Schreyer v. Chaplain, No. 121, Sept. Term, 2008.

CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland
Writing for the CourtBELL
Citation5 A.3d 1054,416 Md. 94
Docket NumberNo. 121, Sept. Term, 2008.
Decision Date06 October 2010
PartiesChristopher John SCHREYER v. William CHAPLAIN, Denise Webb-Cobb.
5 A.3d 1054
416 Md. 94


Christopher John SCHREYER
v.
William CHAPLAIN, Denise Webb-Cobb.


No. 121, Sept. Term, 2008.

Court of Appeals of Maryland.

Oct. 6, 2010.

5 A.3d 1055

Steven J. Potter, Chief Solicitor (George A. Nilson, City Solicitor, William R. Phelan, Jr., Principal Counsel, and David E. Ralph, Chief of Litigation, Baltimore City, Department of Law of Baltimore, MD), on brief, for petitioner.

Berry J. Diamond (Neil J. Lewis, P.A., Baltimore, MD), on brief, for respondents.

Argued before BELL, C.J., HARRELL, BATTAGLIA, GREENE, MURPHY, ADKINS, and BARBERA, JJ.

BELL, C.J.

416 Md. 97

Christopher John Schreyer, the petitioner, a police officer employed by the Baltimore Police Department, seeks immunity, pursuant to Maryland Code (1990, 2006 Repl. Vol.) § 5-639 1 of the Courts and

5 A.3d 1056
Judicial Proceedings Article, and under the common law, pursuant to
416 Md. 98
Maryland Code (1990, 2006 Repl. Vol.) § 5-507 2 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article, from liability for damages resulting from injuries sustained by William Chaplain and Denise Webb-Cobb, the respondents, during an accident caused by the petitioner while, during the course of his duties, he was driving an emergency vehicle. This Court granted the petitioner's Petition for Writ of Certiorari to address the following questions:
"1. Whether Petitioner's conduct constitutes, '[p]ursuing a violator or a suspected violator of the law;' thereby, qualifying as an 'emergency service' under Md.Code Ann[ ]. Trans. Art. § 19-103(a)(3)?
"2. Whether the Petitioner's statutory governmental immunity under Md.Code Ann[ ]. Cts & Jud. Proc. Art. § 5-639(b) renders him immune from the Respondents' suit.
"3. Whether the Petitioner's public official immunity renders him immune from the Respondents' negligence claims."
416 Md. 99
The first two issues are related and, thus, will, be considered, and resolved, together.

I. Statutory Immunity

Whether the conduct of the petitioner comes within the prescription of Maryland Code (1983, 2006 Repl.Vol.) § 19-103 3 of the Transportation Article is

5 A.3d 1057
dependent upon how the word, "pursuing," or its variant, "pursuit," 4 as used in reference to police officers engaged in "emergency service," under § 19-103(a)(3)(ii), is defined. Confident that the Legislature's choice of the word, "pursuing," was purposeful and, therefore, demands more than investigatory curiosity on the part of the officer, this Court will not extend the privilege of immunity, see § 5-639, to the petitioner. Instead we shall hold that the word "pursuing" or "pursuit" and its application must have limits and, more to the point, there must be, at a minimum, movement by a suspect or violator of the law, and reactive movement by the officer to apprehend said individual. It follows, therefore, that, pursuant to § 19-103(a)(3)(ii), the investigative actions of the petitioner cannot be construed to amount to "pursuing" or to constitute a "pursuit".

To be entitled to immunity under § 5-639, the petitioner, at the time of the accident, must have been authorized to "operate"

416 Md. 100
an "emergency vehicle in the performance of emergency service." See § 5-639(b)(1). The parties agree that the petitioner's marked patrol car was an "emergency vehicle." See Maryland Code (1957, 2006 Repl.Vol.) § 11-118 5 of the Transportation Article. They also concede that the petitioner was authorized to drive this " emergency vehicle" on the day of the accident in question. At issue, therefore, is only whether, at the time of the accident, the petitioner was operating the "emergency vehicle in the performance of emergency service." Relevant to this issue, § 19-103(a)(3) provides:
" 'Emergency service' means:
"(i) Responding to an emergency call;
"(ii) Pursuing a violator or a suspected violator of the law; or
"(iii) Responding to, but not while returning from, a fire alarm."
The subsection in dispute here is § 19-103(a)(3)(ii), and, more specifically, the meaning of "[p]ursuing a violator or a suspected violator of the law," as used therein.

In order to resolve this issue, it is clear to this Court, as it was to the trial judge, that this case turns on what the Legislature intended the word "pursuing" to mean. Once that

416 Md. 101
is established, that meaning will inform whether, under the facts and circumstances of this case, the petitioner was, indeed, "[p]ursuing a violator
5 A.3d 1058
or suspected violator" as contemplated by the statute.

