MURPHY, Chief Judge.
This tort case concerns a claim for money damages to recover for emotional injuries allegedly sustained solely as a result of negligently inflicted damage to the plaintiffs' residential property.
Scheller M. Dobbins and Mildred H. Dobbins, husband and wife, filed the complaint in this case in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County after their home was flooded on two occasions as a result of a water main break. They alleged trespass, negligence, and loss of consortium, and sought recovery for property damage and "personal injury."
According to the complaint, on January 16, 1988, a water pipe, which was under the control of Defendant Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), broke; it released a large amount of water onto the property owned and occupied by the Dobbinses in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and caused their basement to leak. On September 29, 1989, another pipe, also under the control of WSSC, broke, and again released large amounts of water onto the Dobbinses' property and flooded their basement. The Dobbinses alleged that on this occasion "[t]he great quantity of water caused the entire basement floor to heave itself upwards lifting the entire structure above it and causing structural damage to their home."
The Dobbinses maintained that WSSC knew or should have known that their pipes could break and would thereby release large amounts of water onto surrounding property. WSSC was negligent, the Dobbinses alleged, by continuing to use the water pipes "without repairing, replacing, reinforcing or appropriately inspecting the mains and connections."
The Dobbinses claimed that
They alleged that this injury to Ms. Dobbins had caused harm to their marital relationship and therefore they sought damages for loss of consortium. They also claimed damages to their property, which claim has since been settled.
WSSC answered, generally denying liability and asserting various defenses, including failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Later, WSSC filed a motion for summary judgment, submitting with it a portion of the deposition of Mildred Dobbins. In the deposition, Ms. Dobbins made clear that the flooding had not directly injured her in any physical way. She stated that she did not go down into the flooded basement but, rather, "stayed upstairs." Consequently, her "personal injury" claim consists entirely of emotional injuries, which caused some physical problems. She also conceded that WSSC did not damage her house because of any personal animosity toward her.
The Dobbinses, in response to the motion for summary judgment, submitted a letter from Dr. Paul A. Silver, Ms. Dobbins' psychiatrist, in which he documented her emotional problems and stated that Ms. Dobbins' "depression started following the water main breaks in 1988 and it is clear that these were the precipitant for her psychiatric, as well as several medical problems."
After a hearing, Judge S. Michael Pincus denied the motion for summary judgment. He recognized that the proper inquiry was "whether or not [the injury] is the natural and expected result of the tortious conduct." He stated, however, that the trend of the cases was away from a bright-line rule barring recovery for emotional distress resulting from property damage, and toward a case-by-case inquiry into the natural and expected result of the defendant's particular conduct. He, therefore, concluded that the jury should decide whether Ms. Dobbins' emotional damages were the natural and expected result of the defendant's alleged negligence.
The county administrative judge subsequently referred the case to Judge James L. Ryan for a settlement conference. Judge Ryan reconsidered the motion for summary judgment and decided to grant it, stating that he believed "the Plaintiffs have no cause of action against the Defendant." He further stated: "It appears that some emotional problems have developed with the Plaintiff or Plaintiffs, but by law the Plaintiffs' claims for mental anguish and emotional upset and distress cannot be chargeable to the Defendant in this case." Accordingly, on May 2, 1994, Judge Ryan granted WSSC's motion for summary judgment.
The Dobbinses appealed to the Court of Special Appeals. Prior to that court's consideration of the case, we, on our own motion, issued a writ of certiorari to consider the important issues raised in the case.
Maryland Rule 2-501(e) provides that a court may grant a motion for summary judgment "in favor of or against the moving party if the motion and response show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the party in whose favor judgment is entered is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." In considering a motion for summary judgment, the trial court does not determine any disputed facts, but instead rules on the motion as a matter of law. Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. v. Lane, 338 Md. 34, 43, 656 A.2d 307 (1995); Southland Corp. v. Griffith, 332 Md. 704, 712, 633 A.2d 84 (1993); Beatty v. Trailmaster Products, Inc., 330 Md. 726, 737, 625 A.2d 1005 (1993). The court views the facts, including all inferences, in the light most favorable to the party against whom the court grants the judgment. Beard v. American Agency, 314 Md. 235, 246, 550 A.2d 677 (1988); Kramer v. Bally's Park Place, 311 Md. 387, 389, 535 A.2d 466 (1988); Liscombe v. Potomac Edison Co., 303 Md. 619, 621-22, 495 A.2d 838 (1985). In reviewing the trial court's decision, therefore, we must determine whether the court was legally correct to grant summary judgment. E.g., Baltimore Gas, supra, 338 Md. at 43, 656 A.2d 307; Southland, supra, 332 Md. at 712, 633 A.2d 84.
We have held that a plaintiff ordinarily cannot recover for emotional injury caused by witnessing or learning of negligently inflicted injury to the plaintiff's property. State v. Baltimore Transit Co., 197 Md. 528, 80 A.2d 13 (1951). See also Zeigler v. F Street Corp., 248 Md. 223, 235 A.2d 703 (1967). In Zeigler, although we followed this general rule, we nevertheless suggested that the plaintiff might have recovered if she had alleged that "the personal safety of the decedent was put in jeopardy." Id. at 226, 235 A.2d 703.
The Dobbinses, therefore, ask us to reconsider the rule we adopted in Baltimore Transit, supra, in light of Belcher v. T. Rowe Price, 329 Md. 709, 621 A.2d 872 (1993). They argue that Belcher signals a trend toward permitting juries to decide the issue of recovery for emotional injuries, instead of denying recovery as a matter of law. They suggest that recovery for emotional injuries should be limited only by a proximate cause analysis involving a fact-specific inquiry into the foreseeability of the harm. They further contend that Belcher somehow precludes WSSC from claiming that Ms. Dobbins' emotional injuries were unforeseeable. WSSC, on the other hand, argues that Baltimore Transit controls the resolution of this case, along with the more recent reaffirmation of its holding in Zeigler and that the Belcher decision does nothing to change that result.
