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Sturdivant v. Maryland Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene

Court of Appeals of Maryland

January 27, 2014

Adeline STURDIVANT, et al.
v.
MARYLAND DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND MENTAL HYGIENE.

Page 84

Joel A. Smith (David Gray Wright of Kahn, Smith & Collins, P.A., Baltimore, Maryland), on brief, for Petitioners.

Sarah W. Rice, Asst. Atty. Gen. (David R. Morgan, Asst. Atty. Gen., Douglas F. Gansler, Atty. Gen. of Maryland, Baltimore, MD), on brief, for Respondent.

Argued before: BARBERA, C.J., HARRELL, BATTAGLIA, GREENE, ADKINS, McDONALD and BELL,[*] JJ.

ON MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION

McDONALD, J.

[436 Md. 586] We granted a writ of certiorari in this case to consider the important question of whether, under the State Personnel Management System, [1] A STATE AGENCY must fill

Page 85

vacancies by reinstating former employees who were laid off from similar positions or may elect to fill the vacancies by a recruitment process that casts a wider net.

[436 Md. 587] That question arose as a result of a grievance filed by certain employees who had been laid off from jobs at Spring Grove Hospital, a State psychiatric hospital, and who were not rehired in order of seniority when the hospital later filled vacancies for positions comparable to those previously occupied by the laid-off employees. An administrative law judge concluded that the laid-off employees did not have a right to be rehired under a reinstatement process and denied the grievance. That decision was affirmed by the Circuit Court for Baltimore City in an oral opinion and written order, following a hearing.

The matter was appealed to Court of Special Appeals. The Court of Special Appeals concluded that there is no statutory preference for reinstatement, as opposed to recruitment, in the State Personnel Management System. 207 Md.App. 33, 51 A.3d 692 (2012). That court cautioned, however, that if an agency elects to fill vacancies through recruitment, it must follow statutory procedures that include public notice and transparency as to the selection criteria. The court noted that it is not clear from the record of this case whether the agency complied with those criteria and remanded the case for further factfinding by the administrative law judge.[2]

In reviewing a decision of a State administrative agency, our task is to " look through" the decisions of the Circuit Court and the Court of Special Appeals and review directly the decision of the agency. People's Counsel for Baltimore County v. Loyola College of Maryland, 406 Md. 54, 66-67, 956 A.2d 166 (2008). That does not necessarily mean that we need cast aside the work of our colleagues on the intermediate [436 Md. 588] appellate court. We can sometimes fulfill our role of providing a definitive answer as to State law without indulging the conceit that we could somehow say it better. As Justice Jackson once observed of the role of a high court: " We are not final because we are infallible, but we are infallible only because we are final." Brown v. Allen, 344 U.S. 443, 540, 73 S.Ct. 397, 97 L.Ed. 469 (1953).

We have examined the record in this case and considered carefully the arguments made by the parties, both of whom disagree with the intermediate appellate court's decision in different respects. We find the well-researched and well-reasoned opinion of the Court of Special Appeals to be unassailable in its analysis and conclusions and we adopt it as our own.[3]

Page 86

It is perhaps useful to note that our action in this case is quite distinct from other situations in which we summarily [436 Md. 589] dispose of a case for which we have granted certiorari. On occasion, this Court dismisses a case after briefing and argument on the ground that the petition for writ of certiorari was improvidently granted. In such cases the grant of the petition was a mistake, either because it becomes apparent later that there is truly no issue of public importance in the case or because there is such an issue, but it was not preserved below or the record in the case provides an inadequate basis for rendering useful guidance on that issue. In such a case, this Court's disposition leaves the lower court decision intact, but without our imprimatur of that decision as a controlling statement of Maryland law. [4]

By contrast, this case raises a legal question of public importance, on which certiorari was appropriately granted. See Maryland Code, Courts & Judicial Proceedings Article, ยง 12-203 (Court of Appeals to review decision of Court of Special Appeals when " desirable and in the public interest" ). The record provides an adequate basis for addressing that question, although not for resolving the outcome of this particular case. The intermediate appellate court has [436 Md. 590] thoroughly and, in our view, correctly analyzed the legal issue concerning the interpretation of the State personnel law. We also agree that the record raises, but does not definitively answer, the question whether the agency was in fact filling the vacancies by a reinstatement process, rather than recruitment, in this particular instance; it is

Page 87

therefore appropriate to remand for further factfinding. There is little gained in our restating at length what has already been well said by the intermediate appellate court. What we add is an endorsement that removes any doubt as to the standing of that decision as the law of Maryland.[5]

JUDGMENT OF THE COURT OF SPECIAL APPEALS AFFIRMED. COSTS TO BE SPLIT EQUALLY BY THE PARTIES.

ORDER

The Court having considered the Motion for Partial Reconsideration filed by the Respondent in the above captioned case, it is this 27th day of January, 2014,

ORDERED, by the Court of Appeals of Maryland, that the motion for partial reconsideration be, and it is hereby, granted in part and denied in part, as more particularly shown on the attached Exhibit A; and it is further

ORDERED, the opinion of this Court originally filed on November 25, 2013 be, and it is hereby, recalled and the opinion is reissued this date with modifications.

EXHIBIT A TO ORDER ON MOTION FOR PARTIAL RECONSIDERATION

Footnote 2 of the opinion shall be modified to read as follows:

[436 Md. 591] The court also rejected the agency's contention that the administrative law judge erred in allowing certain laid-off employees to participate in the grievance because the agency had not preserved the issue below. Before us, the agency renews that argument. Arguably, the agency did raise the issue unsuccessfully before the administrative law judge. However, the issue was not included in the questions presented by the grievants' petition for certiorari and the agency did not file a cross-petition for certiorari. We decline to address it in this case. See Maryland Rule 8-131(b).

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