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American Recovery Co. v. Department of Health & Mental Hygiene

Citation: 17 ELR 20247
No. No. 116, 506 A.2d 1171/306 Md. 12, (Md., 04/04/1986)

The court rules that a civil penalty may be assessed for a violation of Maryland's hazardous waste laws without a showing of actual harm to the environment. The court initially holds that an amendment, inserting the words "potential for harm" as one of the considerations to be applied in penalty assessment, subsequent to the imposition of penalties against the American Recovery Co. (ARC), is not controlling as to the meaning of the law prior to its amendment. The court holds that the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) may assess penalties under the preamended law without a showing of actual harm to the environment since a stated goal of the law was to prevent pollution. The court then holds that DHMH must prove the existence of the violations in the agency's administrative hearing, and neither the fact that the language of the charging documents was mirrored in the agency's final decision, nor that the same official signed both the charging documents and the final decision indicated that DHMH had prejudged the case or denied ARC due process. The court further holds that the hearing examiner considered the relevant statutory criteria by including the specific findings of fact in the final decision, and that this provided a sufficient basis for meaningful judicial review. The court next holds that prior to the rendering of a final decision, DHMH is permitted to seek an increase in the amount of the civil penalty over that initially recommended by the hearing examiner, as a response to ARC's filing exceptions to the examiner's decision. The court finally holds that testimony of DHMH's Assistant Secretary before a congressional committee regarding the violations at issue in the instant case only indicates that the Assistant Secretary had knowledge of the facts underlying the initial assessments, and had not prejudged the facts in advance of the hearing.

Counsel for Appellant
Warren K. Rich
Niles, Barton & Wilmer
929 N. Howard St., Baltimore MD 21201
(301) 539-3240

Counsel for Appellee
James J. Lyko, Ass't Attorney General
Dept. of Law, 7 N. Calvert St., Baltimore MD 21202
(301) 576-6300

Argued before MURPHY, C.J., SMITH, ELDRIDGE, COLE, RODOWSKY, JJ., and CHARLES E. ORTH, Jr., Associate Judge of the Court of Appeals of Maryland (retired) and THEODORE G. BLOOM, Associate Judge of the Court of Special Appeals, Specially Assigned.