Bits & Pieces

Skowron v C.H. Robinson

2020 WL 4736070

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts.
Justin SKOWRON, Plaintiff,
C.H. ROBINSON COMPANY, TFI Liner, Inc., and Ismael Lomeli Alvarez d/b/a Lomeli Trucking, Defendants.
Filed 08/14/2020
Attorneys and Law Firms
Jacques N. Parenteau, Laura A. Demerle, Parenteau & O’Hara, P.C., Framingham, MA, for Plaintiff.
Daniel R. Sonneborn, Wesley S. Chused, Preti Flaherty Beliveau & Pachios LLP, Boston, MA, for Defendant C.H. Robinson Company.
Brian P. Voke, Joseph P. Mendes, Campbell, Campbell, Edwards & Conroy, PC, Boston, MA, for Defendant TFI Liner, Inc.
Brian C. Davis, Elizabeth J. Fegreus, Melick & Porter, LLP, Boston, MA, for Defendant Ismael Lomeli Alvarez.

*1 Justin Skowron (“Plaintiff”) filed this action against C.H. Robinson Company (“C.H. Robinson”), TFI Liner, Inc. (“TFI”), and Ismael Lomeli Alvarez (“Lomeli”), alleging negligence. C.H. Robinson moves to dismiss the claim against it. (Docket No. 48). For the following reasons, the Court grants in part and denies in part its motion.

FlexCon hired C.H. Robinson, a transportation broker, to coordinate a delivery from its facility in Spencer, Massachusetts, to a facility in Chino, California. C.H. Robinson retained TFI to make the delivery,2 and TFI, in turn, subcontracted the job to Lomeli.

Lomeli arrived at Flexcon’s Spencer facility on January 27, 2017. While Plaintiff, an employee at FlexCon, operated a forklift inside one of Lomeli’s tractor-trailers, the trailer suddenly dropped 12 inches. Plaintiff hit his head during the fall and sustained a serious back injury that has required continued medical treatment and surgery.

Plaintiff filed suit in state court, asserting a claim of negligence against C.H. Robinson and TFI. C.H. Robinson removed the case to this Court and moved to dismiss. Before the Court could rule on its motion, however, Plaintiff moved to amend his complaint. The Court granted Plaintiff’s motion, and Plaintiff filed his First Amended Complaint on June 4, 2020. As relevant here, the amended complaint alleges one count of negligence against C.H. Robinson. (Docket No. 46). C.H. Robinson moves to dismiss this count for failure to state a claim and/or FAAAA preemption. (Docket No. 48).

Legal Standard
In evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff’s favor. Langadinos v. Am. Airlines, Inc., 199 F.3d 68, 69 (1st Cir. 2000). To survive the motion, the complaint must allege “a plausible entitlement to relief.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 559, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). “[A] plaintiff’s obligation to provide the ‘grounds’ of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief’ requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955. “The relevant inquiry focuses on the reasonableness of the inference of liability that the plaintiff is asking the court to draw from the facts alleged in the complaint.” Ocasio-Hernandez v. Fortuno-Burset, 640 F.3d 1, 13 (1st Cir. 2011). “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged—but it has not ‘show[n]’—that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)).


1. Failure to State a Claim
*2 C.H. Robinson first contends that the Court should dismiss Plaintiff’s negligence claim because the First Amended Complaint fails to plausibly establish that C.H. Robinson breached any duty owed to Plaintiff. The Court agrees in part and disagrees in part. The complaint identifies three duties that C.H. Robinson allegedly owed Plaintiff: (1) the duty of care “to provide reasonably skillful services in selecting the company charged with the transportation services FlexCon required,” (2) the duty of care “to operate its business in compliance with the rules and regulations promulgated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration,” and (3) the duty of care “to operate its business in compliance with the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act,” 49 U.S.C. §§ 13901, et seq. (Docket No. 46 at 4). It asserts that C.H. Robinson breached these duties by failing to “provide reasonably skillful services in selecting a transportation company on behalf of FlexCon”; failing to “properly investigate TFI Liner’s operations and/or qualifications”; failing to “monitor TFI Liner’s operations and/or qualifications”; failing to “hire, train and supervise competent employees and/or subcontractor”; failing to “warn [Plaintiff] and/or FlexCon of the existence of a dangerous condition with the trailer”; and allowing TFI to act “as a broker in violation of” federal law. (Docket No. 46 at 4–5).

