Leonard v. Fantasy Imports, Inc.

Decision Date01 September 1985
Docket NumberNo. 685,685
Citation504 A.2d 660,66 Md.App. 404
PartiesJohn C. LEONARD, III v. FANTASY IMPORTS, INC. ,
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

Christopher A. King, Andrew E. Greenwald, Joseph, Greenwald & Laake, P.A., Hyattsville, for appellant.

Mallon A. Snyder, Rockville, for appellee.

Argued before GILBERT, C.J., and MOYLAN and ALPERT, JJ.

ALPERT, Judge.

In this appeal, we consider whether the appellant was an employee within the ambit of the Maryland Worker's Compensation Act and thus barred from maintaining suit for common law tort remedies against the appellee.

Appellant, John C. Leonard, III, filed a civil tort action against appellee, Fantasy Imports, Inc., in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County (Miller, J., presiding) for an injury sustained by appellant on August 17, 1982. Appellee's motion for summary judgment was granted by the court on April 17, 1985, and appellant noted this appeal in which he contends:

The trial court erred in holding that, as a matter of law, appellant was an employee of appellee at the time of the injury, and that he is barred, by the exclusive remedy provisions of Maryland's Worker's Compensation Act, from bringing a civil action in tort.

This case was decided on a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Maryland Rule 2-501.

In reviewing the propriety of the trial court's action on a motion for summary judgment, the appellate court is concerned with whether there was a dispute as to any material fact, and if not, whether the moving party was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In considering the matter, the duly shown facts which would be admissible in evidence and all reasonable inferences deducible therefrom must be considered in a light most favorable to the party opposing the motion and against the party making the motion.

Washington Homes v. Interstate Land Development Company, 281 Md. 712, 717-18, 382 A.2d 555 (1978); see also Woodward v. Newstein, 37 Md.App. 285, 377 A.2d 535.

Appellant contends that he should not have suffered summary judgment against him because, at worst, from his point of view, there was a genuine dispute of material fact in that the undisputed evidence, at the very least, gave rise to a permitted inference that he was not a regular employee of the appellee. The appellant goes further and maintains that, if there was no genuine dispute of material fact, it was because the only reasonable conclusion that could be drawn from the undisputed evidence was that he was not, as a matter of law, a regular employee of the appellee.

It is not a simple task to determine when the existence of the employer/employee relationship is purely a matter for legal determination and when it is for the trier of fact. Before exploring the law in this somewhat murky area, we must first examine the undisputed facts to which we must apply the applicable law.

I. The Undisputed Facts

The appellant and Steven Kanstoroom had met during 1980, and in 1981 entered an oral agreement to form and operate a business under the name "Fantasy Apparel" for the purpose of selling sportswear and underwear. Fantasy Apparel was to conduct its business on the premises of Fantasy Imports, the appellee. This was possible as Kanstoroom was the president and sole shareholder of Fantasy Imports.

Appellant and Kanstoroom were to be equal contributors in Fantasy Apparel. Kanstoroom's contribution was the use of the physical plant, facilities, and computer of Fantasy Imports. This contribution was valued at $40,000. In order for appellant to raise his $40,000 share, it was agreed that appellant would perform certain tasks, primarily clerical work, for Fantasy Imports and would earn credit of six or seven dollars per hour, similar to the other paid office staff. Appellant never received cash for this office work, nor did he or Kanstoroom believe there was any obligation he be paid.

Although Fantasy Imports was engaged in the business of selling and servicing expensive imported cars, appellant never worked on any cars for credit toward his share of Fantasy Imports. In fact, Kanstoroom, in his deposition, stated that Up until this John Watson car [repair, when claimant was injured], I really don't believe that he worked on customers' cars. We had a mechanic. We had a machinist. We had a mechanic's helper and they really didn't want [appellant] in the shop because they, you know, they're cliquish.

Appellant, however, was given free rein of the automobile shop and worked on his own car from time to time.

It is unclear from the record exactly how long appellant performed clerical work toward his share of the Fantasy Apparel contribution. In the spring of 1982, it became apparent to appellant and Kanstoroom that Fantasy Apparel would not be feasible. After that point, appellant ceased to perform clerical work for Fantasy Imports, but "would only really come around when he needed either to work on one of his [own] cars." On August 17, 1982, appellant, apparently without Kanstoroom's knowledge, performed mechanical repair work on a car owned by a Fantasy Import customer, John Watson. The repair work lasted some twenty hours. Appellant was injured as a result of this repair work. Ten months later, on June 17, 1983, appellant received a check for $240 from Fantasy Imports for work done on Watson's car.

