The issue this case presents is whether the decision of a divided Court, in Total Audio-Visual Systems, Inc. v. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, 360 Md. 387, 758 A.2d 124 (2000), should be reconsidered and overruled. Having granted the petition for certiorari filed by Patrick M. Plein, the appellant, while the appeal was pending in the Court of Special Appeals, see 367 Md. 722, 790 A.2d 673, 2002 Md. LEXIS 55 (2002), and considered the arguments presented at oral argument, we decline the invitation, joined in by the appellee, Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, which argues, consistent with its position in that case, that Total Audio-Visual was wrongly decided, to overrule that decision and, instead, reaffirm it.
In Total Audio-Visual, this Court considered "whether, under the Labor and Employment Article, an employee is entitled to unemployment benefits on the basis of his or her employment with a previous employer where that employee voluntarily resigned a permanent and satisfactory job with that previous employer in order to take a job with another employer," 360 Md. at 390, 758 A.2d at 125, concluding that, under the circumstances of that case, the employee was not. Id. That conclusion was dictated by our interpretation of Maryland Ann.Code Lab. & Empl.
Section 8-1001, in its entirety, provides:
(i) the conditions of employment; or
(ii) the actions of the employing unit; or
(2) an individual:
(i) is laid off from employment through no fault of the individual;
(ii) obtains subsequent employment that pays weekly wages that total less than 50% of the weekly wage earned in the employment from which the individual was laid off; and
(iii) leaves the subsequent employment to attend a training program for which the individual has been chosen that:
1. is offered under the Maryland Job Training Partnership Act; or
2. otherwise is approved by the Secretary.
(i) a substantial cause that is directly attributable to, arising from, or connected with conditions of employment or actions of the employing unit; or
(ii) of such necessitous or compelling nature that the individual has no reasonable alternative other than leaving the employment.
(2) For determination of the application of paragraph (1)(ii) of this subsection to an individual who leaves employment because of the health of the individual or another for whom the individual must care, the individual shall submit a written statement or other documentary evidence of the health problem from a hospital or physician.
(1) to become self-employed;
(2) to accompany a spouse to a new location or to join a spouse in a new location; or
(3) to attend an educational institution"
Noting that § 8-1001(b) was the applicable section because it was there that the Legislature defined "good cause" in terms of two permitted and definitive findings, 360 Md. at 397, 758 A.2d at 130, and the rules of statutory construction that we determined to be relevant, id. at 395, 758 A.2d at 128, we concluded that "[a] plain reading of § 8-1001 makes clear that leaving employment for a better paying job does not constitute "good cause." Id. Focusing on the difference between subsection (b)(1), which permits a finding of good
Analyzing subsection (b)(1), we said:
360 Md. at 398, 758 A.2d at 130. In Paynter, this Court construed the predecessor to that section, Maryland Ann.Code art. 95A, § 6 (1957, 1979 Repl.Vol.).
Relying on Paynter for confirmation of the interpretation given § 8-1001(a), the Total Audio-Visual Court was persuaded by the fact that the statutory scheme, as reflected in § 8-1001, remained as it was when Paynter was decided. 360 Md. at 400, 758 A.2d at 131. Section § 8-1001(c), like art. 95, § 6(a) before it, we pointed out, places circumstances for voluntarily
The Court also was persuaded by the absolute disqualifications prescribed in § 8-1001(d). In that regard, we noted:
Finally, we found § 8-611, especially the prohibition contained in subsection (e)(4), to be both instructive and consistent. Id. at 402, 758 A.2d at 132. We reasoned:
"Under § 8-611(e), ... "[t]he Secretary may not charge benefits paid to a claimant against the earned rating record of an employing unit if ... (4) the claimant left employment voluntarily to accept better employment or enter training approved by the Secretary." (Emphasis added). If, given the specific provisions of § 8-611(e)(4), the earned rating record of the employing unit which the claimant left voluntarily to accept better employment cannot be charged for the benefits payable as a result of a subsequent lay off, then it seems strange indeed that, as to that employing unit, leaving employment voluntarily to accept better employment would be considered good cause for leaving work. Thus, while, pursuant to § 8-1001(a), a claimant may be eligible for unemployment benefits, the determination whether those benefits should or may be paid is employer specific.
id. at 404, 758 at 133, and concluded:
"[the claimant] was not, at the time of his voluntary departure eligible for unemployment benefits because the claimant left his employment with the petitioner for other employment and, in fact, entered into that employment. Therefore, the [claimant] could not, at that time, have received unemployment benefits for the simple and inescapable reason that he was employed. That he subsequently becomes unemployed, and therefore eligible, because of the actions of the subsequent employer does not change the situation. The claimant's unemployment results from the subsequent employer's laying him off and not from the petitioner's actions. Rather, it was the claimant's inadvertent actions which led to his unemployment through the, perhaps very reasonable, acceptance of employment that supposedly paid better."