Because none of the failures alleged by Plaintiff bear on C.H. Robinson’s compliance with “the rules and regulations promulgated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration” or the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act,3 the Court agrees that he has not plausibly established breach of the second or third duty. It thus grants the motion to dismiss to the extent Plaintiff’s negligence claim is premised either ground.

The Court declines, however, to dismiss the portion of Plaintiff’s negligence claim premised on breach of the duty of care “to provide reasonably skillful services in selecting the company charged with the transportation services FlexCon required.” Plaintiff alleges that C.H. Robinson failed to investigate TFI’s qualifications, stop TFI from operating as a transportation broker without a license, properly monitor TFI’s operations or supervise its employees, or exercise reasonable care in selecting TFI as a motor carrier for the FlexCon delivery. These allegations, taken as true, plausibly state a claim for negligent hiring.

C.H. Robinson attempts to avoid liability by disputing the existence of the duty alleged by Plaintiff. The Court agrees that C.H. Robinson may not have owed Plaintiff any independent, standalone duty to “provide reasonably skillful services in selecting” a motor carrier. It does not, however, understand the complaint to assert any such duty. As the Court sees it, the duty of care to “provide reasonably skillful services in selecting the company charged with the transportation services FlexCon required” arises from the application of the common law duty to exercise reasonable care to transportation brokers. And while C.H. Robinson appears to suggest that transportation brokers are not subject to the duty to exercise reasonable care, the Court finds this contention unpersuasive. The duty to exercise reasonable care generally applies to all actors, and C.H. Robinson has not offered the Court any convincing reason to depart from the usual practice here.

2. Preemption
C.H. Robinson argues that, even if Plaintiff has stated a claim for negligent hiring, the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 (“FAAAA”), 49 U.S.C. § 14501(c)(1), preempts that claim. The FAAAA preempts any state “law, regulation, or other provision having the force and effect of law related to a price, route, or service of any motor carrier … [or] broker … with respect to the transportation of property.” § 14501(c)(1). A state “law, regulation, or other provision having the force and effect of law” is “related to” a price, route, or service if it has “a connection with or reference to carrier rates, routes, or services, whether directly or indirectly.” Dan’s City Used Cars, Inc. v. Pelkey, 569 U.S. 251, 260, 133 S.Ct. 1769, 185 L.Ed.2d 909 (2013) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). And it is “with respect to the transportation of property” when, among other things, it concerns services related to the movement of property, “including arranging for, receipt, delivery, elevation, transfer in transit, refrigeration, icing, ventilation, storage, handling, packing, unpacking, and interchange of passengers and property.” See 49 U.S.C. § 13102(23) (emphasis added); see also Dan’s City, 569 U.S. at 261, 133 S.Ct. 1769.

*3 Here, Plaintiff’s negligent hiring claim4 is undoubtedly “related to” C.H. Robinson’s services as a transportation broker. It derives from C.H. Robinson’s choice of a motor carrier, “an action which indisputably is a ‘bargained-for or anticipated provision of labor’ from a [transportation] broker.” Finley v. Dyer, No. 18-78, 2018 WL 5284616, at *5 (N. D. Miss. Oct. 24, 2018) (citing 49 U.S.C. § 13102(2)); see also Creagan v. Wal-Mart Transportation, LLC, 354 F. Supp. 3d 808, 813 (N.D. Ohio 2018) (noting that, because a negligent hiring claim against a broker “seeks to enforce a duty of care related to how [the broker] arranged for a motor carrier to transport the shipment (the service), the claim falls squarely within the preemption of the FAAAA”). But see Mann v. C. H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc., No. 16-00102, 2017 WL 3191516, at *7 (W.D. Va. July 27, 2017) (concluding that a negligent hiring claim “does not have anything more than a ‘tenuous, remote, or peripheral’ connection to the ‘price, route, or service’ of a broker”). His claim also indisputably concerns the transportation of property. It is premised on C.H. Robinson’s service of arranging for TFI to move FlexCon’s property, an action which fits squarely within the FAAAA’s definition of “transportation.”

