Higginbotham v. Psc., 155 September Term, 2008.

CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Citation985 A.2d 1183,412 Md. 112
Docket NumberNo. 155 September Term, 2008.,155 September Term, 2008.
Decision Date30 December 2009
985 A.2d 1183
412 Md. 112
No. 155 September Term, 2008.
Court of Appeals of Maryland.
December 30, 2009.

[985 A.2d 1184]

Howard J. Schulman (Daniel P. Doty of Schulman & Kaufman, LLC, Baltimore, MD), on brief, for Appellant.

William F. Brockman, Deputy Sol. Gen. (Douglas F. Gansler, Atty. Gen. of Maryland, Baltimore, MD), on amicus curiae brief, for Appellees.

Brief of the State of Maryland as amicus curiae for Appellees Douglas F. Gansler, Esquire Attorney General of Maryland William F Brockman, Esquire Deputy Solicitor General Baltimore, MD.

ARGUED BEFORE HARRELL, GREENE, MURPHY, ADKINS, BARBERA, JOHN C. ELDRIDGE (Retired, Specially Assigned), and IRMA S. RAKER (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ.

MURPHY, Judge.

In this appeal from the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, Robert M. Higginbotham, II, Appellant,1 presented the Court of Special Appeals with a single question:

Does Maryland State Government Article § 12-106(b)(3), which requires that an action under the Maryland Tort Claims Act be filed within three years after the cause of action arises, create a uniform three-year statute of limitations for all tort actions brought pursuant to

985 A.2d 1185

the Act, including defamation claims that otherwise would be subject to the one-year statute of limitations in Maryland Courts & Judicial Proceedings Article § 5-105?

Prior to argument before a panel of the Court of Special Appeals, this Court issued a writ of certiorari on its own initiative. 406 Md. 743, 962 A.2d 370 (2008). For the reasons that follow, we hold that the answer to this question is "yes" as to the defamation action asserted against the Public Service Commission, but "no" as to the defamation action asserted against Appellee Kenneth D. Schisler, the former Chair of the Public Service Commission, who was not sued within one year from the date that he allegedly defamed Appellant.

Procedural History

Because the factual disputes between the parties is of no consequence to the issue presented in the case at bar, while it does no harm to point out that the parties have previously been before the Court of Special Appeals, which resolved some of their disputes in Higginbotham v. PSC, 171 Md.App. 254, 909 A.2d 1087 (2006), it would serve no useful purpose to set forth a detailed factual background. Suffice it to say that according to Appellant, in the words of his brief:

On April 15, 2004, large photographs of five Public Service Commission employees, including of Appellant Robert M. Higginbotham, II, were prominently posted in the lobby of the William Donald Schaefer Tower at the direction of then-Chairman Kenneth Schisler. These photographs were on display to the public through at least April 21, 2004. It as undisputed, and the Circuit Court determined, that [Appellant] was not on notice of the photographs for statute of limitations purposes until April 19, 2004.

On September 10, 2004, [Appellant] presented a claim to the Treasurer for defamation and other torts. The Treasurer denied the claim on October 19, 2004. On January 6, 2005, [Appellant] filed this action in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City ... alleging a number of claims; including, in Court V, defamation.

* * *

On April 16, 2007, [Appellant] filed another ... Amended Complaint, which was captioned Corrected Amended Complaint.

* * *

On the February 20, 2008 hearing on [Appellees'] renewed motion for summary judgment, the Circuit Court held that the one-year statute of limitations generally applicable to defamation actions under Courts & Judicial Proceedings § 5-105 applied over the three-year statute of limitations applicable to tort claims filed under the MTCA pursuant to State Government § 12-106. The Circuit Court ruled that the Amended Complaint arose from separate and distinct facts and allegations than those alleged in the original complaint filed on January 6, 2005 and did not relate back for purposes of limitations. The Circuit Court then held that [Appellant] "knew or should have known on April 19th [2004] of the existing defamatory action" and, therefore, granted summary judgment in favor of [Appellees] because the Amended Complaint was filed more than one year (although less than three years) after April 19, 2004.

(Footnotes omitted).

Appellant's "Corrected Amended Complaint" added Mr. Schisler as an "individual capacity" defendant, and included a WHEREFORE clause seeking an award of money damages for which Mr. Schisler would be "personally" responsible. In the words of Appellant's Amended Complaint, "[Appellee] Schisler acted with malice,

985 A.2d 1186

committed conscious and deliberate wrongs and also acted with an evil motive, as well as ill will and spite[.]"

