Spevak v. Montgomery Cnty.

Decision Date28 July 2021
Docket NumberNo. 893, Sept. Term, 2020,893, Sept. Term, 2020
Citation256 A.3d 329,251 Md.App. 674
Parties Patrick SPEVAK v. MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Maryland
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

Argued by: Kenneth M. Berman, Gaithersburg, MD, for Appellant.

Argued by: Kathryn Lloyd (Wendy Karpel, John P. Markovs, Deputy County Atty., Edward B. Lattner, Chief, Marc P. Hansen, County Atty., on the brief), Rockville, MD, for Appellee.

Panel: Leahy, Reed, Beachley, JJ.*

Beachley, J.

This case of first impression requires us to interpret the "offset" provision set forth in Md. Code (1991, 2016 Repl. Vol., 2019 Supp.), § 9-610(a)(1) of the Labor and Employment Article ("LE"), which reads:

Except for benefits subject to an offset under § 29-118 of the State Personnel and Pensions Article, if a statute, charter, ordinance, resolution, regulation, or policy, regardless of whether part of a pension system, provides a benefit to a covered employee of a governmental unit or a quasi-public corporation that is subject to this title under § 9-201(2) of this title or, in case of death, to the dependents of the covered employee, payment of the benefit by the employer satisfies, to the extent of the payment, the liability of the employer and the Subsequent Injury Fund for payment of similar benefits under this title.

We shall hold that when an employee who is subject to the provisions of LE § 9-610(a)(l) receives a service-connected total disability retirement from his or her employer, the LE § 9-610 offset applies to any permanent total or permanent partial workers’ compensation benefits the employee is awarded for injuries or diseases related to that same employment.


The parties agree that there is no dispute as to the underlying facts. We will simplify the procedural history to include only those aspects that are relevant to the present appeal. Patrick Spevak, appellant, was employed by appellee Montgomery County as a firefighter from 1979 to 2010. During his employment, appellant sustained a back injury. As a result of that injury, Mr. Spevak retired in 2010 after being granted a service-connected total disability retirement.1 Since 2010, he has been receiving service-connected total disability retirement benefits of $1,859.07 per week, representing approximately 70% of his highest salary.

Mr. Spevak's hearing subsequently deteriorated, and on June 24, 2016, he filed a workers’ compensation claim pursuant to LE § 9-505(a) based on his occupational hearing loss. The Workers’ Compensation Commission ("Commission") found that Mr. Spevak's hearing loss was causally related to his employment, and on July 13, 2017, the Commission concluded that Mr. Spevak suffered a permanent partial disability as a result of a 21% hearing loss in his left ear. The Commission calculated Mr. Spevak's permanent partial disability benefits at $322.00 weekly for 26.25 weeks, but also found that those benefits were completely offset under LE § 9-610(a) because his service-connected total disability retirement benefits exceeded the permanent partial disability benefits awarded by the Commission.

Mr. Spevak sought judicial review in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County. Both parties moved for summary judgment and, after a hearing, the circuit court issued a memorandum opinion granting summary judgment in favor of the County.

In doing so, the court concluded that because Mr. Spevak's service-connected total disability retirement benefits and the permanent partial disability workers’ compensation benefits both resulted from a work-related injury, the benefits were "similar" under LE § 9-610. The court further found that Mr. Spevak was limited to "one wage loss replacement." The circuit court therefore applied the statutory offset. Mr. Spevak noted this timely appeal.


Mr. Spevak acknowledges that LE § 9-610 allows an employer to offset workers’ compensation payments if "similar benefits" are received by a "covered employee of a governmental unit" pursuant to "a statute, charter, ordinance, resolution, regulation or policy." Because the statute does not define the term "similar benefits," Mr. Spevak relies on caselaw construing the statute, asserting that "Maryland appellate courts have repeatedly explained ... that in order for two types of benefits to be considered ‘similar,’ thereby triggering LE § 9-610 ’s offset provision, the underlying basis for both benefits must result from the same injury ." (Emphasis in original). Mr. Spevak concludes that, because his service-connected total disability retirement was awarded based on his back injury and the permanent partial disability workers’ compensation award resulted from his subsequently-developed hearing loss, the two benefits do not result from the "same injury," and therefore the LE § 9-610 offset does not apply.

The County responds that Mr. Spevak's service-connected disability retirement benefits and subsequent workers’ compensation award for hearing loss are "similar benefits" as contemplated by LE § 9-610 because both benefits result from work-related injuries. The County contrasts the present case involving a service-connected disability retirement from cases where the employee received a length-of-service retirement or ordinary disability retirement. In the County's view, because Mr. Spevak's service-connected total disability retirement and his workers’ compensation permanent partial disability award both relate to his physical incapacity resulting from work injuries, they are "similar" within the meaning of LE § 9-610. The County further argues that an employee "only has one wage," and in this case Mr. Spevak's "one wage" as a firefighter has been replaced by his service-connected total disability retirement. To allow Mr. Spevak to receive workers’ compensation benefits for occupational hearing loss in addition to his total disability pension would, in the County's view, constitute an improper double recovery. Accordingly, the County asserts that the Commission and the circuit court correctly applied the LE § 9-610 offset.


