Hansen v. City of Laurel, 78

Citation24 A.D. Cases 1738,25 A.3d 122,420 Md. 670,112 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 1648
Decision Date15 July 2011
Docket Number2010.,No. 78,Sept. Term,78
PartiesJerry P. HANSENv.CITY OF LAUREL, Maryland.
CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland


Suzanne M. Tsintolas (The Law Office of Suzanne M. Tsintolas, Rockville, MD), on brief, for Petitioner.Victoria M. Shearer (Daniel Karp of Karpinski, Colaresi & Karp, P.A., Baltimore, MD), on brief, for Respondent.Argued before BELL, C.J., HARRELL, BATTAGLIA, GREENE, MURPHY, ADKINS and BARBERA, JJ.HARRELL, J.

The parties here challenge us to interpret the pre-suit notice requirement of the 2007 iteration of the Local Government Tort Claims Act (“LGTCA”). Petitioner, Jerry Hansen (“Hansen”),1 asserts that he complied, strictly or at least substantially, with the required notice provision of the LGTCA as regards Prince George's County (notice of a claim must be served on the county solicitor or attorney) by delivering written notice of his claims against the City of Laurel (“City”) to the City Administrator. Respondent, the City, contests vigorously his assertions. Although the focus of the parties' arguments before this Court are aimed at whether Hansen's efforts were compliant at all with the LGTCA, the City argued in the trial court and the Court of Special Appeals also that Hansen did not plead expressly in his complaint satisfaction of the LGTCA notice provision. Such failure, the City averred, should prevent Hansen from pursuing his claim. We agree with the City's latter contention and, accordingly, do not decide whether Hansen's conduct complied with the applicable notice provision (although we shall comment in dicta, where appropriate, about some aspects of that dispute). As a result, we affirm the Court of Special Appeals's judgment, which affirmed the dismissal of Hansen's suit by the Circuit Court for Prince George's County.


We shall provide the relevant procedural facts, as well as some substantive background, for contextual purposes. No finder of fact has evaluated the credibility of any factual allegation because this case was disposed of ostensibly by the trial court through its grant of the City's motion to dismiss. Thus, we—like the Court of Special Appeals—derive the “facts” related here from Hansen's complaint (and, as it turns out, other pleadings and papers filed in the Circuit Court).

Hansen served as the City's “Chief Building Official” for seventeen years before his employment ended, against his will, in 2007. In the Spring of 2006, he experienced a heart attack, after which he assumed disabled status and did not seek to return to work with the City for a while. As the Court of Special Appeals recounted in its reported opinion in this case:

In November 2006, he met with City officials and reported he was ready, willing and able to work.” He presented documentation from his physician showing that his medical condition would not prevent him from returning to work. [According to Hansen], the City “regarded [him] as having a permanent disability” and was “determined to convince him to voluntarily terminate his employment.” Hansen insisted that he could return to work and was prepared to do so on December 26, 2006. Before then, City representatives contacted him and told him not to come in and that his last day of employment would be January 2, 2007.2

Hansen “exhausted all administrative remedies and, within [90] days of receipt of a Notice of Right to Sue letter from the Baltimore District Office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,” filed suit [in the Circuit Court] on September 26, 2008.3

On February 26, 2009, the City filed a motion to dismiss [for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted]. In its supporting memorandum, it asserted that, [i]n order to state a claim for unliquidated damages against a municipal entity, a plaintiff must allege, and must have given, statutory pre-litigation notice of intention to file a claim, as provided by Md.Code, Courts & Judicial Proceedings Article [ (“CJ”), §] 5–301, et seq., within 180 days ‘after the injury.’ The City argued that Hansen “ha [d] not alleged that he satisfied the notice requirements of the [LGTCA], and indeed as far as [the City] [was] aware, he did not.” The City did not request a hearing.

On March 5, 2009, Hansen filed an opposition to the City's motion to dismiss. He did not address the alleged deficiencies in his complaint. Rather, he characterized the City's motion as “assert[ing] [that] the City ... [had] not receive[d] notice within the statutory 180 days after the actual injury that any claims were pending against it with relation to [Hansen's] employment termination.” He responded that [the City's] argument was “without factual foundation” and averred facts that were not included in his complaint. Those facts showed that Hansen had notified the City Administrator of his claim within the 180–day window.