When faced with a question of statutory interpretation, we must ascertain the intent of the legislature, the paramount object of that inquiry. Bowen v. City of Annapolis, 402 Md. 587, 613, 937 A.2d 242, 257 (2007) (quoting Kushell v. Dep't. of Natural Res., 385 Md. 563, 576, 870 A.2d 186, 193 (2005)); Collins v. State, 383 Md. 684, 688, 861 A.2d 727, 730 (2004). "Statutory construction begins with the plain language of the statute, and ordinary, popular understanding of the English language dictates interpretation of its terminology." Adventist Health Care Inc. v. Maryland Health Care Comm'n, 392 Md. 103, 124 n. 13, 896 A.2d 320, 333 n. 13 (2006). Where the relevant text, given its plain and ordinary meaning, is unambiguous, we "apply the statute as written, and our efforts to ascertain the legislature's intent end there." Crofton Convalescent Ctr., Inc. v. Dep't of Health & Mental Hygiene, 413 Md. 201, 216, 991 A.2d 1257, 1266 (2010). "The absence of an express definition of a term, however, does not preclude us from construing its plain meaning." Id. at 217, 991 A.2d at 1266(2010). "[W]e consider the language of the relevant provision not in isolation but within the context of the statutory scheme as a whole," id., 991 A.2d at 1266 (2010), and can "consult the dictionary to elucidate terms that are not defined in the statute." Maryland-National Capital Park & Planning Comm'n v. Anderson, 164 Md.App. 540, 579, 884 A.2d 157, 180 (2005). While the dictionary may be a "starting point" to ascertaining the Legislature's intent, it is "not necessarily the end." Morris v. Prince George's County, 319 Md. 597, 606, 573 A.2d 1346, 1350 (1990). Without adding or deleting language to force a meaning that was not intended, we "attempt to harmonize provisions dealing with the same subject so that each may be given effect." Clipper Windpower v. Sprenger, 399 Md. 539, 554, 924 A.2d 1160, 1168 (2007).

416 Md. 102

"If, after considering the plain language [of the statutory text] in its ordinary and common sense meaning," there remain "two or more equally plausible interpretations," "the general purpose, legislative history," and other extraneous interpretative aids are examined in an effort to resolve, or clarify, the ambiguity. Uninsured Employers' Fund v. Danner, 388 Md. 649, 659, 882 A.2d 271, 278 (2005); Henriquez v. Henriquez, 413 Md. 287, 297-98, 992 A.2d 446, 453 (2010); see also Haupt v. State, 340 Md. 462, 471, 667 A.2d 179, 183 (1995).

The word "pursuing" or "pursuit" must also be construed within its context and informed by the Legislature's intention. Henriquez, 413 Md. at 298, 992 A.2d at 453 ("The plain language of a provision is not interpreted in isolation. Rather, we analyze the statutory scheme as a whole and attempt to harmonize provisions dealing with the same subject so that each may be given effect."); Ray v. State, 410 Md. 384, 405, 978 A.2d 736, 748 (2009) ("When the statute is part of a larger statutory scheme, it is axiomatic that the language of a provision is not interpreted in isolation; rather, we analyze the statutory scheme as a whole considering the 'purpose, aim, or policy of the enacting body,' Serio v. Baltimore County, 384 Md. 373, 390, 863 A.2d 952, 962 (2004); Drew v. First Guar. Mortgage Corp., 379 Md. 318, 327, 842 A.2d 1, 6 (2003), and attempt to harmonize provisions dealing with the same subject so that each may be given effect."); McGlone v. State, 406 Md. 545, 565, 959 A.2d 1191, 1202 (2008) ("The plain language of the statute is not interpreted in isolation, however. Kushell, 385 Md. at 577, 870 A.2d at 193. Rather, the statutory scheme of which it is a part must be analyzed, 'as a whole and [the Court must] attempt to

5 A.3d 1059
harmonize provisions dealing with the same subject so that each may be given effect.' Id."); Bowen, at 613-14, 937 A.2d 242, 258 (2007); Magnetti v. Univ. of Md., 402 Md. 548, 565, 937 A.2d 219, 229 (2007); Clipper Windpower, Inc. v. Sprenger, 399 Md. 539, 554, 924 A.2d 1160, 1168 (2007); Deville v. State, 383 Md. 217, 223, 858 A.2d 484, 487 (2004); Navarro-Monzo v. Washington Adventist Hosp., 380 Md. 195, 204, 844 A.2d 406, 411 (2004).
416 Md. 103

With these principles firmly in mind, it is important to rehearse the facts. The petitioner, a member of the Baltimore Police Department's Special Enforcement Team, whose focus is violent crime detection and drug offenses, was driving a marked patrol vehicle when he observed what he believed to be an illegal drug transaction. In his words, he saw a "bunch of individuals lined up [in an alley] and it appeared that one individual was handing small objects to the people in this line." Interested in investigating further, but not wishing to "alert them" to his presence, the petitioner, without activating his emergency lights or siren, made a u-turn down a one-way street, going against traffic. While so traveling, the petitioner's patrol car collided with the car driven by William Chaplain, in which Denise Webb-Cobb, was a passenger, injuring both.

