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Uninsured Employers' Fund v. White

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

October 3, 2014

UNINSURED EMPLOYERS' FUND, ET AL.
v.
RONALD WHITE

Appeal from the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County, Pamela L. North, Judge.

Argued by: Beatrice Nunez-Bellamy (Douglas F. Gansler, Attorney General on the brief) all of Baltimore, MD for Appellant.

Argued by: Jeffrey K. Tittsworth (Benjamin T. Boscolo, Chasen Boscolo Injury Lawyers on the brief) all of Greenbelt, MD for Appellee.

Panel: Berger, Nazarian, Eldridge, John C.[*] (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ. Opinion by Nazarian, J.

OPINION

Page 1276

[219 Md.App. 411] Nazarian, J.

In 2004, Ronald White injured his right ankle during the scope of his employment, and the Workers' Compensation Commission (the " Commission" ) awarded him disability benefits. In 2010, Mr. White began experiencing pain in his lower back and left ankle, and he sought to revise his claim with the Commission to connect those injuries to his earlier right ankle injury. The Commission found that Mr. White's back injury was causally related to his initial injury, but that his left ankle injury was not. The Uninsured Employers' Fund[1] (the " Fund" ) petitioned the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County to review the Commission's decision to extend compensation to Mr. White's back injury, but not the Commission's decision to deny compensation for his left ankle injury. Mr. White did not file a timely cross-petition, but the circuit court nevertheless [219 Md.App. 412] allowed him to challenge the Commission's decision as to his left ankle injury at trial, and the court ultimately reversed the Commission's decision in that respect.

As a prerequisite to any affirmative relief on his left ankle claim, Mr. White was required to file a timely petition (on this posture, a cross-petition) challenging that decision. Because he didn't, the circuit court did not have the left ankle decision before it, and the court erred in considering it. We reverse the judgment of the circuit court.

I. BACKGROUND

On January 12, 2004, Mr. White, then a molding inspector for National Mold Specialists, LLC, fractured his right ankle after falling accidentally in the course of inspecting a home. Mr. White applied for

Page 1277

workers' compensation benefits, but because his employer did not maintain workers' compensation insurance, he also applied to the Fund for payment of any potential award. After holding a hearing on March 7, 2007, the Commission ordered the Fund to pay Mr. White temporary total disability and permanent partial disability.

In November 2010, Mr. White began additional treatment on his left ankle and lower back. His doctor opined that Mr. White's right ankle injury caused him to favor that ankle, causing compensatory pain in his left ankle and lower back. On December 21, 2010, Mr. White sought to revise his claim with the Commission, and contended that the injuries to his left ankle and back were causally related to his right ankle injury. The Commission considered Mr. White's claims during a hearing held on March 31, 2011 and, on April 26, 2011, entered an order setting forth two findings: first, that Mr. White's injury to his left ankle was not causally related to his initial right ankle injury, and, second, that his back injury was causally related to the earlier injury (the " Order" ).

On May 16, 2011, the Fund petitioned the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County to review the Commission's Order. Pursuant to Maryland Rule 7-204(a), Mr. White filed his intent to participate in the Fund's petition on June 8, 2011. [219 Md.App. 413] He did not file a cross-petition for judicial review until October 21, 2011. The Fund moved to dismiss Mr. White's cross-petition on October 27, 2011, arguing that, as the non-appealing party, Mr. White was required to file a cross-petition within ten days of receiving notice of the Fund's petition and that Mr. White filed his petition more than five months after receiving notice. See Md. Rule 7-203. The circuit court dismissed Mr. White's cross-petition on November 21, 2011.

On February 5, 2013, the circuit court held a jury trial to review the Commission's Order. At the start of trial, the court confirmed that Mr. White had failed to file a cross-petition, but the parties disagreed as to the effect of that failure. The Fund argued that Mr. White was precluded from arguing that any portion of the Commission's decision should be reversed, while Mr. White argued that the de novo nature of the appeal permitted the jury to consider the full scope of the Commission's decision. The circuit court agreed with Mr. White:

[COUNSEL FOR THE FUND]: The issue that this case deals with is much later there was another hearing before the [Commission] and the issue was whether [Mr. White's] complaints to his back and left foot relate to his accident [on] January 12, 2004.
The Commission found that his left foot complaints were not related and that issue was not appealed. The only issue before you--
[COUNSEL FOR MR. WHITE]: Your Honor, I apologize for objecting to her opening, but I have to object.
* * *
[COUNSEL FOR THE FUND]: The claimant's cross appeal was not pending was my understanding so then that issue is final. So the only issue would be my appeal and I only appealed as to the--
[COUNSEL FOR MR. WHITE]: The petition is for all of the issues that were brought before the Commission[; ] it is a de novo appeal. All of the issues that were decided by the Commission are going to be decided by the jury today. The [219 Md.App. 414] petitioner does not get to pick and [choose] which issue that the jury gets to hear today, even if her cross appeal was denied, we . . . timely filed a notice of an intent to participate and as this is

Page 1278

a de novo appeal, all of the issues [are] on the table today for ...

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