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Private Contractor Who Assisted in Design and Finance of Public Road Owed No Duty to Individuals Using Road

Rosemarie T. Martin, et al. v. Lehigh Cement Company, LLC
(November 16, 2016) Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

by Matthew J. McCloskey, Associate
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (www.semmes.com)

Available at: http://www.courts.state.md.us/appellate/unreportedopinions/2016/1832s15.pdf

In a recent opinion, the Court of Special Appeals held that a private entity that collaborated with state and local governmental entities in a public-private partnership for the design of a road was not liable for the alleged negligent design of an intersection on the road.

On August 24, 2010, Plaintiffs’ decedent was struck and killed by a truck while bicycling near the intersection of Route 75 and Shepherd’s Mill Road (the “Intersection”). The truck was not owned by Lehigh Cement Company, Defendant, nor was the driver employed by Defendant. Pertinently, Defendant had assisted Carroll County (the “County”) in developing a “Parallel Roadway – Railway Transportation System” that adjusted the route of Shepherd’s Mill Road to accommodate access to Defendant’s plant, and which altered the configuration of the Intersection. In the furtherance of this objective, Defendant attended a planning meeting with the County and contributed $300,000 towards the engineering costs for the road. Defendant’s assistance to the County was termed a “public-private partnership.”

Plaintiffs sued Defendant, Carroll County, and the State of Maryland, sounding in wrongful death and survival claims that alleged: (1) the Intersection was negligently designed; and (2) that the Intersection did not comply with applicable regulations pertaining to the design of roadways and intersections for safe use by cyclists, the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century and the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices Millennium. Defendant moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s Complaint, asserting that it did not owe any “statutory, common law, or contractual duty” to the decedent with respect to the design or construction of the Intersection, and that Plaintiffs did not allege facts to show “any indicia of a partnership to render [Defendant] legally responsible for the acts or omissions of the State or County.” The Circuit Court granted Defendant’s motion. Plaintiffs appealed.

Judge Deborah S. Eyler, writing for the Court, affirmed. The Court began by noting that “the power to design, construct, and maintain State highways and County roadways is vested exclusively in the State and County governments.” Nevertheless, this duty may be delegated under some circumstances. In this case, however, Plaintiffs had failed to plead any facts that would support a finding that the County and the State delegated their duties to Defendant. Specifically, Plaintiffs alleged only that: (1) Defendant attended a planning meeting; (2) Defendant created a proposed design for the road; (3) Defendant contributed money towards the engineering costs of the road; and (4) Defendant’s assistance was a part of a public-private partnership. Plaintiffs could therefore point to no facts demonstrating that the County and the State had delegated to Defendant the “decision-making rights” or authority over the design or construction of the Intersection.

The Court also concluded that the Circuit Court correctly found that no partnership agreement existed between Defendant and the County. The Circuit Court had merely found that the facts alleged in the Complaint did not demonstrate that Defendant was “operating the intersection in partnership with” the County and the State. This was not a factual finding, but rather was a decision predicated solely on whether the facts alleged in the Complaint could possibly support such a finding. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the decision of the Circuit Court.


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