We have advanced two separate theories under which we have limited recovery for emotional distress. First, motivated by a concern over feigned claims, we adopted the so called "physical impact" rule and later the "physical injury" rule. Under the "physical impact" rule, which we followed in Maryland until our decision in Green v. Shoemaker, 111 Md. 69, 73 A. 688 (1909), a plaintiff could not recover for emotional distress unless "there was physical impact upon the plaintiff coincident in time and place with the occasion producing the mental distress." See Vance v. Vance, 286 Md. 490, 496-97, 408 A.2d 728 (1979). When we rejected the "physical impact" rule in Green, we adopted the "physical injury" rule, which "permitted recovery for negligent infliction of mental distress if a `physical injury' results from the commission of a tort, regardless of impact." See Vance, supra, 286 Md. at 497, 408 A.2d 728. Then, in Bowman v. Williams, 164 Md. 397, 165 A. 182 (1933), we said that physical injury could be "manifested by an external condition or by symptoms clearly indicative of a resultant pathological, physiological, or mental state." Id. at 404, 165 A. 182. Later, in Vance, supra, we stated:
Id. at 500, 408 A.2d 728.
In Belcher, supra, we noted that the "physical injury" rule had dispelled "the fear that the right to damages for emotional distress would open the floodgates to feigned claims." Id. at 734, 621 A.2d 872. We further stated: "Vance adequately answered the troubling basic policy issues surrounding the definition of the limits of liability for negligently inflicted emotional harm by requiring that such harm be capable of objective determination. Such an objective determination provides reasonable assurance that the claim is not spurious." Id. at 735, 621 A.2d 872.
A second and separately viable theory under which we have limited recovery for emotional injuries is based on the rules concerning foreseeability of harm, which courts have used both "in determining the existence of a duty owed to the Plaintiff [and] in resolving the issue of proximate cause." Henley v. Prince George's County, 305 Md. 320, 333, 503 A.2d 1333 (1986). We have explained that the foreseeability rules exist "to avoid liability for unreasonably remote consequences." Id. at 333, 503 A.2d 1333. Further, we have stated:
Id. at 334, 503 A.2d 1333.
In this context, we have distinguished the duty inquiry from the proximate cause inquiry. In Henley, supra, 305 Md. at 336, 503 A.2d 1333, we said: "Foreseeability as a factor in the determination of the existence of a duty involves a prospective consideration of the facts existing at the time of the negligent conduct. Foreseeability as an element of proximate cause permits a retrospective consideration of the total facts of the occurrence...." See also Stone v. Chicago Title Ins., 330 Md. 329, 338, 624 A.2d 496 (quoting Henley).
We applied the foreseeability analysis in Baltimore Transit, supra. In that case, the plaintiff's decedent, Aronoff, was installing large glass windows into a shop in Baltimore. His truck, loaded with plate glass, was parked along the street. As he was working, he saw a street car collide with his truck. The collision shattered the plate glass on the truck and caused much noise, excitement, and confusion. Aronoff "was greatly shocked and frightened, and sustained a severe nervous upset and emotional strain, precipitating a heart attack from which he died in about an hour thereafter...." Id. at 531, 80 A.2d 13. After reviewing numerous cases, we determined that
Id. at 539, 80 A.2d 13 (quoting Baltimore City Passenger R. Co. v. Kemp, 61 Md. 74, 81 (1883) and Green, supra, 111 Md. at 81, 73 A. 688). The first part of this test is retrospective — a question of proximate cause — while the second part is prospective — a question of duty. We held that Aronoff's emotional injury, viewed either way, was highly extraordinary. Specifically, we stated that the injury was "an unusual and extraordinary result" and that it should not "have been contemplated as a natural and probable consequence" of the defendant's negligence. Id. at 540, 80 A.2d 13. Thus, we adopted the rule that "[u]nder ordinary circumstances there can be no recovery for mental anguish suffered by plaintiff in connection with an injury to his property." Id. at 539, 80 A.2d 13. We later applied the rule in Zeigler, supra, 248 Md. at 226, 235 A.2d 703.
It was this rule upon which Judge Ryan based his decision to grant summary judgment. It was not based on the "physical injury" rule or any concern that Ms. Dobbins' emotional injuries may have been feigned. He seemed to accept the fact that Ms. Dobbins had developed "some emotional problems," in light of the letter from her psychiatrist that provided objective evidence of her emotional injuries. Yet, the court stated that "by law the Plaintiffs' claims for mental anguish and emotional upset and distress cannot be chargeable to the Defendant in this case." (Emphasis added).
The Dobbinses now invite us to abandon the rule in light of Belcher, supra, pointing to the following paragraph:
Id. at 735-36, 621 A.2d 872. Clearly, however, these comments referred only to the trend toward liberalizing the "physical injury" rule. We did not in any way signal a relaxation of the foreseeability rules relating to duty and proximate cause, which formed the basis of the Baltimore Transit rule. Indeed, we reaffirm the conclusions reached in Baltimore Transit that (1) ordinarily, emotional injuries are not the "consequences that ensue in the ordinary and natural course of events" from negligently inflicted property damage and (2) such injuries should not be contemplated, in light of all the circumstances, "as a natural and probable consequence" of a negligently inflicted injury to property.
JUDGMENT AFFIRMED, WITH COSTS.