In support of his new factual averments, Hansen attached a number of exhibits to his opposition. The exhibits, none of which were mentioned in the complaint, included: (1) a hand-delivered letter dated March 12, 2007, from Hansen's lawyer to the City Administrator and the Deputy City Administrator setting forth the factual basis for Hansen's potential legal claim and proposing that “the parties pursue a non-adversarial resolution to [the] matter and, therefore, [seek] intervention from the City Administrator's Office prior to [Hansen's] filing a discrimination claim with [ ... the Prince George's County Human Rights Commission and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission]; (2) a document entitled “Charge of Discrimination,” dated April 25, 2007, submitted to the Prince George's County Human Relations Commission and later sent to the City Administrator, providing the factual basis for Hansen's discrimination claim; and (3) a “Notice of Charge of Discrimination” from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, dated April 27, 2007, also sent to the City Administrator, notifying the recipient of a discrimination charge. Like the City, Hansen did not request a hearing.

Hansen v. City of Laurel, 193 Md.App. 80, 85–86, 996 A.2d 882, 885–86 (2010).

The three documents attached to Hansen's opposition to the City's motion to dismiss expressed his intent to file claims with “local and federal administrative agencies,” to wit, the Prince George's County Human Rights Commission and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The documents did not reflect expressly an intent to file a complaint or claim in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County or any other court. Hansen's proffered pre-suit notice to the City Administrator made no reference, explicitly or otherwise, to the LGTCA. On 10 March 2009:

[T]he City filed a reply to Hansen's opposition. Noting that Hansen had “attache[d] to his opposition several pieces of paper which were neither referred to in the Complaint nor attached to the Complaint,” the City argued that, those “pieces of paper,” if considered, showed that Hansen could not prove compliance with the LGTCA notice requirement. According to the City, the LGTCA statute required Hansen to give notice of the claim to the City Attorney.” Thus, sending a letter and charges of discrimination to the City Administrator did not satisfy the statutory notice requirement. The City asserted that [i]t is not sufficient for a claimant simply to give some notice to some representative of the City.” The City further argued that, even if the City Administrator were a proper person to receive notice under the LGTCA, the letter and charges of discrimination were not sufficient “notice of a suit for unliquidated damages.”

[Without issuing a written opinion,] ... the circuit court granted the City's motion to dismiss [by order of 13 April 2009]. (As neither party had requested a hearing, none was held.) The order states: “Upon consideration of Defendant's Motion to Dismiss and any response thereto, good cause therefor having been shown, it is this 9th day of April, 2009, by the Circuit Court for Prince George's County ORDERED that the same be and hereby is GRANTED.

Hansen, 193 Md.App. at 86–87, 996 A.2d at 886.

In deciding Hansen's appeal of the Circuit Court's dismissal of his suit, the intermediate appellate court acknowledged in its opinion the City's contention that Hansen's complaint failed to plead satisfaction of the notice provision of the LGTCA, but grounded its analysis instead on whether Hansen's sending of notice to the City Administrator complied strictly or substantially with the notice requirement of the LGTCA prevailing at the relevant time of occurrence of Hansen's operative facts.4 See Hansen, 193 Md.App. at 89, 996 A.2d at 888 (“The only controversy for purposes of our discussion concerns whether the City Administrator was the proper recipient of notice under the LGTCA....”). It concluded that Hansen did not comply strictly with the LGTCA because he delivered his notice to the City Administrator, not to the County Attorney of Prince George's County, as specified in § 5–304(c)(2) of the version of the statute in effect at the time of accrual of Hansen's claims. See Hansen, 193 Md.App. at 92–93, 996 A.2d at 890. Assuming, without deciding, that Hansen, in the alternative, in 2007 could have sent notice to the “corporate authorities of [the] defendant local government,” § 5–304(c)(1), the Court of Special Appeals held that notice should have been provided to the Mayor or City Council, not the City Administrator. See Hansen, 193 Md.App. at 93, 996 A.2d at 890.

With respect to whether substantial compliance with the LGTCA requirement occurred, the Court of Special Appeals deduced that Hansen found no refuge there either, as he “notified the City Administrator,” a “position that is not charged with investigating tort claims against the City.” Hansen, 193 Md.App. at 96, 996 A.2d at 892; Hansen, 193 Md.App. at 95, 996 A.2d at 891 (“ ‘[T]he tort claimant has...

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