Friday, July 29, 2022

Cosa Makes Clear That “Definite Proof” In WCC Hernia Claims Refer To The Quality Of Evidence And Not A Heightened Standard Of Proof

    The Court of Special Appeals (“COSA”) recently issued a reported opinion discussing the “definite proof” requirement found in Section 9-504 of the Maryland Labor and Employment Article. Section 9-504 of the Maryland Labor and Employment Article requires an employer to provide compensation to a covered employee for a hernia arising in the course of employment if the employee provides “definite proof” that satisfies the Workers’ Compensation Commission (“WCC”) that: (1) the hernia did not exist before or as a result of injury or strain a preexisting hernia has become so aggravated, incarcerated, or strangulated that an immediate operation is needed, and (2) notwithstanding any other provision of the title about notice, the injury is reported to the employer within forty-five (45) days of the occurrence.

    This case arose in September 2019 when a UPS employee sustained a hernia injury while working in the course of his employment. The employee notified UPS of the injury the following day, and over the following months, the employee met with doctors and eventually had surgery to repair the hernia in November 2019. In February 2020, a hearing was held before the WCC, after which the WCC found the employee sustained an accidental injury arising out of the course of employment, the disability of the employee’s hernia is the result of the accident injury, and the employee was temporarily totally disabled from September 2019 to January 2020. As a result, UPS and its insurer had to pay causally related medical expenses and weekly pay. UPS and the insurer subsequently appealed the WCC decision to the Circuit Court for Howard County, where an “on-the-record” hearing was held in August 2020. The circuit court affirmed the WCC decision. UPS and insurer thereafter appealed to the Court of Special Appeals, where they argued, among other things, that the WCC and circuit court erred in applying a preponderance of the evidence standard to the “definite proof” requirement in § 9-504.

    COSA began its analysis with the plain language of the statute. Finding that the statute does not expressly or implicitly equate “definite proof” with any standard of proof, it reasoned that if the Maryland Legislature had wanted a heightened standard, it would have done so expressly. COSA then proceeded into Maryland case law on the issue and found that the Court of Appeals never made reference to any new or stricter standard, but rather its analyses in the cases focused on the lack of certainty in the proof provided. Last, COSA looked to neighboring jurisdictions with similar statutes and found that, similar to Maryland, these jurisdiction’s case law never equated “definite proof” to a higher standard of proof. Based on its entire review, COSA held that the language of the statute is clear and that the term “definite proof” refers to the quality of evidence and does not constitute a standard of proof.

    While this case makes clear there is no heightened standard similar to that of a clear and convincing standard, it should put practitioners on notice of the need to have clear and credible evidence that can sufficiently satisfy Section 9-504’s requirements.

                    --Bryan P. Cleary, Associate

Monday, July 25, 2022

Congratulations to Associate Logan Hayes on her recent trial win in the District Court for Prince George’s County!

Ms. Hayes successfully defended an aquarium tank company in a product liability case. Plaintiff alleged that his 500-gallon aquarium tank had developed a leak due to a product defect, resulting in damage to his home. At trial, after Plaintiff rested his case, Ms. Hayes moved for judgment in favor of her client. Using applicable case law and relevant statutes, she argued that Plaintiff failed to prove his claims of breach of implied warranty of merchantability, breach of implied warranty for fitness for a particular purpose, and negligence. The court agreed, finding that Plaintiff had not met his burden in proving any of his claims, and entered a judgment in Ms. Hayes’ client’s favor.

Congratulations to Ms. Hayes on this outcome!

Monday, July 11, 2022

The Supreme Court’s Prescription for the United States: Implications of Ruan v. United States

         Amongst the recent release of controversial opinions, the Supreme Court issued an opinion that opioid “pill mill” doctors cannot be convicted under the Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”) without a finding of subjective mens rea. The CSA makes it unlawful for any person “knowingly or intentionally…to manufacture, distribute, or dispense…a controlled substance.” Registered doctors, however, a permitted to dispense controlled substances via prescription, so long as the prescription is “issued for a legitimate medical purpose…acting in the usual course of his/her professional practice.”

        Petitioners Dr. Xiulu Ruan and Dr. Shakeel Kahn were both individually indicted and convicted of violating 21 U.S.C. § 841, also known as the CSA. Dr. Ruan was accused of improperly issuing more than 300,000 prescriptions for controlled substances over a four-year period, being a top prescriber in the nation for a type of fentanyl, and linking his prescribing practices to his own financial interests. On the other hand, Dr. Kahn was accused of selling controlled substances in exchange for cash without performing any physical or legitimate exam. While both physicians appear to have violated the CSA, the Supreme Court was tasked with reviewing the physician’s state of mind in their unlawful prescribing practices.

        The government argued heavily for an objective mens rea standard, stating that the statute’s “knowingly or intentionally” language contains an implicit “objectively reasonable good-faith effort” or “object honest-effort standard.” The Court rejected this argument and held that in order to convict a doctor for violating § 841, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew that they were acting in an unauthorized manner or intended to do so. Had the Court sided with the government, a defendant’s criminal liability would turn on the mental state of a hypothetical “reasonable” doctor, rather than on the mental state of the actual defendant.

        With this decision, pill mill doctors are not off the hook, but rather, charged physicians face higher scrutiny from jurors when brought to court. Considering the lengthy sentences that follow a violation of the CSA, the clarification of the appropriate standard is critical to the proper prosecution of such violations and administration of justice. However, the objective hypothetical of a “reasonable” person makes frequent appearances in criminal law. In cases where a defendant is charged with involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide, or assault, the defendant’s criminal liability rests heavily on an objective standard that the Supreme Court has now taken a step away from. The Supreme Court’s decision may influence how defense attorneys argue their client’s mens rea in crimes where reasonableness is the standard. If these newly founded arguments succeed, the stability of criminal definitions and statutory elements may be in jeopardy. While all nine justices considered the policy reasons behind implementing a subjective mens rea standard, their limited focus to CSA violations may prove disruptive to the entire criminal legal field.  

-- Faith Zellman, Law Clerk