Henley v. Prince George's County

Decision Date07 February 1986
Docket NumberNo. 134,134
Citation305 Md. 320,503 A.2d 1333
PartiesLarry Leroy HENLEY et al. v. PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, Maryland et al. Sept. Term 1984.
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

John J. Pyne (William P. Dale, on brief), Washington, D.C., for appellant.

Leonard L. Lipshultz (Victor I. Weiner and Lipshultz & Hone, Chartered on the brief of Silver Spring, and Don F. Ryder, Jr., Schroeder, Ryder & Braden, on brief), Rockville, for appellee John H. Jones Trading as Capital Building and Remodeling Co.

Sherrie L. Krauser, Associate Co. Atty. (Daniel I. Sherry and Thomas P. Smith, Co. Atty., Michael O. Connaughton, Deputy Co. Atty., on brief), Upper Marlboro, for appellees Prince George's County, Md. and Bd. of Trustees of Prince George's Community College.



On Saturday, June 17, 1978, Charles Wantland sexually assaulted and murdered Donald Alan Henley, age 12. Wrongful death and survival claims were filed by the personal representative of Donald's estate and by his parents in an action against Wantland, John H. Jones T/A Capitol Building and Remodeling Company (Jones), Prince George's County, Maryland (the "County"), and the Board of Trustees of Prince George's Community College (the "College"). A default judgment was entered against Wantland, but all other claims were terminated in favor of the remaining defendants by summary judgment, and that action was affirmed by the Court of Special Appeals. Henley v. Prince George's County, 60 Md.App. 24, 479 A.2d 1375 (1984). We granted Appellants' petition for a writ of certiorari to consider important issues concerning claims of negligent hiring and retention, and of breach of the duty owed by an occupier of land.

I Facts

In early 1978 the County embarked upon a skills training and improvement program in cooperation with the United States Department of Labor pursuant to the federal Comprehensive Employment and Training Act of 1973 (CETA). The purpose of the program was to provide specific construction skills training to 60 chronically unemployed persons, including but not limited to former convicts and convicts on work release status. The first phase of the program contemplated six months of classroom and practical training of all enrollees at a designated site, and the second phase contemplated supervised on-the-job training at various work sites. At the conclusion of this program the building contractor who had contracted with the County to provide the training was required to hire all enrollees (to a maximum of 50) who successfully completed the training cycle.

Because of irreconcilable differences, the County terminated its contract with the first building contractor selected, and on May 19, 1978, it entered into a contract with Jones for the management of the program. At the same time the County contracted with the College for the use and occupancy of property known as the Clinton Center (and formerly known as the Berger mansion) for use as a training site.

Wantland originally came into the program as a trainee, at which time he was on work release status at Patuxent Institution in Jessup. Wantland was serving a sentence of 30 years for second degree murder, and had a record of various other crimes, including repeated instances of drunken and disorderly conduct. Shortly after Jones took over the program, Wantland was hired as a carpentry instructor. The record shows that Jones was involved with a number of construction projects in the metropolitan area, and that managerial responsibility for the running of the project was entrusted to Milton Gordon, Project Director, and to Albert Ruffin, Assistant Director. Wantland was hired by Gordon, who at that time was aware of Wantland's extensive criminal background.

During the time he was enrolled as a trainee, and for a short time after he was employed as a carpentry instructor, Wantland continued to be an inmate of Patuxent Institution and was transported daily to and from the Clinton Center. Sometime prior to the murder Wantland was released from Patuxent, and arrangements were made for him to reside at the Clinton Center. At that time Ruffin was also residing at the Center, and was performing caretaker and security duties. Because of repeated acts of vandalism and theft that had occurred at the site after the inception of the program, an agreement was reached that Ruffin and Wantland would coordinate their activities so that one of them would be present on the property at all times.

There is a dispute as to whether Wantland was assigned any security duties in connection with his employment, and we shall refer to additional facts relating to that issue in a later section of this opinion.

William Rawles, a trainee in the program, offered the following evidence by affidavit:

* * *

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8. That vandalism, break-ins and burglaries had been occurring at the Clinton Center/Berger Mansion property and tools and equipment had begun to disappear.

