• Maryland Court of Appeals Holds that Labor and Employment Article § 9-629 Allows Worker’s Compensation Awards for Scheduled and Unscheduled Losses to be Combined
  • October 10, 2013
  • Law Firm: Semmes Bowen Semmes A Professional Corporation - Baltimore Office
  • Board of Education of Montgomery County, Maryland v. Jamie Anderson, Court of Appeals of Maryland, No. 68, September Term 2010 (Md. September 27, 2013)

    In a consolidated appeal[1] by Montgomery County, Maryland, and the Board of Education of Montgomery County (collectively, “Montgomery County”), the Court of Appeals of Maryland was asked to decide whether Brenda Robinson (“Robinson”) and Jamie Anderson (“Anderson”), collectively the respondents, were properly compensated pursuant to Section 9-629 of the Maryland Code’s Labor & Employment Article (LE § 9-629), where Robinson and Anderson each on-the-job injuries. Writing for the appellate court, retired Judge Robert M. Bell affirmed the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland, holding that that LE § 9-629 allows awards for scheduled and unscheduled losses to be combined.

    Robinson and Anderson each experienced a single on-the-job accident, resulting in permanent partial disability, where at least one (1) of the two (2) injuries was a “scheduled injury,” pursuant to LE § 9-627 (a) through (j), and the other arose under “other cases” and was, therefore, an “unscheduled injury” pursuant to LE § 9-627 (k). Robinson filed her claim for permanent injuries that partially impaired her right hand/wrist and back on November 8, 2006. Pursuant to LE § 9-627 (d), the Worker’s Compensation Commission (“the Commission”) awarded Robinson one hundred (100) weeks of compensation for her “scheduled” hand/wrist injury, and, pursuant to LE § 9-627 (k), an additional fifty (50) weeks for her “unscheduled” back injury. Combining the scheduled and unscheduled injuries, it then awarded Robinson one-hundred-and-fifty (150) weeks of permanent partial disability benefits. It concluded that Robinson was to be paid at the “second tier” rate of benefits, amounting to two hundred and sixty-seven dollars ($267.00) per week in compensation at the intermediate level of compensation, pursuant to LE § 9-629.

    Anderson filed a claim for permanent partial injuries sustained to her back and leg on January 11, 2007. The Commission awarded her fifty (50) weeks of compensation for her “unscheduled” back injury, pursuant to LE § 9-627 (k), and an additional twenty-seven (27) weeks of compensation for her “scheduled” leg injury, pursuant to LE § 9-627 (d). Again, the Commission combined the scheduled and unscheduled injuries and awarded seventy-seven (77) total weeks of compensation at the intermediate level of compensation.

    Robinson’s employer, Montgomery County, Maryland, appealed the Commission’s award in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County. There, it filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, contesting the Commission’s decision to award “second tier benefits” to Robinson. Robinson filed a Motion in Opposition to Summary Judgment, but Circuit Court Judge William J. Rowan III granted summary judgment in favor of Montgomery County. Similarly, Anderson’s employer, the Board of Education of Montgomery County, also appealed the award in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, seeking summary judgment. Anderson filed a cross-motion for summary judgment in support of the Commission’s award and the provision of second tier benefits. As in Robinson’s case, however, Judge Terrence J. McGann reversed the Commission’s award and granted summary judgment in favor of the Board of Education of Montgomery County.

    Robinson and Anderson timely noted an appeal to the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland. After hearing argument, the intermediate appellate court reversed the judgments of the Circuit Court. See Anderson v. Board of Educ. of Montgomery County, 192 Md. App. 343, 994 A. 2d 507 (2010). The intermediate appellate court held that the Commission could combine awards for scheduled injuries with awards for other cases for the purpose of determining whether the second tier compensation rate was applicable. Id. at 353, 994 A. 2d at 514. In support of its decision, the court stated that “the history of the creation of the second tier of compensation persuades us that the legislature intended for the Commission to consider the total compensation awarded as a consequence of a single accident in making its determination of whether the enhanced rate was applicable.” Id. Montgomery County subsequently petitioned the Court of Appeals of Maryland for certiorari review, which it granted. Montgomery County v. Robinson, 415 Md. 337, 1 A. 3d 467(2010) and Board of Education v. Anderson, 415 Md. 337, 1 A. 3d 467 (2010).

    The Court of Appeals of Maryland was asked to determine whether Robinson and Anderson qualified for compensation under LE § 9-629, which prescribes a higher level of compensation by authorizing the combining of compensation awards. In beginning it analysis, the Court of Appeals noted that LE § 9-630 expressly authorizes the Commission to combine permanent partial disability awards to obtain the requisite period of disability to render the disability serious. By contrast, LE § 9-629 was silent on the issue. Thus, the appellate court was tasked with determining whether the latter provision’s silence on this point precluded the combining of awards to meet its threshold, which it deemed a “question of statutory construction.”

    In determining whether a statute is clear or ambiguous, Maryland courts have stated that “[w]hen the statute is part of a larger statutory scheme, it is axiomatic that the language of a provision is not interpreted in isolation; rather, [courts] analyze the statutory scheme as a whole considering the ‘purpose, aim, or policy of the enacting body.’” Anderson v. Council of Unit Owners of Gables on Tuckerman Condo., 404 Md. 560, 572, 948 A.2d 11, 19 (2008) (quoting Serio v. Baltimore Cnty., 384Md. 373, 390, 863 A. 2d 952, 962 (2004)). According to the appellate court, the purpose of the Workers’ Compensation Act was set out in the Preamble to Acts 1914, ch. 800, which enacted its predecessor. In Howard County Ass'n, Retard. Cit. v. Walls, the Maryland Court of Appeals previously stated that purpose as being “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.” 288 Md. 526, 531, 418 A. 2d 1210, 1214 (1980).

    Additionally, the Workers’ Compensation Act served to “promote the general welfare of the State and to prevent the State and its taxpayers from having to care for injured workmen and their dependents, when under the law as it previously existed, such workmen could not recover damages for their injuries.” Paul v. Glidden Co., 184 Md. 114, 119, 39 A.2d 544, 546 (1944). Consistent with this purpose, the appellate court noted that it had repeatedly emphasized the Act’s remedial nature and that it “should be construed as liberally in favor of the injured employees as its provisions will permit in order to effectuate its benevolent purposes.” Howard County Ass’n Retard. Cit., 288 Md. at 530, 418 A. 2d at 1213.

    In light of this statutory interpretation, the Court of Appeals determined that Montgomery County’s interpretation of LE § 9-629 undermined the remedial nature of the Act. See, e.g., Design Kitchen & Baths v. Lagos, 388 Md. 718, 724, 882 A. 2d 817, 821 (2005) (holding that an undocumented alien was a covered employee under the Act even though the statutory scheme made no reference to an undocumented alien being a covered employee). Therefore, giving effect to the remedial nature of the Workers’ Compensation Act and applying the Design Kitchen logic to the cases sub judice, the Court of Appeals held that LE § 9-629 allows awards for scheduled and unscheduled losses to be combined. It reasoned that such a holding harmonized LE § 9-629 and LE § 9-630 within the larger statutory scheme, by providing that the combination of permanent partial injury awards is appropriate in all cases.

    [1] The individual cases were Montgomery County, Maryland v. Brenda O. Robinson (No. 67) and Bd. of Educ. of Montgomery County, Maryland v. Jamie Anderson (No. 67).]