Southern Management v. Taha

Decision Date25 November 2003
Docket NumberNo. 136,136
Citation378 Md. 461,836 A.2d 627
PartiesSOUTHERN MANAGEMENT CORPORATION, v. Mukhtar TAHA.
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

836 A.2d 627
378 Md. 461

SOUTHERN MANAGEMENT CORPORATION,
v.
Mukhtar TAHA

No. 136, Sept. Term, 2002.

Court of Appeals of Maryland.

November 25, 2003.


836 A.2d 630
Stephen M. Silvestre (Lisa F. Orenstein of Miles & Stockbridge P.C., on brief), Baltimore, for appellant

James C. Strouse, Columbia (Forrest E. Mays, Annapolis; John W. Hermina, George W. Hermina and Hannibal G. Kemerer of Hermina Law Group, on brief), Laurel, for appellee.

Argued before BELL, C.J., ELDRIDGE 1, RAKER, WILNER, CATHELL, HARRELL, BATTAGLIA, JJ.

836 A.2d 628

836 A.2d 629
BATTAGLIA, Judge

In the case now before us, Mukhtar Taha sued Southern Management Corporation (hereinafter "SMC") and two of its employees for malicious prosecution solely under a theory of respondeat superior liability. The jury rendered a verdict in which it found that the two named employee defendants were not liable; however, the jury also found in favor of Taha against SMC, the employer corporation. We hold that such irreconcilably inconsistent jury verdicts cannot stand under the theory of respondeat superior liability.

I. Background

A. Facts

On May 15, 1994, SMC hired Taha to work as a Maintenance Technician at the Silver Spring Towers apartment complex, one of the apartment facilities managed by SMC. Taha, a black male, had emigrated to the United States from the Sudan in 1981. Taha's job responsibilities included plumbing, painting, lifting appliances to conduct repairs, and laying and replacing tile.

In mid-August of 1994, Taha moved a heavy barrel with the maintenance supervisor, Michael McGovern, and two other SMC maintenance employees in the course of performing his regular job duties. Approximately ten days later, Debra Wylie-Forth, the property manager of the apartment

836 A.2d 631
complex, called a team meeting of all personnel to review their work and discuss various problems. During the course of this meeting several complaints were raised by Taha's peers concerning his work performance. Several days after the meeting, Taha reported to Wylie-Forth that while moving the heavy barrel, McGovern had intentionally let the barrel slip causing Taha to injure his back. Taha had been working without difficulty from the day of the alleged barrel incident until the time he reported the event to Wylie-Forth following the team meeting. Thereafter, he sought medical treatment and spent nearly two months on disability leave.

When Taha returned to work on October 18, 1994, Wylie-Forth assigned him the task of painting doors in the apartment complex, which he completed without incident. The next day, while continuing to paint, Taha was approached by Wylie-Forth to discuss his work performance. At that time, Taha informed Wylie-Forth that he wanted to discontinue painting and allegedly raised his voice and argued with Wylie-Forth concerning his work. Therefore, Wylie-Forth and assistant property manager, Barbara Belton, terminated Taha's employment on the basis of poor work performance, insubordination, and abusive behavior.

Shortly after Taha was terminated, McGovern and maintenance employee Wilfredo Martinez notified Wylie-Forth that several items were missing from a locked maintenance tool and supply area, including an acetylene gas tank, three padlocks, and various maintenance tools belonging to McGovern and Martinez. Martinez informed Wylie-Forth that he had witnessed Taha shaking and pulling on the lock to the maintenance area on October 4, 1994, a day that Taha was not assigned to work at Silver Spring Towers due to his disability leave. Anya Udit, a leasing consultant at Silver Spring Towers, also reported to Wylie-Forth that she spotted Taha in Wylie-Forth's locked office on October 8, 1994, while Taha continued to be on disability leave. Thereafter, Wylie-Forth contacted the Montgomery County Police Department to report the missing items. Wylie-Forth informed the investigating officer, Robert Grims, that she did not know who had broken into the storage area, and told Officer Grims that he could talk to anyone on staff at Silver Spring Towers "because at that point in time, everyone was a suspect." The only time Wylie-Forth mentioned Taha's name was in response to Officer Grims's question asking whether any employees had been terminated recently.

While investigating the incidents, Officer Grims interviewed McGovern, Martinez, Wylie-Forth, and Udit. Based on these interviews, Officer Grims concluded that Taha was the only suspect in connection with the stolen property. On October 24, 1994, Officer Grims and Officer Bruce Evans questioned Taha about the missing property. Taha denied that he had keys to the locked storage area but admitted that he continued to have possession of keys for other areas of the building following the termination of his employment. Officer Grims also noticed seeing several large tool boxes in Taha's apartment and observed Taha's behavior during the questioning, stating that Taha "acted suspiciously and seemed nervous."

As a result of this investigation, Officer Grims obtained a warrant for Taha's arrest, which was executed on October 25, 1994. Taha was charged with burglary in the second degree, and the lesser included offense of attempted burglary, and burglary in the fourth degree for breaking and entering a dwelling or storehouse pursuant to Maryland Code, Article 27, Sections 30 and 32 (1957, 1992 Repl.Vol., 1994 Supp.).

836 A.2d 632
Prior to the scheduled trial, Taha produced alibi evidence that placed him out of town during the dates in question. Thereafter, the State entered a nolle prosequi to the charges.

