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Prince George's County v. Minor

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

March 29, 2016


Kehoe, Leahy, Kenney, James A., III (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ.


Kenney, J.

Appellant, Prince George's County ("the County"), appeals the decision of the Circuit Court for Charles County that reversed the decision of the Worker's Compensation Commission ("the Commission") regarding the payment of attorney's fees to the attorney for appellee Frederick Minor ("Mr. Minor.").

The County presents a single question for our review:

Whether the circuit court erred when it determined that the County is responsible for payment of Mr. Minor's attorney's fees?
For the reasons that follow, we shall reverse.


On September 3, 2008, Mr. Minor, a deputy sheriff with the Prince George's County Police Department, filed a claim for workers' compensation stemming from an injury he sustained when his right middle-finger became caught in his canine partner's collar and twisted sideways. The Commission, on October 15, 2008, found that he "sustained an accidental injury . . . arising out of and in the course of employment on 7/08/2008 and that the average weekly wage was $1, 500.00 and that the nature and extent of the disability sustained, if any, [could not be] determined at [that] time." A hearing on the nature and extent of disability was held, and the Commission, on December 8, 2009, entered the following award:

Disability leave in lieu of temporary total disability from November 7, 2008 to November 28, 2008 inclusive; based on an average weekly wage of $1, 500.00 for an accidental injury sustained on July 8, 2008. PERMANENT PARTIAL DISABILITY: Resulting in 20% loss of use of the right hand, due to the accident of July 8, 2008; at the rate of $293.00, payable weekly, beginning November 29, 2008 for a period of 50 weeks.

In the award, the Commission noted that "No Claimant's Consent to Pay Attorney Fee and Doctor Fees [was] Submitted."

Mr. Minor's counsel wrote the Commission on December 7, 2009, and "attached Claimant's Consent to Pay Attorney Fee and Doctor Fee which was mistakenly not turned in at the time of the hearing." The consent form, signed by Mr. Minor on December 8, 2009, certified that counsel had "explained to [him] the amounts allowable by the Commission as counsel fee under the Schedule of Fees and [he] consent[ed] to the Award of a Fee to [his] attorney in accordance with the Commission's Fee Schedule." Both the County's counsel, Antonia St. John, and the senior claims specialist for the County's third party claim administrator, Melissa Casselman, were copied on the letter, but neither acknowledged receiving it. The Commission docketed the letter and accompanying consent form on December 9, 2009.

On December 15, 2009, Ms. Casselman, emailed Mr. Minor's counsel's office[1]regarding the attorney's fees: "I have received the Award Order on Fred Minor. What are the fees so I can deduct them?" When there was no response to the email inquiry, the County, on December 22, 2009, wrote a check for $14, 650.00 (the full amount of the award) made payable to "Frederick Minor C/O John Hall, Esquire" and mailed it to Mr. Minor's attorney's office. Counsel delivered the check to Mr. Minor, who cashed or deposited it on January 6, 2010.

On January 11, 2010, the Commission rescinded its December 8, 2009 compensation award and entered a new award that included Mr. Minor's consent to pay counsel "in the amount of $2, 930.00, plus reimbursement of expenses in the amount of $24.46 [and medical expenses] in the amount of $410.85."

On May 23, 2013, Mr. Minor's counsel filed issues with the Commission for the County's "non compliance of award dated 1/11/10 in which the atty and doctor fees have not been paid to the respective parties." A hearing was held on September 13, 2013, and, on September 20, 2013, the Commission issued its order that:

the [appellant], Prince George's County Maryland, is not responsible for the payment of attorney's fees. The fee is approved and is payable by [Mr. Minor]. The fee may be collected from [Mr. Minor] or shall constitute a lien against the payment of any future benefits to [him].

On October 15, 2013, Mr. Minor filed for judicial review of the order.

A hearing was held in the circuit court on June 6, 2014. Mr. Minor's counsel argued that "by issuing [the] lump sum check to [Mr. Minor, the County] created a situation where they overpaid [him]. The[ County's] remedy is that should [he] come back for additional benefits in the future [it] may have a credit for an overpayment." But, according to counsel, the County was not relieved of the obligation to pay any attorney's fees awarded in the case. Mr. Minor's counsel further argued that the Commission order stating that fees may be collected from Mr. Minor is a violation of workers' compensation law, and requested that the circuit court vacate the September 2013 Commission order.

The County responded that the law requires that any fee shall be paid from an award of compensation in the manner stated by the Commission, and in this case, no fee was provided for in the initial award because no fee consent form was filed. Moreover, if the County had held payment and did not submit payment to Mr. Minor within fifteen days of the award, it would have been subject to a penalty. According to the County, it did not receive a copy of counsel's December 7, 2009 letter, and Mr. Minor's Counsel did not respond to Ms. Casselman's December 15 email, and therefore, the Commission order should be affirmed. To do otherwise, it asserted, would impose a burden on the County not provided for in existing law. At ...

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