Prince George's Cnty. v. Proctor

Decision Date26 July 2016
Docket NumberNo. 2614, Sept. Term, 2014.,2614, Sept. Term, 2014.
Citation142 A.3d 592,228 Md.App. 579
PartiesPRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, Maryland v. Melvin PROCTOR.
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

Dawn D. Barnett (William A. Snoddy, M. Andree Green, Co. Atty., on the brief), Upper Marlboro, MD, for Appellant.

Kenneth G. Macleay (John Hall Law Group, LLC, on the brief), Millersville, MD, for Appellee.

Panel: GRAEFF, LEAHY, and JAMES A. KENNEY, III (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ.

LEAHY, J.

On his day off work, Prince George's County police detective Melvin Proctor (Appellee) was injured when he jumped to the side to avoid knocking over his two-year old son as he and his family were walking out the front door of their home. On December 14, 2012, Det. Proctor filed a claim with the Workers' Compensation Commission (“WCC”) contending he was injured while on call and performing a special errand incident to his employment because he left his home with the intention of picking up his assigned police cruiser from the county fleet maintenance facility that day. On December 27, 2012, the Prince George's County Executive and County Council (Appellant,” the “County”), acting in their capacity as employer and insurer, filed a statement of contesting issues with the WCC. The County maintained that Det. Proctor's injuries did not arise out of the course of his employment and were non-compensable.

On May 29, 2013, the WCC disallowed Det. Proctor's claim. After a hearing on judicial review in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, the court entered its memorandum opinion and order on January 15, 2015, reversing the WCC's decision. The County filed a notice of appeal to this Court on February 6, 2015. The County presents just one issue: [w]hether the circuit court erred when it determined that Appellee's injuries arose out of and in the course of his employment.”

Considering the ‘time, place, and circumstances of the accident in relation to the employment,’ State v. Okafor, 225 Md.App. 279, 286, 123 A.3d 698 (2015)

(citation omitted), we agree with the WCC's determination that Det. Proctor's injury “did not arise out of and in the course of employment as alleged to have occurred on September 17, 2012[,] where it occurred on his own front porch, while he was off duty, and before embarking on any task incident to his employment as a police officer. Accordingly, in a situation in which Det. Proctor's injuries arose prior to embarking on any work-related journey, the “going and coming” rule is not what bars Det. Proctor's claim, and we need not address the exceptions to the “going and coming” rule. We hold that the circuit court erred in its determination that, under the facts of this case, the positional-risk test necessitated overruling the decision of the WCC.

BACKGROUND

On the date of injury, September 17, 2012, Det. Proctor was employed by the Prince George's County Police Department as a detective with the robbery suppression team.1 Det. Proctor was on vacation the week preceding the injury, and during this time his assigned police cruiser was at the County's automotive repair facility for scheduled maintenance. Det. Proctor was not scheduled to return to work until Wednesday, September 19; however, on Monday, September 17, he called fleet maintenance to determine whether his vehicle was ready for pick-up.

According to his testimony before the WCC, when Det. Proctor was informed that his cruiser was ready, he asked his wife to drop him off so he could pick up the cruiser. Det. Proctor was injured as he exited his home. Describing the accident to the WCC, Det. Proctor stated:

I walked out the front door with my wife and kids. My two year-old-son—we were stepping off the front porch—he inadvertently stepped in front of me. I looked down.
Instead of knocking him off the front porch, I jumped to the side to avoid knocking him off the front porch and rolled my ankle, tore ligaments on the inside and outside of my ankle, and sprained my knee.

On December 14, 2012, Det. Proctor filed a claim for worker's compensation benefits with the WCC, which the County contested. The WCC hearing was held on May 14, 2013. Before the WCC Commissioner, Det. Proctor testified that, as a member of the robbery suppression team, he worked a normal schedule but was on call during off hours. Det. Proctor related:

We have a three man rotation with primary, secondary and back-up. If a robbery goes out after hours, which, literally between 24 hours a day, we're called in. The primary goes in, he assesses the situation, he makes a notification to the supervisor, the sergeant, or myself by county cell phone.
All members of my squad are issued County cell phones.
* * *
Once we're notified of the robbery, then we assess how much support, manpower is needed. Oftentimes, it depends on the gravity of the situation, when there's a shooting involved, the whole squad wouldn't be called in. Even though they're not on the checkout/call-out sheet. By doing that, we have to have our county cruisers and be available to respond in.

* * *

We were required to get our cruisers back as soon as possible by the County fleet maintenance system, because ... there's only a limited number of spaces on the lots ... the County mandates that once our cruisers are done, to make sure we pick them up in a timely manner.
Secondly, I need[ed] my cruiser because I had switched out call-out days with another detective for my being on vacation the previous week. So I was up, I believe, it's No. 2 on the call-out list.