B. Procedural History

On March 3, 1999, Taha filed in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County a civil complaint against SMC, and two of its employees, McGovern and Wylie-Forth.2 The complaint asserted, inter alia, a claim of malicious prosecution,3 stating that SMC and its agents "falsely and maliciously filed a complaint with the Montgomery County Police Department swearing that Mukhtar Taha had committed burglary in the offices of SMC on two separate occasions" for which SMC and its agents lacked probable cause or reasonable suspicion. Taha did not name any other defendants or agents of SMC in his complaint for malicious prosecution. On July 16, 1999, SMC filed a motion for summary judgment on Taha's claims of malicious prosecution and intentional infliction of emotional distress, which the trial court denied. A jury trial was held on November 17 and 18, 1999. At the beginning of the trial, SMC submitted proposed jury instructions, set forth in Maryland Civil Pattern Jury Instructions (3d ed.1999), to the court.4

At trial, Officer Grims testified that based upon his investigation, he believed he had probable cause to arrest Taha for the burglary and attempted burglary at Silver Spring Towers. When questioned about the process for bringing charges against Taha, Officer Grims stated as follows:

Respondent: Who made the decision to file the application for statement of charges against Mr. Taha?

Grims: It was my decision.

Respondent: What if any role did Mr. McGovern, Michael McGovern, play in making that decision?

Grims: You said Mr. McGovern?

Respondent: Yes, Mr. Michael McGovern.

Grims: No role.

836 A.2d 633
Respondent: What if any role did Ms. Debbie Wylie-Forth play in making your decision to file the application for statement of charges?

Grims: She was the original complainant for the police investigation, however, it was my decision to file the charges.

Respondent: At any point in time, what if anything did Ms. Debbie Wylie-Forth say to you to encourage you or pressure you into filing charges for Mr. Taha?

Grims: None that I recall.

Respondent: What if anything did Mr. McGovern say to you to pressure you or get you to file an application of statement of charges against Mr. Taha?

Grims: Nothing.

At trial, Taha asserted that Wylie-Forth had an unfavorable bias against him and his work and alleged that McGovern, a white, hearing-impaired individual, made racially disparaging comments towards Taha, in an effort to establish malice on the part of Wylie-Forth and McGovern. Taha did not present evidence at trial to show that other SMC agents or employees, other than Wylie-Forth and McGovern, could be liable for malicious prosecution.

At the close of Taha's case, and, again, at the conclusion of all testimony, SMC made a motion for judgment pursuant to Maryland Rule 2-519. At the end of the case, the trial court granted SMC's motion for judgment on Taha's claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, but denied the motion as to the malicious prosecution claim. Then, the trial court gave the following instructions to the jury:

[A]ll the elements of malicious prosecution must be established beyond a reasonable doubt in order for the plaintiff to prevail. Malicious prosecution is the beginning or continuing of a criminal proceeding with malice and without probable cause against another where the proceeding terminates in favor of the other person.
A person is responsible for starting a criminal proceeding who ... directs or requests a prosecution based on information which the person knows is false or withholds information which a reasonable person would realize might affect the decision to prosecute, ... or gives inaccurate or incomplete information to those who prosecute.
With respect to probable cause, the defendant acted without probable cause if the defendant did not have any reasonable grounds to believe in the plaintiff's guilt. Mere belief, however sincere, is not sufficient. There must be such grounds for belief founded upon actual knowledge of acts as would influence the mind of a reasonable person.
Well, the plaintiff in this matter was initially charged with the offenses contained in the charging document. The action by the charging authority is to be considered along with the other evidence on the question of whether the defendant has reasonable grounds to believe in
...

To continue reading

Request your trial
125 cases
  • Barclay v. Briscoe
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Appeals
    • June 27, 2012
    ...scope of the employment relationship.” Embrey v. Holly, 293 Md. 128, 134, 442 A.2d 966, 969 (1982); accord S. Mgmt. Corp. v. Taha, 378 Md. 461, 480–81, 836 A.2d 627, 638 (2003); Oaks v. Connors, 339 Md. 24, 30, 660 A.2d 423, 426 (1995); Dhanraj v. Potomac Electric Power Co., 305 Md. 623, 62......
  • White v. Prince George's County
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • July 6, 2005
    ...motion stays the time for filing an appeal until thirty days after the court rules on the revisory motion. Southern Mgmt. Corp. v. Taha, 378 Md. 461, 494 n. 13, 836 A.2d 627 (2003); Unnamed Attorney v. Attorney Grievance Comm'n, 303 Md. 473, 486, 494 A.2d 940 (1985); Pickett v. Noba, Inc., ......
  • Green v. Obsu
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Maryland
    • July 27, 2022
    ... ... Dr. Getachew, who is not a defendant, as the ... “utilization management physician” (ECF 56-1 at ... 3), and the Opposition does not dispute this ... Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(c)(1). See Bresler , 855 F.3d at 190; ... Southern States Rack and Fixture, Inc. v ... Sherwin-Williams Co. , 318 F.3d 592, 596 (2003). Rule ... relationship at that time.” S. Mgmt. Corp. v ... Taha , 378 Md. 461, 480-81, 836 A.2d 627, 638 (2003) ...          Count ... IV, ... ...
  • French v. Hines
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • October 3, 2008
    ...of an irreconcilably inconsistent verdict, we conclude that the contention fails on the merits. We explain. Southern Management Corp. v. Taha, 378 Md. 461, 836 A.2d 627 (2003), governs whether appellant's failure to raise the inconsistency contention in the motion for judgment constitutes a......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT