Manifest Destiny: Maryland Court Expands Commission Jurisdiction Pending Appeal

Manifest Destiny: Maryland Court Expands Commission Jurisdiction Pending Appeal

Lance Montour   By Lance G. Montour, Partner, Humphreys, McLaughlin & McAleer, LLC

The above case, Sanchez v. Potomac Abatement, Inc., et al., ___ Md. ___, ___ A.3d ___ (April 27, 2011), is a dangerous new case concerning retained jurisdiction by the Commission while a claim is pending an appeal. Being familiar with this case will likely become very important in a very short time. Basically, the facts are that the Claimant sought PPD benefits. He was not awarded the amount he sought and he appealed. While that appeal was pending, the Claimant sought further benefits on two separate occasions. One was for additional TTD for a closed period and the other was for Vocational Rehabilitation Benefits. In both efforts, the Claimant was not allowed to proceed at the Commission on account of LE 9-742. The Claimant appealed each denial of his efforts for a ruling on the further issues. The Circuit Court separately dismissed both the appeal concerning jurisdiction over the TTD issue and the appeal concerning jurisdiction over the Vocational Rehabilitation issue. Again, the Claimant appealed both cases, this time to the Court of Special Appeals, which consolidated the matters. In the meantime, and after the matters were appealed to the Court of Special Appeals, the PPD appeal in the Circuit Court was addressed in both the Court of Special Appeals and the Court of Appeals. The PPD appeals were concluded in 2010, before this consolidated appeals in the Court of Special Appeals was concluded.

In reviewing the consolidated appeals regarding jurisdiction, the Court of Special Appeals first addressed the question of mootness and then the question of jurisdiction. On the issue of mootness, the Court found that the matters were moot. (The question was deemed moot because with the end of the PPD appeals, the Commission once again had jurisdiction to resolve the questions of TTD and Vocational Rehabilitation Benefits.) The Court noted, however, that despite being moot, the question presented by the appeal could still be reached, if there was an appropriate exception or basis for issuing a ruling. After reviewing the possible exceptions, the Court found that an “offshoot” to the mootness doctrine would allow them to proceed, if expressing a view on the merits of the moot case would prevent a harm to the public interest. The “offshoot” provided the Court with justification because the Workers’ Compensation Act is “important social legislation that bears not only on future claimants’ rights to prompt compensation for their injuries, but also on the efficient operation of both the Commission and the courts.” Sanchez, ___ Md. at ___, ___ A.3d at ___. Having justified found a basis to address the moot issues before them, the Court of Special Appeals set about to determine the jurisdiction of the Commission when the claim is pending appeal from an earlier ruling.

As could be expected, the Court first looked at the sections of the statute that were being advanced by the parties in support of their respective positions. The Claimant was seeking consideration under LE 9-736(b) and the Employer was relying on LE 9-742. The main focus of the Court’s discussion was that LE 9-736(b) was a statute that provided an expansion of the Commission’s jurisdiction, while LE 9-742 appeared to be a limitation on the Commission’s jurisdiction. Legislative intent and legislative history were discussed for both sections. Being the older of the two sections, the Court first reviewed the legislative history of LE 9-736(b) and the interpretation provided in Pressman v. State Accident Fund, 246 Md. 406, 228 A.2d 443 (1967). The Court noted that in Pressman, the Commission’s jurisdiction was seen as being quite broad, but in applicable to claim that was on appeal. The jurisdiction under Pressman existed only when the matter were “independent and distinct from the issues on appeal.” Sanchez, ___ Md. at ___, ___ A.3d at ___, quoting Pressman, 246 Md. at 416, 228 A.2d at 449.

Finding a jurisdictional basis on account of Pressman, the Court turned to the limiting effect of LE 9-742. At first, the Court seemed to indicate that LE 9-742 was a singular statement the Commission’s jurisdictional authority. In reviewing the history of the section, however, the Court came to the conclusion that LE 9-742 did not bar jurisdiction despite: “1) the structure of the provision; 2) the caption of the section; 3) subsequent amendments to the original 1966 statute suggesting that agency jurisdiction was retained only in the listed cases; 4) comments in two Fiscal Notes to that effect.” Sanchez, ___ Md. at ___, ___ A.3d at ___. In effect, the Court found that LE 9-742 was not a statement of exclusive intent as to the Commission’s jurisdiction pending an appeal.  At this point, however, the Court went little farther to explain the effect of an appeal on the Commission’s continuing jurisdiction over a claim. Noting that finding that some sort of jurisdiction was allowed, the Court declined to be explicit on authoritative as to what that jurisdiction involved. The Court provided some limited guidance in opining that there would be two possible options for the Commission’s jurisdiction in similar cases. The first is that the Commission is mandated to retain jurisdiction, but the exercise of such jurisdiction is discretionary. The second is that the Commission retains jurisdiction only to decide “independent and distinct from the issues on appeal.” Sanchez, ___ Md. at ___, ___ A.3d at ___. In concluding, the Court stated that having found some jurisdiction for the Commission, they no longer needed to address whether it would have been proper for the Commission to have exercised that jurisdiction in the matters at bar.

FIRST NOTE: While the Court posed two possibilities on the retained or mandatory jurisdiction of the Commission pending an appeal, citation to the Pressman case was included in the denial to proceed further in addressing the matter. This seems to indicate that it is the Pressman standard that would apply in future determinations of jurisdiction pending appeal.

SECOND NOTE: This matter having been decided on April 27, 2011, the Mandate of the Court of Special Appeals has not yet been issued. The Mandate will be issued in 30 days from the date of the Opinion and a Petition for Writ of Certiorari may be filed any time prior to 15 days from the date the Mandate was issued. The likelihood of further review cannot be ignored.

© Copyright 2010 Humphreys, McLaughlin & McAleer, LLC. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

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