Det. Proctor argued that the accident should be compensable as occurring during a “special errand” because Det. Proctor was on call and needed to have his county vehicle to respond, if necessary. The County maintained that, because the accident occurred in front of Det. Proctor's home before he had retrieved the cruiser, the special errands exception should not apply.

On May 29, 2013, the WCC found that Det. Proctor's injury “did not arise out of and in the course of employment as alleged to have occurred on September 17, 2012,” and disallowed the claim.

On June 12, 2013, Det. Proctor filed a petition for judicial review. At the September 30, 2014 hearing in the circuit court, the parties agreed that there was no dispute as to the facts of the case and resolved to determine the legal issue through cross-motions for summary judgment.

Det. Proctor argued that there were two ways to find compensability in this case.

First, Det. Proctor argued that, as a police officer, he was “on call 24/7,” and it did not matter that he was technically off duty at the time of the injury. Second, Det. Proctor maintained that picking up his assigned vehicle from the repair facility qualified as a “special errand” because Det. Proctor's purpose in leaving his home at the time of his injury was solely to perform a necessary work-related errand.

The County argued that a duty—no matter how infrequently that duty is performed (such as retrieving a cruiser from the repair facility)—does not rise to the level of a special errand under the relevant case law. Further, the County maintained that even in cases where a police officer “had to hold himself in readiness for emergency duty 24 hours a day ... [,] benefits [are] not payable unless there [i]s some causal connection between his [injury] and his duty as a police man.” Thus, the County argued that because Det. Proctor was off duty, acting “under no other guidance [ex]cept his own,” and was right outside his own home when the injury occurred, the accident was non-compensable.

On January 15, 2015, the circuit court entered its memorandum opinion and order reversing the WCC's ruling. The court concluded that Det. Proctor's actions “were arising out of and in the course of his employment when he was injured.” The circuit court stated that

because [Det. Proctor] was a second responder that day, he needed his cruiser in case he was called in[ ]to work. Therefore, [Det. Proctor] arranged for his wife and child to drive him to fleet maintenance so that he could retrieve his vehicle. While walking to the car to travel to fleet maintenance, [Det. Proctor] was injured. Therefore, pursuant to the positional risk test, [Det. Proctor] would not have been injured but for the fact that he was retrieving his police cruiser from fleet maintenance, as required by his employer.

The County filed a timely notice of appeal on February 6, 2015.

DISCUSSION

On judicial review, a decision of the WCC is “entitled to [a presumption of] prima facie correctness[.] Prince George's Cnty. v. Minor, 227 Md.App. 233, 240, 133 A.3d 1209 (2016)

(alteration in Minor ) (quoting Frank v. Balt. Cnty., 284 Md. 655, 658, 399 A.2d 250 (1979) ). “A court, therefore, may reverse a commission ruling only upon a finding that its action was based upon an erroneous construction of the law or facts [.] Frank, 284 Md. at 658, 399 A.2d 250

. However, where the sole issue presented is one of law, we review the decision de novo without deference to the decisions of either the WCC or the circuit court. Long v. Injured Workers' Ins. Fund, 225 Md.App. 48, 57, 123 A.3d 562 (2015) (citing Gross v. Sessinghause & Ostergaard, Inc., 331 Md. 37, 45–48, 626 A.2d 55 (1993) ).

On appeal, the County argues that Det. Proctor's injury did not arise out of or occur in the course of Det. Proctor's employment as a police officer. Rather, the County asserts that Det. Proctor “was not participating in any law enforcement work-related activity” and “was not [ ] under any directive or order from his chain of command to retrieve [his] cruiser,” at the time of his injury. Thus, the County argues that the injury was “too attenuated from Appellee's employment” and the claim is not compensable. The County also argues that the circuit court erred in extending the “positional-risk test” beyond “matters involving employees on travel.” In the alternative, the County maintains that the “going and coming” rule requires reversal of the circuit court's decision.

Det. Proctor argues...

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    ...the injury such that the injury ‘results from some obligation, condition, or incident of employment.’ " Prince George's Cty. v. Proctor , 228 Md. App. 579, 588, 142 A.3d 592 (2016) (quoting Livering , 374 Md. at 574, 823 A.2d 687 ). The Court of Appeals has instructed that "[t]he term ‘aris......
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    ...and obligations of employment placed the employee where the injury occurred," id. (cleaned up); see also Prince George's County v. Proctor , 228 Md. App. 579, 595, 142 A.3d 592 (2016). The test, adopted by the Court of Appeals in Mulready v. University Research Corp. , 360 Md. 51, 66, 756 A......
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