According to Appellees, in the words of their brief:

While [Appellant] filed a notice of claim arising out of his termination with the State Treasurer in September 2004 and a lawsuit in January 2005, neither included a claim for the posting of the photograph. That claim first appeared in his Amended Complaint, filed on April [16], 2007, nearly three years later. [Appellant's] claim for defamatory posting of his photograph is thus barred by the one-year State of Limitations for defamation. The Maryland Tort Claims Act's ("MTCA") outer limit of three years for filing an action against the State, one of three conditions precedent to MTCA actions, does not save [Appellant] from the consequences of waiting two years past the expiration of the statute of limitations to file a claim based on the posting of the photograph.

The issue before us is one of statutory interpretation.


In WCI v. Geiger, 371 Md. 125, 807 A.2d 32 (2002), this Court stated:

Repeatedly, we have emphasized that "the paramount object of statutory construction is the ascertainment and effectuation of the real intention of the Legislature." Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. v. Fitzpatrick, 366 Md. 295, 301, 783 A.2d 667, 670 (2001). See Robinson v. State, 353 Md. 683, 694, 728 A.2d 698, 703 (1999); Degren v. State, 352 Md. 400, 417, 722 A.2d 887, 895 (1999); Wesley Chapel v. Baltimore, 347 Md. 125, 137, 699 A.2d 434, 440 (1997); Oaks v. Connors, 339 Md. 24, 35, 660 A.2d 423, 429 (1995). In seeking to ascertain legislative intent, we first look to the words of the statute, see Mayor and City Council of Baltimore v. Chase, 360 Md. 121, 126, 756 A.2d 987, 990 (2000); Harris v. State, 353 Md. 596, 606, 728 A.2d 180, 184 (1999); Lewis v. State, 348 Md. 648, 653, 705 A.2d 1128, 1131 (1998); Marriott Employees Fed. Credit Union v. Motor Vehicle Admin., 346 Md. 437, 444-45, 697 A.2d 455, 458 (1997); Stanford v. Maryland Police Training & Correctional Comm'n, 346 Md. 374, 380, 697 A.2d 424, 427 (1997) (quoting Tidewater v. Mayor of Havre de Grace, 337 Md. 338, 344, 653 A.2d 468, 472 (1995)), viewing them "in ordinary terms, in their natural meaning, in the manner in which they are most commonly understood." Derry v. State, 358 Md. 325, 335, 748 A.2d 478, 484 (2000); see also Sacchet v. Blan, 353 Md. 87, 92, 724 A.2d 667, 669 (1999); Whack v. State, 338 Md. 665, 672, 659 A.2d 1347, 1350 (1995). "Where the statutory language is plain and free from ambiguity, and expresses a definite and simple meaning, courts do not normally look beyond the words of the statute itself to determine legislative intent." Degren, 352 Md. at 417, 722 A.2d at 895 (citing Marriott Employees, 346 Md. at 444-45, 697 A.2d at 458); Kaczorowski v. Mayor of Baltimore, 309 Md. 505, 515, 525 A.2d 628; 633 (1987); Hunt v. Montgomery County, 248 Md. 403, 414, 237 A.2d 35, 41 (1968). Nor may a court under those circumstances add or delete language so as to "reflect an intent not evidenced in that language," Condon v. State, 332 Md. 481, 491, 632 A.2d 753, 755 (1993), or construe the statute with "`forced or subtle interpretations' that limit or extend its application." Id. (quoting Tucker v. Fireman's Fund Insurance Co., 308 Md. 69, 73, 517 A.2d 730, 732 (1986)).

* * *

We have acknowledged that in determining a statute's meaning, courts may

985 A.2d 1187

consider the context in which a statute appears, including related statutes and, even when a statute is clear, its legislative history. See Morris v. Prince George's County, 319 Md. 597, 604, 573 A.2d 1346, 1349 (1990); see also Kaczorowski v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, 309 Md. 505, 515, 525 A.2d 628, 633 (1987). We have cautioned, however, that this inquiry is "in the interest of completeness," Harris [v. State, 331 Md. 137, 146, 626 A.2d 946, 950 (1993)], "to look at the purpose of the statute and compare the result obtained by use of its plain language with that which results when the purpose of the statute is taken into account." Id. That inquiry, in other words, we emphasized in Chase, "is a confirmatory process; it is not undertaken to contradict the plain meaning of the statute." Chase, supra, 360 Md. at 131, 756 A.2d at 993; see also Coleman v. State, 281 Md. 538, 546, 380 A.2d 49, 54 (1977) ("a court may not as a general rule surmise a legislative intention contrary to the plain language of a statute or insert exceptions not made by the legislature.").

Id. at 140-43, 807 A.2d at 41-42.

The Maryland Tort Claims Act (MTCA) is presently codified in Subtitle 1 of Title 12 of the State Government Article (SG). Since October 1, 1995, SG § 12-106 has, in pertinent part, provided:

(b) 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 1 year 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 3 years after the cause of action arises.

This statute is neither unclear nor ambiguous. Appellees argue, however, that a defamation action filed pursuant to the MTCA must also comply with § 5-105 of the Courts and...

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