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Maryland intermediate appellate court holds that statute prohibiting local government employees from suing one another does not contravene employees’ equal protection rights

Blue v. Arrington
___ Md. App. ___ (Jan. 30, 2015)

by Wayne C. Heavener, Associate
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (www.semmes.com)

Available at: http://www.mdcourts.gov/opinions/cosa/2015/1036s13.pdf

In Blue v. Arrington, Maryland's intermediate appellate court held that Maryland’s Local Government Tort Claims Act (“LGTCA”) did not infringe upon a Baltimore City employee’s equal protection rights by prohibiting employee from suing other Baltimore city employees. Writing for the Court of Special Appeals, Chief Judge Peter B. Krauser found that the limitations placed upon local government employees were subject to “rational basis” scrutiny. Applying this standard of scrutiny to Section 5-302, which prohibits government employees who have received workers’ compensation from suing one another, the Court found that the plaintiff’s rights were not unconstitutionally infringed upon. Rather, Section 5-302 furthered the LGTCA’s legitimate purpose of limiting local government’s liability in order to better predict future costs.

Stinyard Blue ("Plaintiff") and Antonio Arrington ("Defendant") both worked for Baltimore City’s Department of Public Works as trash collectors. On July 5, 2011, Plaintiff was riding on the outside of a garbage truck driven by Defendant. Defendant, while trying to take a turn, crushed Plaintiff’s legs and abdomen between a fence and a brick wall. Plaintiff filed for, and received workers' compensation for his injuries, and brought a negligence action against Defendant in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. Baltimore City (the "City"), on Defendant's behalf, filed a motion to dismiss based upon the Local Government Tort Claims Act ("LGTCA"). Specifically, Defendant relied on the portion of the LGTCA, which prohibited a local government employee from suing a fellow employee for tortious acts committed within the scope of employment, if the injury sustained is compensable under the Maryland Workers' Compensation Act. Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-302. The Circuit Court dismissed Plaintiff's action, and Plaintiff noted his appeal to the Court of Special Appeals. Specifically, Plaintiff argued that the Circuit Court’s application of Section 5-302 violated his equal protection rights under the Maryland Declaration of Rights and the United States Constitution’s 14th Amendment because it denies local government employees, as a class, the right to sue co-employees for tortious conduct.

The Court of Special Appeals affirmed the Circuit Court’s decision, and found that the lower court’s application of Section 5-302 was appropriate and constitutional. The Court noted that there are three (3) standards of review that courts utilize in determining whether a statute runs afoul of equal protection guarantees provided by the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights. Because local government workers are neither a “suspect’ nor “quasi-suspect” class, the Court held that the least-stringent standard — “rational basis” — should be applied in this case. The Court determined that the limitations imposed upon the right of local government employees to sue fellow employees is related to the legitimate government purpose of the LGTCA, i.e. limiting the liability of local governments so as to better predict future costs and expenses. The Court, therefore, held that the LGTCA did not impermissibly infringe upon Plaintiff’s rights.


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