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Board of Education of Prince George's County v. Brady

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

June 30, 2016

BOARD OF EDUCATION OF PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY
v.
JAMES BRADY

          Eyler, Deborah S., Wright, Harrell, Glenn T., Jr. (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ.

          OPINION

          HARRELL, J.

         In 2011, Appellee James T. Brady, a mechanic employed by Appellant, the Board of Education of Prince George's County (the "Board of Education"), was injured on the job. He remained absent from his position for sixteen and a half months before he retired on accidental disability retirement. During his absence, Brady elected to use his accrued paid personal and sick leave, rather than seek temporary total disability ("TTD") payments afforded under the Workers' Compensation Act. After a proceeding in front of the Workers' Compensation Commission on Brady's claim for permanent partial disability payments, where Brady was awarded a permanent partial disability award, the Commission granted the Board of Education an offset against the award for the Board's prior leave payments to Brady based on its interpretation of Maryland Code (1991, 2008 Repl Vol), Labor and Employment Article, § 9-610 ("L&E"). The Circuit Court for Prince George's County reversed this offset, leading to this appeal. The question before us is whether the Board of Education is entitled to an offset under L&E § 9-610 because Brady elected to use his personal and sick leave rather than avail himself of Workers' Compensation TTD benefits. For the following reasons, we hold the Board of Education is entitled to the offset and reverse the judgment of the circuit court.

         FACTS AND LEGAL PROCEEDINGS

         On 8 April 2011, Brady injured his neck and right shoulder in a workplace accident. The diagnosis was that he suffered two herniated cervical discs. The initial treatment did not alleviate Brady's injuries. He was referred to a neurosurgeon, who performed a two-level, anterior cervical fusion. Following this surgery, Brady was unable to return to his position because he could not perform physically the duties of a mechanic. He retired on service-connected disability on 1 July 2013.

         Brady worked under a collective bargaining agreement between the Board of Education and his union, Local 2250 of ACE/AFSCME. Article four of the contract contained specific provisions on leave benefits, including accrued leave and workers' compensation benefits. The contract included a provision that entitled Brady to full pay (in the form of TTD leave) for an initial period of ninety working days.[1] This leave was in lieu of any other benefits, including his accrued personal sick leave.

         He received this disability pay for the requisite ninety days and, on 14 February 2012, when it expired, Brady was obliged to select how he would proceed as he was still unable to perform his job. He was presented with two options: remain on leave with pay status, which would grant him his full wages and current benefits, or pursue TTD benefits under the Maryland Workers' Compensation Act. In a letter from Diane Mullin-Fines, on behalf of the Board of Education, Brady was informed that if he opted for the "on leave with pay" status, "[i]n return for the ability to maintain the benefits . . . [he] waive[d his] right to receive direct payment of [TTD] benefits from the Third Party Administrator."

         He elected to remain on leave with pay status, which afforded him his full salary, but this option required him to use his accrued sick leave. As explained by Brady's counsel, Brady "had accrued a good amount of leave. . . [a]nd up until the time of his retirement on July 1, 2013, he was paid essentially out of his own leave pocket." Being unable to perform physically his job, Brady applied subsequently for Accidental Disability Retirement. He began to receive Accidental Disability Retirement benefits on 1 July 2013 at the rate of $865.65 per week after he retired formally from his position as a mechanic for the Board of Education.

         On 1 April 2014, the Workers' Compensation Commission considered the employer's issue regarding the offset provision in L&E § 9-610. After a hearing, a Commissioner granted to the Board of Education the right under L&E § 9-610 to offset the payment of Brady's full wages under his accrued sick leave that he received between 15 February 2012 and 1 July 2013 (the "gap period"). On 22 April 2014, the Workers' Compensation Commission issued its order finding that "as a result of the accidental injury sustained on April 8, 2011 the claimant was paid disability leave (in lieu of temporary total benefits) from September 26, 2011 to February 14, 2012 inclusive, and paid sick leave (in lieu of temporary total benefits) from February 15, 2012 to June 27, 2013." The Commission provided further:

Ordered that the above named employer [Board of Education for Prince George's County] and above named insurer pay unto the above named claimant [James T. Brady], compensation for permanent partial disability. . . beginning February 15, 2012, for a period of 333 weeks pursuant to the provisions of Section 9-630 of the Labor and Employment Article; subject to a complete set-[o]ff in accordance with Section 9-610. It is further ORDERED that from the Subsequent Injury Fund the claimant shall be paid compensation for permanent partial disability . . . pursuant to the provisions of Sections 9-802 and 9-804 of the Labor Article; subject to a complete set-off in accordance with Section 9-610.

         The award of $705 per week for 333 weeks was a permanent partial disability award.

         Brady appealed to the Circuit Court for Prince George's County. A hearing was held on 29 May 2015 to consider cross-motions for summary judgment filed by the litigants. Brady argued that his earned leave was "proprietary" and his decision to use it should not be considered as receiving benefits similar to the benefits under Workers' Compensation laws. During the circuit court's hearing, he observed that the Board of Education "saved more than $23, 500" because it did not have to pay him upon retirement for his unused sick leave and annual leave.[2]

         The Board of Education argued that it was settled "that when there's a single cause such as the workplace accident here, which is the basis of the compensation such as an accidental disability retirement, the County, in this case the Board of Education or whatever governmental entity is involved, is entitled to an offset for the period of payment of those benefits." Further, the Board maintained that, had no accident occurred and Brady retired without a workplace disability, he would have received only payment for thirty days of accrued sick and personal leave, under the collective bargaining agreement.[3]

         The parties waived further proceedings in the circuit court and preserved their right to appeal, but agreed that the decision on the summary judgment motions would constitute a final order in the circuit court. On 2 June 2015, the circuit court entered an order granting judgment in favor of Brady, offering no elaboration as to its reasoning for this conclusion. The Board of Education appealed timely to this Court.

         QUESTION PRESENTED

         Appellant presents one question for our consideration, which we have rephrased for the sake of clarity:

Did the circuit court err by granting Brady's motion for summary judgment, thus overruling the Commission's decision that the Board of Education, was entitled to an offset for benefits paid from 15 February 2012 to 1 July 2013 pursuant to Maryland Code (1991, 2008 Repl Vol), Labor and Employment Article, § 9-610 ("L&E")?

         For the following reasons, we hold that it was error for the circuit court to give judgment to Brady and overrule the Workers' Compensation Commission's Order as to the off-set. We reverse its judgment.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The "purpose of summary judgment is to determine whether there are facts in dispute that must be resolved through a more formal resolution process, such as a trial on the merits." Hines v. French, 157 Md.App. 536, 549, 852 A.2d 1047, 1054 (2004) (citation omitted). Under Maryland Rule 2-501(f), a circuit court shall grant summary judgment "in favor of or against the moving party if the motion and response show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the party in whose favor judgment is entered is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."

         Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, we "'are first concerned with whether a genuine dispute of material fact exists' and then whether the movant is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law." Hines, 157 Md.App. at 549, 852 A.2d at 1054 (citation omitted). If, however, "there is no dispute of material facts, then our role is to determine whether the trial court was correct in granting summary judgment as a matter of law. Whether summary judgment is properly granted as a matter of law is a question of law and therefore review of the granting of summary judgment is de novo." Montgomery Cnty. v. Soleimanzadeh, 436 Md. 377, 398, 82 A.3d 187, 200 (2013) (citation omitted).

         In the present case, there being no genuine dispute as to a material fact, we review the circuit court's judgment for its legal correctness, ...


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