The Court’s analysis, however, does not end at this stage. Congress did not intend the FAAAA to restrict “the preexisting and traditional state police power over safety, ‘a field which the states have traditionally occupied.’ ” City of Columbus v. Ours Garage & Wrecker Serv., Inc., 536 U.S. 424, 426, 122 S.Ct. 2226, 153 L.Ed.2d 430 (2002) (quoting Medtronic, Inc. v. Lohr, 518 U.S. 470, 485, 116 S.Ct. 2240, 135 L.Ed.2d 700 (1996)). In that vein, the FAAAA exempts laws falling within “the safety regulatory authority of a State with respect to motor vehicles” from the scope of its preemption.” Id. § 14501(c)(2)(A). A law falls within the state’s “safety regulatory authority” if it is “genuinely responsive” to safety concerns respecting motor vehicles. See Ours Garage, 536 U.S. at 442, 122 S.Ct. 2226; see also Tillison v. City of San Diego, 406 F.3d 1126, 1129 (9th Cir. 2005); Galactic Towing, Inc. v. City of Miami Beach, 341 F.3d 1249, 1251 (11th Cir. 2003).

Here, Plaintiff’s negligent hiring claim is genuinely responsive to safety concerns respecting motor vehicles and thus falls within the safety regulatory authority of the state. “Historically, common law liability has formed the bedrock of state regulation, and common law tort claims have been described as a critical component of the States’ traditional ability to protect the health and safety of their citizens.” See Finley, 2018 WL 5284616, at *6 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Negligent hiring claims are part of this bedrock, and as applied against transportation brokers, they help to protect citizens from injuries caused by motor vehicles. The imposition of liability ensures that a transportation broker exercises reasonable care in hiring an agent to operate a motor vehicle, i.e., that it does not arrange for a dangerous motor carrier to operate on highways.5 See id.; see also Owens v. Anthony, No. 11-0033, 2011 WL 6056409, at *4 (M.D. Tenn. Dec. 6, 2011). But see Gillum v. High Standard, LLC, No. 19-1378, 2020 WL 444371, at *5 (W.D. Tex. Jan. 27, 2020) (finding that a negligent hiring claim against a transportation broker did not fall within the state’s safety regulatory authority because the broker “did not own or operate any motor vehicle subject to the state’s regulatory authority”); Creagan, 354 F. Supp. 3d at 814 (“Because the negligent hiring claim seeks to impose a duty on the service of the broker rather than regulate motor vehicles, I conclude this claim is not within the safety regulatory authority of the state and the exception does not apply.”). The Court accordingly denies the motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s negligent hiring claim.

*4 For the reasons stated above, the Court grants in part and denies in part C.H. Robinson’s motion to dismiss. (Docket No. 48). The portion of Plaintiff’s negligence claim premised on the breach of the duty to comply with the rules and regulations promulgated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration or the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act is dismissed. The negligent hiring portion of the claim, however, survives this motion.

All Citations
— F.Supp.3d —-, 2020 WL 4736070


The following facts are taken from the Plaintiff’s First Amended Complaint (Docket No. 46) and assumed true for the purposes of this motion.

According to the complaint, C.H. Robinson and TFI operated under an ongoing agreement which required TFI to ensure its drivers were properly trained and licensed; provide and maintain all necessary equipment; and perform all transportation services in full compliance with federal law.

There are factual allegations from which the Court may reasonably infer C.H. Robinson’s complicity in TFI’s violation of federal law—e.g., that C.H. Robinson knew or should have known that TFI operated as a broker without obtaining proper licensure. Plaintiff, however, has not shown that this violation proximately caused his injuries. His injuries arose from the way C.H. Robinson and TFI conducted themselves as brokers, not from TFI’s lack of a license itself.

“State common law counts as an ‘other provision having the force and effect of law.’ ” Non Typical, Inc. v. Transglobal Logistics Grp. Inc., Nos. 10–1058, 11–0156, 2012 WL 1910076, at *2 (E. D. Wis. May 28, 2012) (citing Am. Airlines, Inc. v. Wolens, 513 U.S. 219, 233 n.8, 115 S.Ct. 817, 130 L.Ed.2d 715 (1995); Morales v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 504 U.S. 374, 388, 112 S.Ct. 2031, 119 L.Ed.2d 157 (1992)).

C.H. Robinson highlights that the FAAAA does not impose any requirement on brokers to carry liability insurance for bodily injury resulting from the negligent operation of a motor vehicle. But a negligent hiring claim arises from the broker’s negligence in selecting a motor carrier to operate a motor vehicle, not from the negligent operation of the motor vehicle itself. The absence of any requirement for liability insurance therefore has little bearing on the question before this Court.

Lyons v. Chesapeake Spice Company

2020 WL 4283965

*This is an unreported opinion, and it may not be cited in any paper, brief, motion, or other document filed in this Court or any other Maryland Court as either precedent within the rule of stare decisis or as persuasive authority. Md. Rule 1-104.
Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.
No. 2419, Sept. Term, 2018
Filed: July 27, 2020
Circuit Court for Harford County
Case No. 12-C-18-000255
Meredith, Wright, Graeff, JJ.

Opinion by Graeff, J.

*1 Samuel Lyons, appellant, is a former employee of Chesapeake Spice Company (“Chesapeake Spice”), appellee. On February 8, 2011, Mr. Lyons experienced a work-related injury. After a hearing with the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission (“the Commission”) in April 2013, Mr. Lyons received an initial workers compensation award of 22 percent industrial loss of use of the body, “16 percent due to the accidental injury, 6 percent preexisting.”

Mr. Lyons subsequently filed a Request for Modification of the award, alleging that his disability had increased, and he sought costs for medical expenses. Appellant’s requests were denied, and on September 18, 2019, the Circuit Court for Harford County affirmed the Commission’s 2018 decision finding that appellant had not sustained any worsening of his condition that was causally related to the 2011 injury.

On appeal, appellant presents two questions for this Court’s review,1 which we have consolidated and rephrased, as follows:
Did the Commission err in finding no worsening of condition that were causally connected to the 2011 injury?
For the reasons set forth below, we answer that question in the negative.



Accident and Initial Claim
On February 8, 2011, while Mr. Lyons was driving a tractor trailer as an employee for Chesapeake Spice, he was in an accident. His tractor trailer hit a patch of black ice, causing Mr. Lyons to lose control of it, and the vehicle struck a sign, went through the guardrail, and slid down the embankment. Mr. Lyons sustained injuries to his left knee, left shoulder, neck, and back.2

Due to these injuries, Mr. Lyons sought medical treatment. Dr. Bill Murphy at Harford County Chiropractic, LLC, concluded that Mr. Lyons had:
[L]imited range of motion in the cervical region, with … pain at extreme motions; spasm in the paracervical and trapezius musculature; weakness and pain upon resistance of the left deltoid muscle; adequate strength and pain throughout resistance of the right deltoid muscle; lumbodorsal range of motions were shy of normal, with pain elicited at extreme motion; palpatory evaluation of the thoracic spinal region revealed spasm and tenderness present; examination of the left shoulder revealed tenderness with limited range of motion and pain at extreme motions; and tenderness and selling of the inferior patella of the left knee with limited range of motion and pain experienced at full extension.

On June 3, 2011, Dr. Robert Riederman saw Mr. Lyons for an Independent Medical Evaluation (“IME”). Mr. Lyons, a 52-year-old male, complained of pain in his lower back, left knee, left shoulder, neck, as well as numbness to the left hand and left leg. Dr. Riederman stated in his report that, based on Mr. Lyon’s medical records and history, he “sustained soft tissue injuries and contusions involving his cervical spine, lumbar spine, left shoulder, and left knee” during the accident on February 8, 2011. He concluded that Mr. Lyons had reached maximum medical improvement, he could return to work, and his current subjective symptoms were not causally related to the February injury.3

*2 On March 21, 2012, Dr. Raymond Drapkin conducted an IME of Mr. Lyons. Dr. Drapkin found that Mr. Lyons “sustained a chronic cervical strain, chronic lumbosacral strain, impingement syndrome to his left shoulder, and internal derangement [t]o his left knee.” He concluded that Mr. Lyons had reached “maximum medical improvement.”4

On February 14, 2011, Mr. Lyons filed a claim with the Commission. On November 26, 2012, the first of two hearings, the Commission granted Mr. Lyons temporary total disability for February 9, 2011, through December 21, 2011. Mr. Lyons did not appeal this decision.

The second hearing took place on April 3, 2013. It focused on the causal connection of the accident to Mr. Lyons’ left hip injury and his claim of permanent partial disability.5 The Commissioner made the following rulings:
1. Temporary Total Disability: Paid from February 9, 2011 to December 21, 2011 inclusive; based on average weekly wage of $859.22.
2. Causal Connection: The disability of the claimant’s left hip is not causally related to the accidental injury.
3. Permanent Partial Disability: Under “other cases” amounting to 22% industrial loss of the use of the body, 16% is reasonably attributable to the accidental injury (back, left leg, neck, left shoulder, and left knee) and 6% is due to pre-existing condition (back, left leg); at a rate of $314.00 weekly, beginning December 22, 2011, for a period of 80 weeks.

Mr. Lyons appealed to the Circuit Court for Harford County, arguing that the Commission had incorrectly relied on Chesapeake Spice’s medical expert, Dr. Riederman, who reviewed records for a different Samuel Lyons when making his evaluation. The circuit court found that Dr. Riederman did rely on incorrect medical records, but after he was advised of this mistake, he held the same opinion that Mr. Lyons did not have a permanent partial disability. In any event, the court, although finding that Dr. Riederman was not credible, found that the Commission’s decision was not affected by Dr. Riedeman’s report, and that there was “a factual basis for the Commission to reach a lower rating than the rating [Mr. Lyons’ expert] reached.” On May 16, 2014, the court issued an order affirming the Commission’s decision.


Procedural History Prior to This Case
On June 15, 2015, Mr. Lyons filed with the Commission a Request for Modification of his award, claiming that his injuries had worsened. On October 23, 2015, he amended this request to include his right knee, and on November 30, 2015, Mr. Lyons filed issues for payment of expenses he had incurred resulting from his injuries.

*3 On May 20, 2016, Commissioner Godwin held a hearing on the following issues: (1) Mr. Lyons’ petition to reopen the case because of worsening of the condition; (2) whether the employer or the insurer was entitled to an IME; (3) the causal connection of the treatment; (4) payment of medical expenses; and (5) the causal connection of the right knee.

At the hearing, Chesapeake Spice challenged the causal relationship and reasonableness and necessity of medical treatment. Mr. Lyons said that he had a new evaluation regarding permanent disability, but Chesapeake Spice asserted that Mr. Lyons had not voluntarily submitted to an IME for the company. Mr. Lyons responded that he had “offered a dozen times.” He wanted the IME to take place in Virginia, where he lived, instead of Maryland.6 The Commissioner stated that she would not hear the case on permanent total disability without the IME, but she would hear the other issues. Chesapeake Spice stated that they could proceed on the causal relationship issues, noting that there was nothing in the medical reports that causally related the treatment he had received to the alleged injury.

Mr. Lyons testified that his “injuries continued to get worse,” and he had six procedures on his back, surgery on both knees, and surgery on his shoulder. Mr. Lyons was seeking reimbursement for mileage and co-pays associated with these injuries. He also provided an IME conducted on May 5, 2016, by Dr. Robert Cirincione, which stated that Mr. Lyons had a total industrial loss to the body of 75 percent, and the right knee issues were causally related to Mr. Lyons’ initial accident.7

Chesapeake Spice pointed out that Mr. Lyons fell after the accident, which injured his left shoulder. It also asserted that Mr. Lyons had provided no evidence to indicate that the shoulder surgery, left knee surgery, or right knee surgery were related to the accident.

On June 13, 2016, Commissioner Godwin issued findings that: (1) the right knee was not causally related to the initial injury; (2) Chesapeake Spice was not liable for the co-pays and mileage on January 5 2015, and January 6, 2016, because no medical reports were submitted; and (3) the issue of reopening for worsening was “raised, but not litigated,” and it would not be litigated until Mr. Lyons attended an IME. The Commissioner’s memorandum further stated:
The Commission finds on the issue of causal connection of treatment, that a review of the medical reports submitted by the claimant indicate the treatment is for thoracic and lumbar degenerative disc disease, degenerative joint disease, degenerative tear of the left knee, osteoarthritis of the left knee and left shoulder tendonitis (no tear), all of which are generally due to the aging process. The Commission finds that the claimant failed to present credible medical evidence that these current conditions are causally related to the accident. The Commission finds that the treatment rendered in 2015 and 2016 is not casually connected to the accidental injury.

