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Maryland v. Gang

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

November 8, 2018

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, MARYLAND
v.
PETER GANG

          Circuit Court for Montgomery County Case No. 423509V

          Eyler, [*] Deborah S., Shaw Geter, Raker, Irma, S. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.

          OPINION

          Shaw Geter, J.

         In 2012, the Maryland Workers' Compensation Commission awarded Peter Gang compensation for an injury he sustained while employed with Montgomery County. The rate of pay, however, was incorrectly calculated, as it failed to recognize Mr. Gang's status as a "public safety officer," which entitled him to higher compensation. Four years later he filed a "Request for Document Correction," whereupon the Commission issued an amended award that retroactively increased his rate of pay. On judicial review, the Circuit Court for Montgomery County affirmed the Commission's decision. Montgomery County timely appealed and presents us with the following question, which we have rephrased[1]:

Did the Commission err in retroactively modifying appellee's award of workers' compensation?

         For the reasons stated below, we shall reverse the judgment of the circuit court.

         BACKGROUND

         Appellee Peter Gang was a correctional officer employed by Montgomery County, appellant. On September 17, 2011, Gang was accidentally injured at a facility and thereafter filed a workers' compensation claim. Following a hearing on April 26, 2012, the Workers' Compensation Commission issued a decision on May 2, 2012, which found Gang suffered a permanent partial disability and awarded him compensation at the rate of $157 a week, for 70 weeks.

         The order, however, failed to recognize his status as a "public safety officer," under § 9-628 of the Labor and Employment Article, which entitled him to a higher rate of pay. Both parties agree the May 2, 2012 Order was error and that Gang initially received compensation at the incorrect rate.[2] Neither party filed a motion for rehearing[3] or appeal to the circuit court.[4]

         Almost four years later, on March 22, 2016, a "Request for Document Correction" was filed by Gang's counsel regarding the 2012 case.[5] The request alleged that Gang was paid at an incorrect rate. The Commission, on March 25, 2016, issued an amended award, retroactively modifying his compensation to $314 a week. Appellant objected to the Commission's actions because it had not been notified and filed a "Request for Rehearing" on April 6, 2016. Appellee then filed a request, on April 13, asking that the Commission "withdraw the Document Correction filed on 3/22/16, strike the Order issued on 3/25/16 and set this case in for hearing on the issue of the correct weekly permanent partial disability rate in the 5/2/12 Order."

         The Commission denied the County's "Request for Rehearing." The County then filed a second "Request for Rehearing" on April 21, 2016, and argued that in light of appellee's withdrawal of his initial Document Correction, the Commission should "rescind the order dated 3/25/16 that implemented that document correction and the denial of the rehearing request dated April 19, 2016."

         Following a hearing on June 27, 2016, the Commission issued an order that affirmed the March 25, 2016 Order, finding it was a proper use of the Commission's "continuing jurisdiction" under Labor and Employment Section 9-736(b) of the Maryland Code.

         Appellant filed a petition for an on the record judicial review in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, on July 26, 2016, [6] and appellee filed a cross-appeal for a de novo review on August 9. Appellee also filed a Motion to Dismiss the Petition for Judicial Review on October 18, 2016, which was opposed by appellant and denied by the court at a hearing on December 13, 2016. An on the record review of the Commission's findings was held on April 19, 2017, where counsel presented argument. The circuit court affirmed the decision of the Commission, memorialized in an order entered May 25, 2017. Appellant then brought this timely appeal.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         With an "appeal on the record of the Commission…no new evidence is taken nor is any fresh fact-finding engaged in. The determination of whether the decision of the Commission was free from error will entail only an examination of the record of the proceedings before the Commission." Simmons v. Comfort Suites Hotel, 185 Md.App. 203, 224-25 (2009) (internal citation and quotation omitted). The reviewing court is "limited to determining if there is substantial evidence in the record as a whole to support the agency's findings and conclusions, and to determine if the administrative decision is premised upon an erroneous conclusion of law." W.M. Schlosser Co. v. Uninsured Employers' Fund, 414 Md. 195, 204 (2010) (internal citation and quotation omitted). We examine the agency's decision "in the light most favorable to it" and "the agency's decision is prima facie correct and presumed valid." Id. at 205 (internal citation and quotation omitted). While an administrative agency's interpretation of a statute should "ordinarily be given considerable weight by reviewing courts," id., "[m]istaken interpretation of law, however honestly arrived at, are held not to be within the exercise of sound administrative discretion." Subsequent Injury Fund v. Baker, 40 Md.App. 339, 343 (1978) (internal citation and quotation omitted).

         ANALYSIS

         When interpreting the language of a statute, the primary goal is to "ascertain and effectuate the intent of the Legislature." Walzer v. Osborne,395 Md. 563, 571 (2006) (internal citation and quotation omitted). We first look to the statute's plain language, "giving it its natural and ordinary meaning" and "[w]e neither add nor delete words to a clear and unambiguous statute to give it a meaning not reflected by the words." Id. at 571- 72 (internal citation and quotation omitted). If the statutory provisions are "clear and unambiguous and express a plain meaning, we will give effect to the statute as it is written." Md. Div. of Labor and Indus. v. Triangle Gen. Contractors, Inc.,366 Md. 407, 420 (2001) (internal citation and quotations omitted). In such circumstances, "no construction or clarification is needed or permitted, it being the rule that a plainly worded statute must be construed without forced or ...


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