9. That about a week or two weeks before I heard that Donald Henley was killed, I heard Albert Ruffin and Milton Gordon talking about these burglaries. I heard them talk about moving Wantland into the Mansion to be sure that someone was there at night to help prevent the thefts.

10. That on the Thursday or Friday prior to the murder of Donald Henley the following discussion took place between Charles M. Wantland and myself:

Wantland--"I think I know who is doing the breakins."

Me--"Then why don't you call the police?"

Wantland--"Fuck the damn police. I can take care of it myself. If I catch who's doing it I'm going to tie him to a tree and fuck him to death."

11. That I became concerned that Charles Wantland did intend to injure someone and that I therefore reported the conversation to the man in charge, Albert Ruffin, on that same Thursday or Friday. The following conversation took place:

Me--"Is that fellow Charlie alright? If it's one of these dudes doing the break-ins they'd better be careful. He's talking about tying him to a tree and fucking him to death."

Ruffin--"What the fuck are you worried about? Don't worry about it.

Wantland anally sodomized and stabbed Donald to death 1 in a wooded area of the Clinton Center property at about 6:00 p.m. on the following Saturday, one or two days after the alleged statements had been made. The Rawles affidavit was not available for consideration by the trial judge when he granted Appellees' motions for summary judgment. Appellants filed a timely motion to vacate the order granting summary judgment, accompanied by the Rawles affidavit and an explanation that they had not discovered the information contained in the affidavit until after the motions for summary judgment had been argued. Judge Rea declined to vacate the judgment, and entered an order pursuant to Maryland Rule 605 a (now Rule 2-602) certifying the judgment as final and immediately appealable.

II The Rawles Affidavit

We initially consider the action of the trial court in refusing to set aside the order granting summary judgment and refusing to consider the affidavit of additional facts proffered by Appellants. The order granting summary judgment was entered on June 2, 1983, following a hearing on May 13. On July 1, Appellants filed a motion to set aside the order, arguing that the trial judge had improperly resolved factual disputes, and proffering new factual matter contained in the affidavit of Rawles. The College and the County filed a brief response, contending that Appellants offered no new facts or legal arguments. Jones did not file a response. On July 7, Judge Rea entered an order sustaining his previous order granting summary judgment, without further comment.

Because the order of June 2 did not dispose of the claim against Wantland, it was interlocutory and subject to revision in the discretion of the trial court. Maryland Rule 605 a (now Rule 2-602). Tedrow v. Ford Motor Co., 260 Md. 142, 144-45, 271 A.2d 688 (1970); Associated Realty Co. v. Kimmelman, 19 Md.App. 368, 374, 311 A.2d 464 (1973). We shall assume for purposes of this case that the standard to be applied in deciding a motion to revise an interlocutory judgment is the same as that applied to resolve a motion to revise a final judgment filed in accordance with Rule 2-535(a). Judge Smith, writing for the Court, reviewed this standard in J.B. Corporation v. Fowler, 258 Md. 432, 434-36, 265 A.2d 876 (1970) and quoted the now familiar rule stated in Clarke Baridon v. Union Co., 218 Md. 480, 483, 147 A.2d 221 (1958):

After the judgment properly was entered, the question of whether it should or should not be vacated in whole or in part was within the sound discretion of the trial court for the ensuing thirty days. The decisive point no longer was whether there existed a genuine dispute as to a material fact, but rather whether the court was satisfied that there had been shown a reasonable indication of a meritorious defense or other equitable circumstances that would justify striking the judgment--that is, whether the court entertained a reasonable doubt that justice had not been done. Phelps v. Herro, [215 Md. 223, 137 A.2d 159 (1957) ]; 2 Poe, Pleading and Practice (5th Ed.), Sec. 392; Smith v. Lapidus, 208 Md. 273, 279 .

In Eshelman Motors v. Scheftel, 231 Md. 300, 301, 189 A.2d 818 (1963), we said of the discretion reposed in the trial court that "it is a discretion which must be exercised liberally, lest technicality triumph over justice." We have also said that this discretion will not be disturbed unless clearly shown to have been abused, and that this is particularly true where judgment has been entered on the merits rather than as a result of a default. Hardy v. Metts, 282 Md. 1, 6, 381 A.2d 683 (1978).

Applying the standards we have discussed to the facts of this case, we hold that the trial judge abused his discretion in refusing to set aside the earlier order and...

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