*4 On June 16, 2016, Mr. Lyons filed with the Commission issues raising the nature and extent of his disability. On October 18, 2016, Commissioner Maureen Quinn held a hearing. Mr. Lyons offered the same medical records that he did before Commissioner Godwin. Commissioner Quinn found that Mr. Lyons had “sustained no increase in permanent partial disability” since his April 3, 2013, award.

Mr. Lyons filed an on-the-record appeal of Commissioner Quinn’s decision to the Circuit Court for Harford County. Chesapeake Spice filed a Motion for Summary Judgment.

On August 17, 2017, the circuit court denied Mr. Lyons’ appeal and granted Chesapeake Spice’s Motion for Summary Judgment. The court found that,
[b]ecause Commissioner Godwin ultimately ruled there was insufficient evidence of the injuries causal relationship to the injury, thus precluding recovery on the issue, the matter brought before Commissioner Quinn on the same theory was basically identical in the evidence it lacked and therefore time barred as a matter of law[.]
The court recommended that, if Mr. Lyons wanted to continue to pursue a claim to modify his permanent partial disability due to a worsening condition, he should seek legal representation.


Procedural History for This Appeal
On December 14, 2017, Mr. Lyons again filed issues with the Commission. He raised issues related to the nature and extent of permanent disability and Chesapeake Spice’s refusal to schedule an IME.

On January 3, 2018, Commissioner Godwin held a hearing. At the hearing, Mr. Lyons claimed permanent disability for the neck, back, left knee, right knee, and left shoulder. Chesapeake Spice contended that, at the hearing in October 2016, before Commissioner Quinn, worsening of condition was litigated. Mr. Lyons agreed that he received no treatment between 2013 and 2015, and it had already been determined that the treatment from 2015 and 2016 was not casually connected to the accident, so Commissioner Quinn found that Mr. Lyons had not sustained any worsening of condition. Chesapeake Spice advised that the circuit court had dismissed the appeal relating to that ruling.

Chesapeake Spice argued that Mr. Lyons had now filed again for worsening of condition, but Mr. Lyons had not provided any new medical records. Chesapeake Spice no longer wanted an IME based on the Commission’s prior ruling determining that medical treatment through May 2016 was not casually connected to the incident.

Mr. Lyons stated that he had received an IME from Dr. Cirincione, which said that Mr. Lyons’ right knee injuries were causally related to the accident. Mr. Lyons stated that his symptoms had gotten worse. He subsequently admitted, however, that there were no new medical records that were not submitted to the Commission prior to the June 2016 decision.

On January 22, 2018, Commissioner Godwin issued an order denying Mr. Lyons’ Petition to Reopen. The ordered stated that Mr. Lyons had “not sustained any worsening which [was] causally related to the accident on February 8, 2011.”

On January 29, 2018, Mr. Lyons appealed this decision to the Circuit Court for Harford County. On August 30, 2018, the court held a hearing. At the hearing, Mr. Lyons asked the court to reverse the Commission’s decision because he felt “it was arbitrary and capricious.” He also asserted that Chesapeake Spice did not present any evidence or provide him the opportunity to comply with its request for an IME. Chesapeake Spice responded that, because the Commission already had “determined the treatment he got in 2015 on is not related, and he didn’t have any treatment between 2013 and 2015,” there was no need for an IME. Chesapeake Spice also contended that the circuit court had previously dismissed the appeal from the prior conclusion that there was no causally related worsening of condition and granted summary judgment for Chesapeake Spice. Mr. Lyons presented no new evidence.

*5 On September 17, 2018, the court issued a memorandum opinion affirming the Commission’s decision. The court noted that, at the 2018 hearing, Mr. Lyons presented the same medical reports as he did at the May 2016 hearings and the 2017 hearing.

The court noted that Mr. Lyons did not appeal Commissioner Godwin’s 2016 decision that there was no causation associated with his right knee and that the treatment for his spine and left knee and shoulder was not causally related to the 2011 accident. Appellant, therefore, had not preserved the argument that an IME from the employer was necessary to reach that conclusion. The court ultimately held that Mr. Lyons’ claim was barred by res judicata, collateral estoppel, and the law of the case doctrine.

This appeal followed.