"We review a trial court's grant of a motion for summary judgment de novo , without deference to the legal decisions of the Commission or circuit court." Norman-Bradford v. Balt. Cty. Pub. Schs. , 237 Md. App. 235, 240, 184 A.3d 73 (2018) (citing Long v. Workers’ Ins. Fund , 225 Md. App. 48, 57, 123 A.3d 562 (2015) ).

When the issue on appeal concerns the interpretation of a statute, we turn to the well-settled rules of statutory construction:

The Court defers to "the policy decisions enacted into law by the General Assembly." Phillips v. State , 451 Md. 180, 196, 152 A.3d 712 (2017). "We assume that the legislature's intent is expressed in the statutory language and thus our statutory interpretation focuses primarily on the language of the statute to determine the purpose and intent of the General Assembly." Id.
We begin our analysis by first looking to the normal, plain meaning of the language of the statute, reading the statute as a whole to ensure that no word, clause, sentence or phrase is rendered surplusage, superfluous, meaningless or nugatory. If the language of the statute is clear and unambiguous, we need not look beyond the statute's provisions and our analysis ends. Occasionally we see fit to examine extrinsic sources of legislative intent merely as a check of our reading of a statute's plain language. In such instances, we may find useful the context of a statute, the overall statutory scheme, and archival legislative history of relevant enactments.
Id. at 196–97 (quoting Douglas v. State , 423 Md. 156, 178, 31 A.3d 250 (2011) (quoting Evans v. State , 420 Md. 391, 400, 23 A.3d 223 (2011) )).
When this Court interprets an ambiguous or unclear statutory provision that is part of the Workers’ Compensation Act, "additional principles of interpretation enter the equation." Hollingsworth [v. Severstal Sparrows Point, LLC , 448 Md. 648, 655, 141 A.3d 90 (2016) ] (quoting Montgomery Cty. v. Deibler , 423 Md. 54, 61, 31 A.3d 191 (2011) ). We must interpret the provision in light of the purpose of the Act, which we have stated is "to protect workers and their families from hardships inflicted by work-related injuries by providing workers with compensation for loss of earning capacity resulting from accidental injury arising out of and in the course of employment." Id. (quoting Elms v. Renewal by Andersen , 439 Md. 381, 399, 96 A.3d 175 (2014) ). Thus, because the Act is a "remedial statute," to the extent that the plain language of the Act is ambiguous or unclear, it must be "construed as liberally in favor of injured employees as its provisions will permit in order to effectuate its benevolent purposes." Id. (quoting Elms , 439 Md. at 399, 96 A.3d 175 ). However, we may not "stifle the plain meaning of the Act, or exceed its purposes, so that the injured worker may prevail." Id. (quoting Elms , 439 Md. at 399, 96 A.3d 175 ). Similarly, "when the language is plain" we cannot "create an ambiguity that does not exist in order to interpret the Act more favorably to the claimant." Id. at 655–56, 141 A.3d 90.

Reger v. Washington Cty. Bd. of Educ. , 455 Md. 68, 95–97, 166 A.3d 142 (2017).

The County correctly notes that no Maryland case has considered this precise issue—whether the LE § 9-610(a) offset applies when an employee is receiving service-connected total disability retirement benefits based on one injury and is then awarded permanent partial workers’ compensation benefits based on a second, separate injury. We will begin our analysis by surveying, in chronological order, the appellate decisions applying the statutory offset to service-connected disability retirement benefits, and then consider how Reger , a single-injury ordinary disability retirement case that is central to Mr. Spevak's argument, fits within that analytical framework. We will ultimately hold that Mr. Spevak's service-connected total disability retirement benefits are...

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3 cases
  • Spevak v. Montgomery Cnty.
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • August 15, 2022
    ...Court of Special Appeals.The Court of Special Appeals affirmed the circuit court's grant of summary judgment. Spevak v. Montgomery Cty. , 251 Md. App. 674, 707, 256 A.3d 329 (2021). The intermediate appellate court reasoned that Mr. Spevak's "service-connected total disability retirement co......
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    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
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  • Spevak v. Montgomery Cnty.
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Appeals
    • August 15, 2022
    ...in his employment with Montgomery County" and therefore precluded him from "receiv[ing] a permanent partial workers' compensation award." Id. Mr. Spevak petitioned for a writ of which we granted on November 10, 2021. Spevak v. Montgomery Cty., 476 Md. 417 (2021). In this case, we consider w......

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