Prince George's Cnty. Volunteer Fire & Rescue Ass'n v. Prince George's Cnty., No. 0614

CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Writing for the CourtOpinion by Greene, J.
PartiesPRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY VOLUNTEER FIRE AND RESCUE ASSOCIATION, INC., ET AL. v. PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, MARYLAND
Decision Date04 August 2020
Docket NumberNo. 0614

PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY VOLUNTEER FIRE
AND RESCUE ASSOCIATION, INC., ET AL.
v.
PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, MARYLAND

No. 0614

COURT OF SPECIAL APPEALS OF MARYLAND

September Term, 2019
August 4, 2020


Circuit Court for Prince George's County
Case No. CAL16-26561

UNREPORTED

Fader, C.J. Shaw Geter Greene, Clayton, Jr. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.

Opinion by Greene, J.

* This is an unreported opinion, and it may not be cited in any paper, brief, motion, or other document filed in this Court or any other Maryland Court as either precedent within the rule of stare decisis or as persuasive authority. Md. Rule 1-104.

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In this appeal, we examine the breadth of the Prince George's County Fire Chief's authority. In 2016, the Fire Chief revised General Order 01-03, which made certain modifications to the chain of command within the County's Fire/EMS Department ("the Department") that elevated the rank of a "Battalion Chief, Career/Volunteer" above that of a "Volunteer Company Chief[.]" Appellant, Prince George's County Volunteer Fire & Rescue Association ("PGCVFRA") took issue with the revised chain of command under General Order 01-03 arguing—in essence—that the revisions infringed upon its constitutional rights and fell outside the Fire Chief's scope of authority under the Prince George's County Charter (the "County Charter") the Prince George's County Code ("PGCC"), and the Court of Appeals' decision in Prince George's Cty. v. Chillum-Adelphi Volunteer Fire Dept., Inc., 275 Md. 374, 383, 340 A.2d 265, 271 (1975). After PGCVFRA unsuccessfully sought relief in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, this appeal followed.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Appellant, PGCVFRA is an organization that represents the thirty-eight volunteer fire companies located in Prince George's County (the "County"). On May 7, 2015, the PGCVFRA and the County entered into a memorandum of understanding ("MOU") that concerned the relationship between the County and PGCVFRA. The preamble to the MOU provides that its purpose is "to promote mutual cooperation, collaboration and the effective delivery of emergency services to the residents and citizens of [the County]." The MOU notes that the County's firefighting efforts are a "combination system" one that blends "a traditional County agency (["the Department"]) with independent volunteer fire and rescue

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corporations who play an integral role in service delivery[,]" and the MOU characterizes the relationship as a "cooperative effort."

The MOU, in substance, is a "revamp of the structure of the Fire Commission[.1]" Specifically, the MOU contemplates "the composition of the Fire Commission and certain functions delegated to it by [the County] for management of certain administrative volunteer fire matters, identifie[s] procedures related to 'major policy enhancements' and other interagency cooperation, and establishe[s] the role of the Volunteer Services Commander." Paragraph 4.8, titled "Major Policy Enhancements" provides that PGCVFRA and the Fire Commission will have the opportunity to review all policies and regulations proposed by the Fire Chief prior to their implementation, notwithstanding those involving "emergency situations."

Revised General Order 01-01, enacted on March 12, 2012 by former Fire Chief Marc. S. Bashoor (the "Fire Chief"), established a "General Order Work Group [(the "work

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group")].2" Among other things, General Order 01-01 provided a review process through which Department personnel could provide suggested changes to a proposed General Order. The General Order tasked the work group with reviewing any such suggested changes and making recommendations to the Fire Chief concerning them. Moreover, General Order 01-01 established a codified procedure under which the Fire Chief must distribute a draft of General Orders to specific persons or entities for review, and the PGCVFRA was the third entity to receive and review such drafts. In short, under the structure established by General Order 01-01, proposed General Orders were subject to a Work Group review process, in which PGCVFRA is afforded some level of participation.

In January 2010, the Fire Chief enacted the original General Order 01-03, which established a departmental chain of command. Under the chain of command at the time, the first four ranks, ordered from highest to lowest, were as follows: (1) County Fire Chief; (2) Career Lieutenant Colonel; (3) Career/Volunteer Major; and (4) First Due Volunteer Company Chief.3 On July 16, 2015, Andrew K. Pantelis, President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 1619 (the "Local 1619"), sent a letter to the Fire Chief suggesting that General Order 01-03 be reassessed and included a draft of proposed revisions to General Order 01-03 including substantive changes. The Fire Chief then

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shared the correspondence with all of the Volunteer Fire Chiefs "that comprise the Chief's Council of the [PGCVFRA]." On July 21, 2015, the Fire Chief responded to Local 1619, acknowledged receipt of the suggested amendments, and informed Local 1619 that its suggestions would be forwarded to the Department's General Order Work Group for consideration. In addition, in this correspondence, the Fire Chief expressed his reluctance to adopt the proposed changes pending at that time.

On August 26, 2015, PGCVFRA, through its Chief's Council, sent a letter to the Fire Chief about Local 1619's proposed amendments to General Order 01-03 and urged the Fire Chief to reject the changes. After discussing the proposed changes with Mr. Pantelis and others during the Department's Command Meeting, the Fire Chief forwarded the proposal to the General Order Work Group with instructions to "take [its] time and to be very deliberate about the analysis." On October 12, 2015, PGCVFRA emailed the Fire Chief its own proposed changes to the revised General Order 01-03.

On October 13, 2015, January 4, 2016, and February 24, 2016, the work group held meetings on the proposed changes, exchanged related emails, and came to a consensus regarding certain revisions to General Order 01-03. Both the Fire Chief and the work group communicated its recommended changes of General Order 01-03 to PGCVFRA. Thereafter, PGCVFRA voiced several concerns over the revisions and communicated its concerns to the Fire Chief. On January 4, 2016, during the Work Group's review of the revisions, the president of PGCVFRA emailed the Fire Chief and others, informing them that PGCVFRA did not support any of the substantive revisions to General Order 01-03,

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aside from grammatical and punctuation edits. PGCVFRA reiterated its position in a letter dated January 14, 2016.

The work group's deliberative process came to a head on February 26, 2016, when it provided a "Semi-Consensus version" of the revisions to General Order 01-03—indicating that the primary point of disagreement was the revisions to the chain of command. Prior to issuing the revised General Order 01-03, the Fire Chief "evaluated [it] for months[.]" Within this period, the Fire Chief had multiple correspondences with members of the Fire Commission, PGCVFRA, and Local 1619 regarding the revisions. The Fire Chief then considered alternative solutions: (i) make no revision to the chain of command; (ii) accept Local 1619's revisions; or (iii) make different revisions to the chain of command.

The Fire Chief also researched policies from external jurisdictions, as well as internal reports regarding several incidents that occurred within the County. The Fire Chief was of the opinion that ambiguities within the chain of command had been demonstrated in earlier incidents in which there was confusion regarding the command hierarchy at the scene of fires. Ultimately, after lengthy review and ample communication, the Fire Chief concluded that revision to the chain of command was necessary. On June 1, 2016, the Fire Chief distributed a version of revised General Order 01-03 to all career and volunteer fire and Emergency Medical Service ("EMS") personnel. The General Order had an effective date of July 1, 2016.

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The revised General Order 01-03 modified the chain of command, in which Career and Volunteer Battalion Chiefs would now outrank all Volunteer Company Chiefs. On June 13, 2016, the Fire Commission sent a letter to the Fire Chief objecting to the revisions. The following day, PGCVFRA also sent the Fire Chief a letter objecting to the revisions and included a proposed draft of suggested changes. Primarily, PGCVFRA took issue with the revisions to the chain of command and alleged that the change would "summarily demote every Volunteer Company Chief Officer[.]" In a June 14, 2016 letter, Local 1619 informed the Fire Chief that it agreed and disagreed with certain revisions in General Order 01-03.

In response, the Fire Chief notified PGCVFRA, the Fire Commission, and Local 1619 that he received their comments and made additional changes to General Order 01-03. The final version of General Order 01-03 still contained modification to the chain of command, which elevated Career and Volunteer Battalion Chiefs above Volunteer Company Chiefs, however, the language concerning "first due" was eliminated from the revised chain of command. The final version of General Order 01-03, provided the following chain of command, in pertinent part:

1. County Fire Chief.
2. Chief Deputy
3. Deputy Fire Chief
4. Assistant Fire Chief, Career/Volunteer
5. Battalion Chief, Career/Volunteer
6. Volunteer Company Chief

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Based on the revisions to the chain of command, PGCVFRA and others,4 filed a complaint against Prince George's County in the Circuit Court for that County. The amended complaint alleged breach of contract (Count One), application for temporary, preliminary, and permanent injunctive relief (Count Two), declaratory judgment (Count Three), violation of Maryland Declaration of Rights Article XXIV—Substantive Due Process (Count Four), violation of the...

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