Prince George’s Case Addresses What Constitutes “Claim” Under LGTCA

A recent unreported Maryland Court of Special Appeals holding, Prince George’s County v. Troublefield (August 15, 2017), examined what constitutes a “claim” under the Local Government Tort Claims Act (LGTCA).* Prince George’s County had appealed a lower court jury award to Troublefield against the County based on the actions of two County police officers. The County maintained that Troublefield had only asserted “one set of aggregate operative facts” (i.e., one claim subject to LGTCA damage caps) while Troublefield argued that since each police officer was found liable under separate legal theories, they constituted separate claims, each with its own damage cap. The Court ultimately found that the claims were not separate but based on one set of facts and that Troublefield’s entire judgment was limited under the LGTCA damage cap as a single claim.

From the opinion:

This case presents us with an opportunity to interpret the Local Government Tort Claims Act (the “Act”), which contains limits for recovery associated with “individual claim” and the “same occurrence”: “[T]he liability of a local government may not exceed $200,000 per individual claim, and $500,000 per total claims that arise from the same occurrence . . . .” Section 5-303(a) of the Act. In the present case, the issue is queued up by the awards, after a jury trial, of $250,000 against Officer John Paddy of the Prince George’s County Police Department (which was subsequently vacated), and $350,000 against Officer Philchrist Tossou, Appellant, of the Prince George’s County Police Department, for having committed a battery, initiating a malicious prosecution, initiating a false arrest, committing false imprisonment, and violations of Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, as well as against Prince George’s County, also an Appellant, for acts that occurred when Erskine Troublefield, Appellee, was arrested on July 11, 2012. …

In the present case, Mr. Troublefield has alleged only “one set of aggregate, operative facts,” amounting to one “individual claim” under the Act, regardless of whether he asserted “[d]ifferent legal theories for the same recovery” against multiple officers acting in concert. See Beall v. Halloway-Johnson, 446 Md. 48, 70 (2016). Although Mr. Troublefield asserted multiple causes of action, they all arose from the same set of facts, and, as a result, his recovery is limited to the individual claim amount of $200,000 against the County.

*Note: Per Maryland Rule 1-104, unreported opinions may not be cited in any paper, brief, motion, or other document filed in a Maryland Court as precedent or persuasive authority. However, unreported opinions can offer some indication of a Court’s mindset towards a particular subject or issue.