II. The Trial Court's Decision

In granting appellee's motion for summary judgment, the trial court concluded that, as a matter of law, appellant was a regular employee at the time of his injury. In light of the trial court's opinion that appellant was an employee of the appellee and thus limited to the Worker's Compensation Act, implicit in this finding is that appellant was not a casual employee. We need to address, therefore, both definitions.

III. The Law
A. Employee

In Whitehead v. Safway Steel Products, 304 Md. 67, 497 A.2d 803 (1985), the Court of Appeals reviewed the five criteria "traditionally considered ... in determining whether or not an employer/employee relationship exists between two parties." Id. at 77, 497 A.2d 803.

These criteria, developed from the common law standard for determining the master/servant relationship ... include (1) the power to select and hire the employee, (2) the payment of wages, (3) the power to discharge, (4) the power to control the employee's conduct, and (5) whether the work is part of the regular business of the employer.

Of the five factors, the factor of control stands out as the most important.

Id. at 77-78, 497 A.2d 803 (emphasis added). See, e.g., Mackall v. Zayre Corp., 293 Md. 221, 443 A.2d 98 (1982) (factor of control is "decisive"); L. & S. Construction Co. v. State Accident Fund, 221 Md. 51, 59, 155 A.2d 653 (1959) ("controlling" factor is that of control); Keitz v. National Paving Co., 214 Md. 479, 134 A.2d 296 (1957) ("standing alone, none of these indicia, excepting [the factor of control], seems controlling in the determination as to whether such a relationship exists"). See also Gilbert v. Washington Sub. San. Comm'n, 304 Md. 658, 500 A.2d 1039 (1985).

B. Casual Employee

The term "casual," as used in the Worker's Compensation Act, Maryland Ann. Code, Art. 101, § 21(c)(4) (Repl.Vol. 1985), is not defined in the statute, and thus we must look to case law. Because the conclusion that one is a casual employee precludes recovery under the Act, the courts "have refrained from giving a definition of the term 'casual employee' which must govern in all cases, but preferred to leave the decision of any case to be governed by its peculiar facts and circumstances." Wood v. Abell, 268 Md. 214, 221, 300 A.2d 665 (1973) (quoting Hygeia Ice & Coal Co. v. Schaeffer, 152 Md. 231, 238, 136 A. 548 (1927)). Because each "casual employee" decision by the Maryland appellate courts has thoroughly discussed each of the preceding cases, we need only to set forth the criteria and factors that were decisive in those cases.

Before reviewing the case law, it is important to note that each case arose from an appeal of the Workmen's Compensation Commission's (or a predecessor thereto) finding that an injured claimant was or was not a casual employee. In view of the fundamental principle that "the Workmen's Compensation Act is to be construed as liberally in favor of injured employees as its provisions will permit...," Wood v. Abell, supra [268 Md.] at 220, 300 A.2d 665, it was more difficult to show that a claimant was excluded from coverage, i.e., that he was a casual employee. 1

In Hygeia Ice & Coal Co. v. Schaeffer, supra, a worker hired by the appellant was injured while attempting repairs to the roof of the building where the ice and coal company was located. The company argued that its business was ice and coal, not roof repair, and that the claimant was at most a casual employee. The court held the employment was not casual as the repair work "was as essential to the successful conduct of its business as keeping machinery in repair, or the manufacture and delivery of its products...." Id. [152 Md.] at 240, 136 A. 548.

Six years later the Court of Appeals decided Marvil v. Elliott, 164 Md. 659, 165 A. 822 (1933). There, a carpenter, who was working by day for the owner of a house, was injured while helping an independent contractor remove eaves from the house--work which was to take only two or three hours. The independent contractor argued the claimant was not an employee and the Court of Appeals agreed, stating:

[T]he brief service he was undertaking to render for the contractor had no relation to any engagement between them in the past or future. It was limited to a particular occasion beginning and ending within a short period of a single day. In view of its restricted scope and purpose, it must be regarded as casual within the meaning of the Maryland statute.

Id. at 665, 165 A. 822. In Marvil, the case turned on the duration of the employment and the fact that there was no obligation on the claimant's part...

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    ...not within the trial court's discretion.3 Thus, we may affirm the summary judgment on a different ground. See Leonard v. Fantasy Imports, Inc., 66 Md.App. 404, 504 A.2d 660 (1986) (reversing the circuit court's decision to grant a summary judgment in favor of appellees, and instead granting......
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