• For Statute of Limitations Purposes, Definition of “Filing” Under the Workers’ Compensation Act Does Not Include Electronic Submission of Claim
  • July 3, 2015
  • Law Firm: Semmes Bowen Semmes A Professional Corporation - Baltimore Office
  • Mark G. Hranicka v. Chesapeake Surgical, Ltd., et al., No. 83 (Court of Appeals of Maryland, June 18, 2015)

    In Hranicka v. Chesapeake Surgical, Ltd., No. 83, (Court of Appeals of Maryland, June 18, 2015), the Court of Appeals considered whether a claim was time-barred under Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl. § 9-709(b)(3), where the claim was submitted electronically to the Workers’ Compensation Commission (the “Commission”) before expiration of the two-year statute of limitations period, but was not filed on paper until after the expiration of the two-year period. The Court of Appeals held that, under the applicable statutes and regulations, electronic submission of a claim does not constitute a “filing” under the Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR)

    Hranicka (the “Claimant”) sustained an injury in a motor vehicle accident in the course of his employment at Chesapeake Surgical, Ltd (the “Employer”) on January 6, 2010. The Employer prepared and timely filed the form, “Workers Compensation-First Report of Injury or Illness,” within ten (10) days of the accident, but the form was not received by the Commission until January 21, 2010. The Claimant completed and executed a C-1 Claim Form on paper, was assigned a claim number and given a trial date, but ultimately requested that his workers’ compensation claim be withdrawn.

    On January 17, 2012, the Claimant electronically submitted to the Commission a second C-1 Claim Form. The Claimant did not, however, execute a second C-1 Claim Form on paper until January 24, 2012. The Commission proceeded to assign a claim number. The Commission took no issue with the late date of the paper filing until the Employer (and its “Insurer”) contended that the claim was time-barred.

    During a hearing, the Commissioner ruled that the claim, for statute of limitations purposes, was filed on January 17, 2012, the date the claim form was submitted electronically. The Employer/Insurer filed a “Request for Rehearing” with the Commissioner and ultimately a petition for judicial review in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. The circuit court denied the Employer/Insurer’s motion for summary judgment. The Court of Special Appeals reversed and the Claimant petitioned for a writ of certiorari, which the Court of Appeals granted.

    The Claimant argued that (1) the Commission’s website provides instructions indicating that a claim has been “filed” once the claim has been submitted electronically, (2) any ambiguity as to the filing date in the Workers’ Compensation Act (the “Act”) should be construed liberally in favor of claimants, given the remedial purpose of the Act, and (3) because the Employer/Insurer knew of the accident on the day it occurred, they were not prejudiced by the delayed paper filing. The Employer/Insurer contended that COMAR makes clear that electronic submission of a claim form does not constitute “filing.”

    When reviewing an agency’s decision, the Court of Appeals will defer to the expertise of the agency and accord deference to its interpretation of a statute that it administers. Upon finding that the agency’s conclusions were plainly erroneous and inconsistent with the statute and regulations at issue, however, the Court of Appeals reversed the Commissioner’s decision.

     Two regulations were at issue: COMAR, contained in a chapter entitled “Requirements for Filing and Amending Claims,” and COMAR, contained in the “General Administrative Chapter,” which discusses the Commission’s electronic system and electronic submissions. COMAR provides that forms may be submitted to the Commission electronically, in person, or by mail.

    The Court of Appeals rejected the suggestion that COMAR indicates that a claim is “filed” after it has been electronically submitted. Instead, COMAR, the regulation that specifically addresses the requirements for filing a claim, which states that a claim is considered “filed” on the date when “the date stamp [is] affixed on the claim form” (i.e., the date the claim is filed on paper), will control. The Court of Appeals attributed this to the structure of these two (2) regulations within COMAR. Referencing canons of statutory interpretation, the Court ruled that where two (2) statutes, one general and one specific, appear to conflict, the specific statute will be regarded as an exception to the general statute, and the specific statute will control the general statute to the extent that there is any inconsistency. COMAR controls because it is the specific statute governing the filing of claim forms.

    The Commission’s website provides clear instructions that a claim form that has been submitted electronically needs to be printed, signed, and mailed to the Commission. These instructions reinforce, and are consistent with, the regulatory language contained in COMAR, which requires that a claim form be signed, submitted in paper, and date-stamped by the Commission in order to be considered “filed.” Because an electronically submitted claim form is neither signed nor date-stamped, an electronic submission cannot constitute “filing” the claim for statute of limitations purposes.

    Because the Employer’s “First Report of Injury or Illness” was not received by the Commission within ten (10) days of the accident, on January 6, 2010, the statute of limitations did not toll on the Claimant’s claim until the date that the Employer’s report was received by the commission: January 21, 2010. Therefore, the Claimant had until January 21, 2012 to “file” his claim, by filing the claim on paper and having it date-stamped by the Commission. Because the claim was not date-stamped until January 24, 2012, the Claimant’s claim was time-barred. Thus, the Commission plainly erred in ruling that the filing of the Claimant’s claim could be related back, for statute of limitations purposes, to the date of the claim’s electronic submission.