Judicial review of an administrative decision “generally is a ‘narrow and highly deferential inquiry.’ ” Seminary Galleria, LLC v. Dulaney Valley Improvement Ass’n, 192 Md. App. 719, 733 (2010) (quoting Md.-Nat’l Park & Planning Comm’n v. Greater Baden-Aquasco Citizens Ass’n, 412 Md. 73, 83 (2009)). This Court looks “through the circuit court’s decision and evaluates the decision of the agency,” Chesapeake Bay Found., Inc. v. Clickner, 192 Md. App. 172, 181 (2010), “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.” Cosby v. Dep’t of Human Res., 425 Md. 629, 638 (2012) (quoting Bd. of Phys. Quality Assurance v. Banks, 354 Md. 59, 67–68 (1999)).

With respect to the agency’s factual findings, we apply the substantial evidence test, which “requires us to affirm an agency decision, if, after reviewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the agency, we find a reasoning mind reasonably could have reached the factual conclusion the agency reached.” Miller v. City of Annapolis Historic Pres. Comm’n, 200 Md. App. 612, 632 (2011) (quoting Montgomery County v. Longo, 187 Md. App. 25, 49, cert. denied, 411 Md. 357 (2009)). Accord Comm’r of Labor and Indus. v. Bethlehem Steel Corp., 344 Md. 17, 24 (1996). In applying the substantial evidence test, this Court “may not substitute its judgment on the question whether the inference drawn is the right one or whether a different inference would be better supported. The test is reasonableness, not rightness.” Alviani v. Dixon, 365 Md. 95, 108 (2001) (quoting Mayor and Aldermen of City of Annapolis v. Annapolis Waterfront Co., 284 Md. 383, 399 (1979)).

When reviewing an agency’s conclusions of law, we “must determine whether the agency interpreted and applied the correct principles of law governing the case and no deference is given to a decision based solely on an error of law.” Bd. of Dental Exam’rs v. Tabb, 199 Md. App. 352, 373 (2011) (quoting Solomon v. Bd. of Phys. Quality Assurance, 155 Md. App. 687, 696–97 (2003), cert. denied, 381 Md. 676 (2004)). Although a “certain amount of deference may be afforded when the agency is interpreting or applying the statute the agency itself administers,” Emps’ Ret. Sys. of City of Balt. v. Dorsey, 430 Md. 100, 111 (2013), “[w]e are under no constraint … ‘to affirm an agency decision premised solely upon an erroneous conclusion of law,’ ” Thomas v. State Ret. & Pension Sys. of Maryland, 420 Md. 45, 54–55 (2011) (quoting Ins. Comm’r v. Engelman, 345 Md. 402, 411 (1997)). Thus, we review legal conclusions de novo for correctness. Colburn v. Dep’t of Pub. Safety & Corr. Servs, 403 Md. 115, 127–28 (2008) (quoting Schwartz v. Md. Dep’t of Nat’l Res., 385 Md. 534, 554 (2005)) (“[I]t is always within our prerogative to determine whether an agency’s conclusions of law are correct, and to remedy them if wrong.”).

*6 As long as an administrative decision does not exceed the agency’s authority, is not unlawful, and is supported by competent, material and substantial evidence, a reviewing court may not reverse or modify the decision unless the action was “so extreme and egregious” as to render it “arbitrary and capricious.” Harvey v. Marshall, 389 Md. 243, 300 (2005) (emphasis omitted) (quoting Md. Transp. Authority v. King, 369 Md. 274, 291 (2002)). If the agency’s actions are “reasonably or rationally motivated,” this Court will not reverse the decision as “arbitrary or capricious.” Id. at 299.

For an on-the-record review, such as this one, “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.” Bd. of Ed. for Montgomery Cty. v. Spradlin, 161 Md. App. 155, 170 (2005).

Mr. Lyons contends that the Commission erred in finding no causal connection between his accident and his current condition when Chesapeake Spice did not submit an IME challenging his claim. Chesapeake Spice contends that, based on the evidence, including Mr. Lyons’ treating physician’s determination that the treatment after 2011 was not the result of the 2011 injury, the Commission properly found that there was no worsening of Mr. Lyons’ disability. Moreover, Chesapeake Spice asserts that Mr. Lyons’ claim is barred by the law of the case doctrine and collateral estoppel. We agree with Chesapeake Spice that the claim is barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel.

