if the other needed to run an errand. Accordingly, appellant asked Duane Gamble, the other bailiff assigned to courtroom five, to cover him.

Steve Colburn, the Lead Bailiff at the Hargrove Courthouse, indicated that it was customary for one bailiff to cover another if he or she needed to use the bathroom, or if the court needed a bailiff to make a copy of a document, when two bailiffs were assigned to courtroom five. However, Mr. Colburn noted that it was not customary for a bailiff to leave the courthouse, without seeking permission, when assigned to courtroom five. Moreover, Mr. Colburn provided that he “liked” to know the whereabouts of a bailiff in case he needed them in a different location. Larry Johnston, the supervising bailiff for the District Court for Baltimore City, noted that a bailiff was permitted to cover another if he or she needed to use the restroom when two bailiffs were assigned to courtroom five.1 However, he indicated that if a bailiff left the courthouse, he or she “should” advise their supervisor. Furthermore, Mr. Johnston provided that he was unaware of any “custom” in which bailiffs were permitted to leave the courthouse and cover for each other without notifying a supervisor.

Nevertheless, on June 8, 2006, appellant left the courthouse around 8:55 a.m. without notifying a supervisor. At or around 9:05 a.m., appellant arrived at his house and changed his shirt and tie. As appellant drove back to the courthouse, he was struck by a truck head-on. Appellant suffered serious injuries and spent approximately one month in the hospital. Appellant thereafter filed a workers' compensation claim with the Commission. The Commission held a hearing and concluded that appellant's injury arose out of and was in the course of his employment. Appellees filed a petition for judicial review.

During the bench trial, appellant argued that his injuries were compensable despite the fact that he was driving to work. Appellant asserted that his claim was compensable under the special mission and dual purpose exceptions to the “going and coming rule,” because the “Apparel and Appearance Guidelines” required him to change his shirt and tie, and bailiffs in courtroom five regularly covered for each other. Appellant also asserted that the personal comfort exception to the “going and coming rule” made his claim compensable because: (1) the decision to go home and change benefitted him and the District Court; (2) bailiffs regularly covered for each other in courtroom five when errands needed to be run; (3) the trip was permissible because appellant was changing his attire to be appropriately dressed; and (4) appellant was attending to a reasonable comfort at the time of the injury.

Appellees countered that the special mission and dual purpose exceptions were not applicable because appellant was not authorized to make the trip home. Appellees then asserted the personal comfort exception was not applicable because the exception concerned sanctioned coffee breaks. The circuit court reversed and remanded the case to the Commission. In reversing, the court concluded that appellant did not receive permission to leave the courthouse. The court further held that the Commission “did not correctly construe the established law” because appellant was driving to work and the exceptions to the “going and coming rule” were not applicable. Appellant thereafter noted an appeal.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

When a party appeals a decision from the Commission, a circuit court “essentially” conducts a de novo trial. Granite State Ins. Co. v. Hernandez, 191 Md.App. 548, 557, 992 A.2d 528 (2010) (citing Barnes v. Children's Hosp., 109 Md.App. 543, 553, 675 A.2d 558 (1996)). In those situations, we review a court's factual findings under the clearly erroneous standard. Md. Rule 8–131(c); see Granite State Ins. Co., 191 Md.App. at 557–58, 992 A.2d 528. Moreover, we recognize that the “the decision of the Commission is presumed to be prima facie correct....” Md.Code (2008), § 9–745(b)(1) of the Labor & Employment Article (“L.E.”); accord Granite State Ins. Co., 191 Md.App. at 558, 992 A.2d 528; Barnes, 109 Md.App. at 553, 675 A.2d 558.

However, [o]ur function is not to determine whether we might have reached a different conclusion’ on the evidence.” Id. (citing Mercedes–Benz v. Garten, 94 Md.App. 547, 556, 618 A.2d 233 (1993)). “Rather, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the prevailing party, assume the truth of the evidence presented, and give the prevailing party the benefit of all favorable inferences fairly deducible from the evidence.” Granite State Ins. Co., 191 Md.App. at 558, 992 A.2d 528. Accordingly, we shall not set aside findings if there is competent evidence to support them. Id.

As a corollary, we note that the clearly erroneous standard ‘does not apply to a trial court's determinations of legal questions or conclusions based on findings of fact.’ Id. (quoting Heat & Power Corp. v. Air Products & Chemicals, Inc., 320 Md. 584, 591, 578 A.2d 1202 (1990)). In Barnes, 109 Md.App. at 553–54, 675 A.2d 558, we elaborated on the issue:

The Maryland Workers' Compensation Act, which entitles covered employees to compensation for accidental personal injuries that arise “out of and in the course of employment,” L.E. § § 9–101(b), 9–501(a), is a remedial statute. Its provisions are liberally construed in favor of the employee. Lovellette v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore, 297 Md. 271, 282, 465 A.2d 1141 (1983); Bethlehem–Sparrows Point Shipyard, Inc. v. Hempfield, 206 Md. 589, 594, 112 A.2d 488 (1955); Ewing v. Koppers Co., 69 Md.App. 722, 731, 519 A.2d 790 (1987). Thus, any ambiguity in the law is resolved in favor of the claimant. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore v. Cassidy, 338 Md. 88, 97, 656 A.2d 757 (1995); Cline v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore, 13 Md.App. 337, 344, 283 A.2d 188 (1971), aff'd, 266 Md. 42, 291 A.2d 464 (1972). The doctrine of liberal construction does not mean, however, that coverage may be granted beyond that which is authorized by the provisions of the Act. Tortuga, Inc. v. Wolfensberger, 97 Md.App. 79, 83, 627 A.2d 56, cert. denied, 332 Md. 703, 632 A.2d 1209 (1993).

DISCUSSION

A compensable “accidental personal injury” occurs when an “injury ... arises out of and in the course of employment....” L.E. § 9–101(b). An injury is considered to arise “out of employment if it results from the nature, conditions, obligations, or incidents of the employment.” Barnes, 109 Md.App. at 554, 675 A.2d 558 (citing Knoche v. Cox, 282 Md. 447, 455, 385 A.2d 1179 (1978); CAM Constr. Co. v. Beccio, 92 Md.App. 452, 460, 608 A.2d 1264 (1992)). “An injury arises in the course of employment “when it occurs during the period of employment at a place where the employee reasonably may be in the performance of his duties and while he is fulfilling those duties or engaged in doing something incident thereto.” Id. at 555, 675 A.2d 558 (quoting Huffman v. Koppers Co., 94 Md.App. 180, 185, 616 A.2d 451 (1992) (quoting Watson v. Grimm, 200 Md. 461, 466, 90 A.2d 180 (1952))).

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. See Director of Finance for the City of Baltimore v. Alford, 270 Md. 355, 359, 311 A.2d 412 (1973); Reisinger–Siehler Co. v. Perry, 165 Md. 191, 194, 167 A. 51 (1933); Barnes, 109 Md.App. at 555, 675 A.2d 558; Fairchild Space Co. v. Baroffio, 77 Md.App. 494, 497, 551 A.2d 135 (1989); Coats & Clark's Sales Corp. v. Stewart, 39 Md.App. 10, 13, 383 A.2d 67 (1978). Appellant acknowledges that he was returning to work, but asserts that the injury is compensable because of: (1) the special mission exception; (2) the dual purpose doctrine exception; and (3) the personal comfort exception.

I.

A special mission occurs when “an employee is acting in the...

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