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Metro Maintenance Systems South, Inc. v. Milburn

Court of Appeals of Maryland

March 30, 2015

METRO MAINTENANCE SYSTEMS SOUTH, INC.
v.
THOMAS MILBURN, ET AL

Argued December 8, 2014.

Page 430

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 431

Circuit Court for St. Mary's County. Case No. 18C12000963.

For PETITIONER: Alfred A. Lacer (Alfred A. Lacer, P.A. of Park hall MD) on brief.

For RESPONDENTS: Jennifer L. Katz, Assistant Attorney General (Douglas F. Gansler, Attorney General of Maryland of Baltimore, MD) on brief; Kenneth J. Coughlan (Anne Hoke & Associates of Baltimore, MD) on brief.

Barbera, C.J., Harrell, Battaglia, Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, JJ.

OPINION

McDonald, J.

Page 432

[442 Md. 293] Various provisions of Maryland law afford a party adversely affected by an administrative agency decision an opportunity to obtain judicial review of that decision by a circuit court. Some provisions also allow further review by the appellate courts. In many instances, the result of the circuit court's review is that the court remands the case to the agency for further proceedings. The decision to remand a case as a result of judicial review is considered a final judgment -- a [442 Md. 294] prerequisite to immediate further review in the appellate courts.

But does the same conclusion hold true if a circuit court remands the case to the agency prior to conducting its review of the agency's decision, at the suggestion of the agency and with the consent of the party seeking judicial review? The issue in this case is whether such a remand is a final judgment and therefore appealable under Maryland Code, Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article (" CJ" ), § 12-301. We hold that it is not, and therefore affirm the dismissal of the appeal in this case by the Court of Special Appeals.[1]

I

Background

Respondent Thomas Milburn was a truck driver for Petitioner Metro Maintenance Systems South, Inc. (" Metro Maintenance" ). He quit his job in January 2012, claiming " racially motivated mistreatment" by his employer. He then applied for unemployment benefits to the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation (" DLLR" ), the other Respondent in this case. A critical issue with respect to a claim by an employee who leaves a job voluntarily is whether the employee has good cause for doing so. Under Maryland law, an " individual who otherwise is eligible to receive [unemployment insurance] benefits is disqualified from receiving benefits if the Secretary [of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation] finds that unemployment results from voluntarily leaving work without good cause." Maryland Code, Labor & Employment Article (" LE" ), § 8-1001(a)(1).

The DLLR claim examiner determined that Mr. Milburn quit his job " without good cause" and denied his claim for benefits. Mr. Milburn appealed that decision within the agency. See LE § § 8-508, 8-806(g) (providing for appeals to Lower Appeals Division of DLLR). In March 2012, a hearing [442 Md. 295] examiner in the Lower Appeals Division of the agency conducted a hearing during which counsel for Mr. Milburn and counsel for Metro Maintenance presented evidence. Like the claim examiner, the hearing examiner concluded that Mr. Milburn had voluntarily quit his employment without good cause and denied his request for benefits. Mr. Milburn appealed that decision to the DLLR Board of Appeals. The Board declined to hear the appeal,

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thereby adopting the decision of the hearing examiner as its own decision -- a decision that is subject to judicial review.[2]

In June 2012 Mr. Milburn filed a petition for judicial review of the Board's decision in the Circuit Court for St. Mary's County, as permitted by the unemployment insurance law.[3] When a circuit court reviews a Board decision, it confines its review to questions of law and the Board's fact findings are conclusive if they are " supported by evidence that is competent, material, and substantial ... and there is no fraud." LE § 8-5A-12(d). Both Metro Maintenance and the DLLR Board[4] filed responses to the petition indicating that they would participate in the proceedings before the Circuit Court. As required by Maryland Rule 7-207, Mr. Milburn filed a memorandum in support of his petition, arguing that the hearing examiner's decision had failed to address whether he had been constructively discharged. As permitted by the rule, [442 Md. 296] Metro Maintenance filed an answering memorandum, in which it argued that the hearing examiner's decision should be upheld.

Instead of filing an answering memorandum, the DLLR Board filed a motion requesting that the Circuit Court remand the case back to the Board before it conducted its review. The Board's motion stated that, after reading Mr. Milburn's memorandum and reviewing the agency record, counsel for the Board had recommended that it accept a remand " to review the decision of the [Hearing] Examiner" and that the Board had agreed to accept a remand. The Board did not concede that the hearing examiner had erred but requested only an opportunity to review the decision in the interest of " judicial economy." [5] Mr. Milburn consented to the motion to remand. Metro Maintenance opposed the motion for remand and argued that the Circuit Court did not have the authority to remand until after the court had reviewed the agency record and had concluded that the agency's findings were not supported by substantial evidence.

The Circuit Court held a hearing on January 25, 2013, on the motion to remand and heard arguments from Mr. Milburn, Metro Maintenance, and the Board. There was no discussion of the agency

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record or the merits of the case. The Circuit Court characterized DLLR's motion as a request for a " do over" that would precede the court's consideration " whether there's substantial evidence and ... whether or not to affirm." At the end of the hearing, the Circuit Court granted the Board's motion for remand.

[442 Md. 297] Metro Maintenance appealed to the Court of Special Appeals. In an unreported decision, that court concluded that the remand order was not a final judgment or otherwise appealable and dismissed the appeal. The Court of Special Appeals relied primarily on its prior decision in Anne Arundel County v. Rode, 214 Md.App. 702, 78 A.3d 926 (2013), which had dismissed an appeal in very similar circumstances.

We granted certiorari to determine whether the remand order was a final judgment and, if so, whether the remand was an abuse of discretion or otherwise unlawful. We decide only the first question as we agree with the Court of Special ...


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