MTA v. MTA POLICE
21 A.3d 1098 (2011)
Court of Appeals of Maryland.
June 20, 2011.
Without more, the Agreement concludes that the take-home vehicle program "will be essentially the program outlined in the [N]otebook prepared by the MdTA, in conformance with all laws and regulations." The referenced Notebook was approximately 400 pages in length.
According to the FOP's complaint, "[o]n 20 April 2006, the [MdTA] Board held a meeting where the members unanimously approved the plan to implement, over a three[-]year period, a police vehicle take[-]home program for sworn [MdTA] police personnel in exchange for withdrawal of [the] bills...." The governing body of the MdTA "consists of" the Secretary of the Transportation Department as ex officio chairman and eight other members appointed by the Governor. Maryland Code (2001, 2008 Repl.Vol., 2009 Supp.), Transportation Article ("Transp."), § 4-202(a)-(b). For its part under the Agreement, the FOP entreated successfully Delegate Steven DeBoy, Jr. and Senator John Gianetti, Jr., the bills' respective sponsors, to withdraw their collective bargaining bills. According to the FOP, thereafter, the MdTA "undertook steps to implement the [THV] program," "includ[ing] ordering an initial 25 cars, which the MdTA successfully purchased and delivered, and marketing the [THV] program to prospective recruits as an incentive for joining the MdTA force." The FOP noted several benefits from the adoption of the THV program, including that it would lead to an increased police street-presence. The briefs filed with this Court, the content of oral argument, and a review of the Notebook, however, make clear that the primary value of the THV program was as a non-monetary benefit for new and current officers.
In 2006, Governor O'Malley was victorious in the gubernatorial election. A few months after his administration assumed control of the Executive Branch, a newly-configured MdTA Board voted to discontinue the MdTA take-home vehicle program. On 29 June 2007, a day after that vote, the FOP filed a complaint in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County for breach of contract and promissory estoppel.3 Over the course of the proceedings in the trial court, the FOP amended its
complaint twice, without material change impacting the issues before us now.
The MdTA filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that (1) the Agreement was unenforceable as too indefinite and (2) against public policy.4 Under the "public policy" contention, the MdTA posited that the Agreement is void as violative of (a) legislative ethics, (b) delegated powers and sovereign immunity, (c) procurement laws, and (d) collective bargaining laws. Moreover, the MdTA averred that promissory estoppel may not be maintained against a State agency, and, alternatively, the FOP neither satisfied the elements of promissory estoppel nor overcame the same barriers (i.e., indefiniteness and public policy) that rendered the Agreement unenforceable otherwise. The FOP responded that the Agreement was clear and definite and that it did not run counter to public policy. The FOP attempted also to distinguish cases the MdTA cited for the proposition that an action for promissory estoppel may not lie against a State agency or unit. According to the FOP, reliance, in this case, was not only reasonable, but also carried consequences.
The Circuit Court agreed ultimately with the MdTA. In granting the MdTA's motion to dismiss, the Circuit Court stated that:
It is up to [Executive] Secretary Kittleman to make sure that what she's doing on behalf of the Maryland Department of Transportation is lawful and legal. And in this case, it's not even close....
It appears to be some sort of executive hubris that ["]I'm the Secretary—I can do whatever I want to do. I'm not subject to the laws of the State like everyone else in the State government...."