Schreyer v. Webb-cobb, No. 0101-0017788-2007

CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Writing for the CourtBell, C.J.
PartiesCHRISTOPHER JOHN SCHREYER v. WILLIAM CHAPLAIN DENISE WEBB-COBB
Decision Date06 October 2010
Docket NumberNo. 121,No. 0101-0017788-2007

CHRISTOPHER JOHN SCHREYER
v.
WILLIAM CHAPLAIN DENISE WEBB-COBB

No. 0101-0017788-2007
No. 121

COURT OF APPEALS
OF MARYLAND

September Term, 2008
Filed: October 6, 2010


Headnotes

Statutory Interpretation-Where the applicable term of a statute is not a defined term, this Court looks to the plain and ordinary meaning of the word.

Statutory Immunity-In order for statutory immunity to apply when using an emergency vehicle in "pursuit" as stated in Maryland Code §19-103 (a)(3)(ii), 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.

Abstract

Appellant, a police officer employed by the Baltimore Police Department, was engaged in a vehicle collision with Appellees. Appellant sought immunity from liability, pursuant to an applicable provision of the Maryland Code which grants immunity for authorized users operating an "emergency vehicle in performance of emergency service". The appellant argued that he was "pursuing a violator or suspected violator" at the time of the collision, which qualifies as an "emergency service". However, the Court of Appeals determined that the actions of the appellant cannot be construed to amount to a pursuit. Holding that in order to have a "pursuit", there must be at a minimum, movement by a suspect or violator of the law, and a reactive movement by the officer to apprehend said individual. This did not occur in this case, therefore, the decision of the Circuit Court is affirmed.

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Circuit Court for Baltimore City

Bell, C.J. Harrell Battaglia Greene Murphy Adkins Barbera, JJ.

Opinion by Bell, C.J.

Harrell, Battaglia and Barbera, JJ., dissent.

Christopher John Schreyer, the petitioner, a police officer employed by the Baltimore Police Department, seeks immunity, pursuant to Maryland Code (1990, 2006 Repl. Vol) § 5-6391 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article, and under the common law, pursuant to Maryland Code (1990, 2006 Repl. Vol) § 5-5072 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."

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

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(1983, 2006 Repl. Vol.) §19-1033 of the Transportation Article is 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".

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To be entitled to immunity under § 5-639, the petitioner, at the time of the accident, must have been authorized to "operate" 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.) § 11-1185 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

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"(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 is established, that meaning will inform whether, under the facts and circumstances of this case, the petitioner was, indeed, "[p]ursuing a violator 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.1 3 (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

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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." MarylandNational 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. Springer, 399 Md. 539, 554, 924 A.2d 1160, 1168 (2007).

"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 Haunt 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

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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 (20 03), 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 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, ...

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