The respondents filed a complaint in the District Court of Maryland sitting in Baltimore City, seeking damages for the personal injuries they suffered in the accident. They alleged that the petitioner's negligence was the sole cause of their injuries. Testifying at trial, the petitioner described his actions as an attempt to "pursue the suspected violators, the suspected drug dealer." That testimony prompted an objection by the respondents. Focusing on and emphasizing "the t[erm] pursue," the respondents'...

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52 practice notes
  • In re S.K., No. 41, Sept. Term, 2018
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • August 28, 2019
    ...statute, and ordinary, popular understanding of the English language dictates interpretation of its terminology." Schreyer v. Chaplain , 416 Md. 94, 101, 5 A.3d 1054 (2010) (quoting Adventist Health Care Inc. v. Maryland Health Care Comm'n , 392 Md. 103, 124 n.13, 896 A.2d 320 (2006) ). Whe......
  • Genon Mid-Atlantic, LLC v. Md. Dep't of the Env't, No. 883, 884 and 885, Sept. Term, 2019
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • October 28, 2020
    ...dictates interpretation of its terminology.’ " Blackstone v. Sharma , 461 Md. 87, 113, 191 A.3d 1188 (2018) (quoting Schreyer v. Chaplain , 416 Md. 94, 101, 5 A.3d 1054 (2010) ). We don't "read statutory language in a vacuum, nor do we confine strictly our interpretation of a statute's plai......
  • Kemp v. Nationstar Mortg. Ass'n, No. 2652, Sept. Term, 2018
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • October 1, 2020
    ...understanding of the English language dictates interpretation of its 248 Md.App. 13 terminology.’ " Id. (quoting Schreyer v. Chaplain , 416 Md. 94, 101, 5 A.3d 1054 (2010) ). And "[a]bsent ambiguity in the text of the statute, ‘it is our duty to interpret the law as written and apply its pl......
  • Johnson v. State, No. 9, Sept. Term, 2019
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • February 28, 2020
    ...ordinary, popular understanding of the English language dictates interpretation of its terminology." Id. (quoting Schreyer v. Chaplain , 416 Md. 94, 101, 5 A.3d 1054 (2010) ). We read "the statute as a whole to ensure that no word, clause, sentence or phrase is rendered surplusage, superflu......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
52 cases
  • In re S.K., No. 41, Sept. Term, 2018
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • August 28, 2019
    ...statute, and ordinary, popular understanding of the English language dictates interpretation of its terminology." Schreyer v. Chaplain , 416 Md. 94, 101, 5 A.3d 1054 (2010) (quoting Adventist Health Care Inc. v. Maryland Health Care Comm'n , 392 Md. 103, 124 n.13, 896 A.2d 320 (2006) ). Whe......
  • Genon Mid-Atlantic, LLC v. Md. Dep't of the Env't, No. 883, 884 and 885, Sept. Term, 2019
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • October 28, 2020
    ...dictates interpretation of its terminology.’ " Blackstone v. Sharma , 461 Md. 87, 113, 191 A.3d 1188 (2018) (quoting Schreyer v. Chaplain , 416 Md. 94, 101, 5 A.3d 1054 (2010) ). We don't "read statutory language in a vacuum, nor do we confine strictly our interpretation of a statute's plai......
  • Kemp v. Nationstar Mortg. Ass'n, No. 2652, Sept. Term, 2018
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • October 1, 2020
    ...understanding of the English language dictates interpretation of its 248 Md.App. 13 terminology.’ " Id. (quoting Schreyer v. Chaplain , 416 Md. 94, 101, 5 A.3d 1054 (2010) ). And "[a]bsent ambiguity in the text of the statute, ‘it is our duty to interpret the law as written and apply its pl......
  • Johnson v. State, No. 9, Sept. Term, 2019
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • February 28, 2020
    ...ordinary, popular understanding of the English language dictates interpretation of its terminology." Id. (quoting Schreyer v. Chaplain , 416 Md. 94, 101, 5 A.3d 1054 (2010) ). We read "the statute as a whole to ensure that no word, clause, sentence or phrase is rendered surplusage, superflu......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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