In Maryland, the doctrine of collateral estoppel has four elements:
1. Was the issue decided in the prior adjudication identical with the one presented in the action in question?
2. Was there a final judgment on the merits?
3. Was the party against whom the plea is asserted a party or in privity with a party to the prior adjudication?
4. Was the party against whom the plea is asserted given a fair opportunity to be heard on the issue?
Cosby v. Dep’t of Human Res., 425 Md. 629, 639 (2012) (quoting Colandrea v. Wilde Lake Cmty. Ass’n, 361 Md. 371, 391 (2000)).

Here, each element of the four-part test is met. With respect to the first element, the issue presented here, whether there was a causal connection between the 2011 accident and Mr. Lyons’ current condition, is the same claim rejected on prior occasions. Initially, the May 2016 Commission proceeding ended with Commissioner Godwin’s finding that Mr. Lyons failed to show that the treatment he received in 2015 and 2016 was causally connected to the accidental injury. This finding was based on Commissioner Godwin’s conclusion that the medical records presented showed that the problems Mr. Lyons was experiencing were “generally due to the aging process.” Mr. Lyons again filed issues challenging the nature and extent of his disability, and on October 20, 2016, after a hearing where no new evidence was offered, Commissioner Quinn found that Mr. Lyons had not shown any increase in permanent partial disability, a finding that the circuit court affirmed. On January 22, 2018, in the context of these two previous rulings, and no new evidence, Commissioner Godwin again addressed the same issues and found that Mr. Lyons had “not sustained any worsening which [was] causally related to the accident on February 8, 2011.” Thus, the first element of the doctrine of collateral estoppel has been satisfied.

*7 With respect to the other elements, there was a final judgment on the merits—a grant of summary judgment by the circuit court after the July 2017 hearing. See Stuples v. Balt. City Police Dep’t, 119 Md. App. 221, 242, cert. denied, 349 Md. 495 (1998) (“[W]hen a circuit court sits in an appellate capacity to review a decision of an administrative agency … that action by the circuit court is now deemed to be an appealable final order.”). Moreover, the parties in the hearings were the same, so the privity prong is satisfied. Finally, Mr. Lyons had a fair opportunity to be heard on the issues. Each time that he filed issues with the Commission, he had a hearing, he had the opportunity to present evidence, and he chose to provide the same evidence for every hearing. Accordingly, all the elements for a claim to be barred by collateral estoppel are applicable here. Commissioner Godwin properly denied Mr. Lyons’ 2018 claim, and the circuit court properly affirmed this ruling.


All Citations
Not Reported in Atl. Rptr., 2020 WL 4283965


Appellant presented the following two questions:
1. Did the Circuit Court err in upholding the Workers’ Compensation Commission’s decision denying causal connection and worsening of conditions when there was no evidence presented to reach the decision rendered?
2. Is the appellant entitled to Permanent Total Disability?

Mr. Lyons never returned to his job as a truck driver.

In making his initial report, Dr. Riederman incorrectly relied on some medical records that were for a different Samuel Lyons, but when he was made aware of this issue, Dr. Riederman still held the same opinion. Dr. Riederman reviewed his evaluation three separate times: June 8, 2011, August 19, 2011, and May 4, 2012. He never changed his opinion.

Dr. Drapkin found that Mr. Lyons had a 21 percent permanent impairment to his cervical spine, 25 percent permanent impairment to his left shoulder, 20 percent permanent impairment to his left knee, and 26 permanent impairment to his lumbar spine.

There are four types of disability benefits: temporary partial disability (“temporary in duration and partial in extent”), temporary total disability (“temporary in duration but total in extent”), permanent partial disability (“permanent in duration and partial in extent”), and permanent total disability (“permanent in duration and total in extent”). Phuonglan Ngo v. CVS, Inc., 214 Md. App. 406, 415 (2013) (quoting Wal Mart Stores, Inc. v. Holmes, 416 Md. 346, 353–54 n.2 (2010)), cert. denied, 436 Md. 502 (2014).

Mr. Lyons provided several letters he had sent attempting to schedule an IME with Chesapeake Spice. He stated in the letters that he required special transportation. Chesapeake Spice stated that it submitted documentation from the IME vendor offering transportation, and Mr. Lyons refused. Mr. Lyons claimed that was because the provided transportation was not the van he required.

Dr. Cirincione stated that Mr. Lyons had been awarded total disability by the Social Security Administration.

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