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Norman-Bradford v. Baltimore County Public Schools

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

April 30, 2018

CLAUDETTE NORMAN-BRADFORD
v.
BALTIMORE COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS, et al.

          Circuit Court for Baltimore County Case No. 03-C-15-002983

          Wright, Nazarian, Leahy, JJ.

          OPINION

          Nazarian, J.

         Claudette Norman-Bradford suffered an accidental injury while working for the Board of Education of Baltimore County (the "Employer"). She filed a claim with the Workers' Compensation Commission (the "Commission") and was awarded workers' compensation benefits. She also applied for accidental disability retirement benefits from the Maryland State Retirement and Pension System ("SRPS"), but was granted an ordinary disability retirement instead. The Employer petitioned the Commission to offset Ms. Norman-Bradford's ordinary disability retirement benefits against her workers' compensation benefits, citing the statutory offset provision in Maryland Code (1991, 2016 Repl. Vol.), § 9-610(a)(1) Labor and Employment Article ("LE"). The Commission decided that the Employer was not entitled to an offset, and the Employer petitioned for judicial review in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County. After a hearing on cross-motions for summary judgment, the circuit court granted the Employer's motion and reversed the Commission's decision after finding that the benefits Ms. Norman-Bradford received were "similar, " which triggered the statutory offset. Ms. Norman-Bradford appeals and we affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Ms. Norman-Bradford worked as a para-educator at Deer Park Elementary School in Baltimore County. On January 15, 2010, she tripped on a mat and fell while taking students outside for a fire drill. There is no dispute that as a result of the fall, she suffered injuries to her back, right ankle, hip, knee, and wrist.

         After the accident, Ms. Norman-Bradford filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits. Her pre-accident medical history included neck, head, and back injuries from various accidents and diagnoses of fibromyalgia and hypertension. On May 4, 2010, the Commission held a hearing and found that she had sustained a compensable accidental injury, awarded her medical treatment and compensation for temporary total disability benefits, and concluded that her fibromyalgia diagnosis was not caused by her accident. The Employer appealed the Commission's decision to the circuit court and the court reversed, finding that Ms. Norman-Bradford's fibromyalgia was causally related to her accidental injury as an aggravation of a pre-existing condition.

         The following year, Ms. Norman-Bradford applied for accidental disability retirement benefits through the SRPS. The State Medical Board (the "Board") determined that based on the medical evidence she submitted, Ms. Norman-Bradford was permanently disabled and unable to perform her job, and recommended that the SRPS approve her claim for ordinary disability retirement benefits. But the Board denied her claim for accidental disability benefits after finding that the evidence didn't prove that the January 15, 2010 accidental injury caused her permanent disability. The SRPS adopted the Board's recommendation, denied Ms. Norman-Bradford's accidental disability benefits request, and awarded ordinary disability benefits.

         The Commission held a hearing in November 2014 to determine whether Ms. Norman-Bradford was permanently and totally disabled, and within that broader question to resolve thirteen issues relating to the nature and extent of her disability. The Commission found that she was not permanently and totally disabled, but did find that she suffered from an overall forty-four percent industrial loss of use of her body-twenty-five percent from her accidental injury (fibromyalgia, back, neck, right foot, hip, knee, and wrist, and psychiatric); fifteen percent from her pre-existing conditions (hypertension, psychiatric, fibromyalgia, back, and neck); and four percent from a subsequent accident or deterioration of a pre-existing condition (psychiatric). The Commission ordered the Employer to pay Ms. Norman-Bradford for permanent partial disability at the rate of $307 per week for 125 weeks.

         Based on that finding, the Employer requested a hearing to determine its right to offset Ms. Norman-Bradford's ordinary disability retirement benefits with her workers' compensation award, pursuant to LE § 9-610(a)(1). On March 4, 2015, the Commission concluded that the Employer was not entitled to offset Ms. Norman-Bradford's benefits because her "benefits are not a similar benefit." The Employer sought judicial review of the Commission's decision. Both parties filed motions for summary judgment that focused on the Commission's interpretation of the term "similar benefits" in LE § 9-610(a)(1). After a hearing, the circuit court reversed the Commission's decision, found that the Employer was entitled to the statutory weekly offset under LE § 9-610, and granted the Employer's motion.

         Ms. Norman-Bradford filed a timely notice of appeal. We supply additional facts below as necessary.

         II. DISCUSSION

         Ms. Norman-Bradford argues on appeal[1] first that the circuit court erred in finding that LE § 9-610, not § 29-118 of the State Personnel and Pension Article ("SP"), governs the Employer's right to an offset, and second that even if LE § 9-610 applies, the court erred in finding that her ordinary disability retirement benefits and workers' compensation benefits are "similar." The Employer contends the circuit court correctly found that LE § 9-610 is the applicable statute and properly determined that the Employer is entitled to an offset because Ms. Norman-Bradford's ordinary disability retirement benefits and workers' compensation benefits are similar. We review a trial court's grant of a motion for summary judgment de novo, without deference to the legal decisions of the Commission or circuit court. Long v. Workers' Ins. Fund, 225 Md.App. 48, 57 (2015).

         A.LE ยง 9-610 Is The Appropriate Offset ...


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