Id. at 405, 758 A.2d at 134.
The appellant in this case was employed by Atlas Tile & Terrazzo as a tile setter's helper, a job that paid $9.00 an hour. He accepted employment with Home Depot, U.S.A., at its Ellicott City store, as a sales associate in the floor and wall department. That job paid $12.00 an hour with the prospect of receiving, after a waiting period, a health insurance plan and stock purchase options and, after one year, two weeks vacation and sick leave. The appellant left his employment with Atlas and began working at Home Depot on August 14, 2000. On September 27, 2000, he was laid off, unexpectedly and through no fault of his own. His application for unemployment benefits was denied on the authority of Total Audio-Visual.
DLLR argued unsuccessfully in Total Audio-Visual that unemployment benefits were properly awarded in that case precisely because a claimant who leaves a position for other employment with similar responsibilities and substantially better pay has left with good cause under § 8-1001; that the Board's interpretation of § 8-1001 was consistent with the plain language of the statute, its legislative history, and the remedial nature of the Unemployment Insurance Law; and, citing Paynter, supra, 303 Md. 22, 491 A.2d 1186, as well as cases from other jurisdictions, that the Board's decision was consistent with the standards set by this Court addressing the issue whether leaving one's job to accept better employment is a cause which would impel the average reasonable worker to leave his or her job. 360 Md. at 392, 758 A.2d at 127. Those arguments, repeated here by the appellant, are fortified by the claimant's perspective and perhaps more eloquently stated.
In addition, the appellant challenges the Court's use of § 8-611(e) as support for its interpretation of § 8-1001, contending that the Court's statement of the scope of § 8-611 conflated two concepts, namely, "whether the period of employment with the [first employer] may be used to calculate the claimant's unemployment benefits" and "whether those benefits are chargeable to the [first employer]," Total Audio-Visual, 360 Md. at 403, 758 A.2d at 132-33, to one, only the latter to which that section had any applicability. He also maintains that those sections are perfectly consistent, representing "the legislature's attempt to strike a correct, delicate balance in furtherance of the purposes of unemployment insurance, such as income security, economic stimulus and stability, welfare avoidance" and other goals.
In Total Audio-Visual, the Court equated leaving employment for other employment with better pay to leaving employment to become self-employed, a circumstance that we have seen is specifically excluded as providing good cause for voluntary termination of employment. We said, more particularly: "Accepting more money and changing jobs is as much of a gamble and thus, as much of a personal matter as going into business for oneself." Id. at 403, 758 A.2d at 132. The appellant takes issue with this comparison. Instead, he sees the issue as one involving competence. While the DLLR is competent to assess the relative ranking of jobs based on an evaluation of the wages and benefits each offers, the appellant submits, it has no such competence when it comes to business plans and prospects. Thus, he argues,
Finally, the appellant disagrees with the Total Audio-Visual Court's interpretation of Paynter. The Total Audio-Visual Court determined that interpreting § 8-1001 as precluding a finding of good cause when an employee leaves otherwise satisfactory employment for employment paying higher wages was consistent with Paynter's good cause analysis. See 360 Md. at 400-01, 758 A.2d at 131-32. Using the same analysis, the appellant asserts that his decision to leave a small company paying a low wage and go with a national company, paying more and with the promise of future, excellent benefits, "is manifestly reasonable." He continues: "Indeed, for low-wage workers and their families, leaving low-paying jobs that do not provide benefits is not only reasonable, it is often necessary to provide for basic necessities and lift them out of poverty."
DLLR disagrees that § 8-1001(d) supports the interpretation of § 8-1001 to preclude benefits when a claimant leaves employment for better pay, contending that such an interpretation renders that subsection surplusage, such provision disqualifying employees who quit a job to become self-employed, to accompany a spouse to a new location or to attend an educational institution not being necessary. It explains:
Resolution of the case sub judice, as it was in Total Audio-Visual, 360 Md. at 393, 758 A.2d at 127, is a matter of statutory construction. As such, the Court's function, consistent with the cardinal rule of statutory interpretation, see Mayor and City Council of Baltimore v. Chase, 360 Md. 121, 128, 756 A.2d 987, 991 (2000) and the cases cited therein, is to discern and effectuate the intention of the Legislature. In Total Audio-Visual, this Court, albeit, and perhaps significantly so, a sharply divided one, determined, and held, that the General Assembly did not intend that a person who voluntarily terminates his or her otherwise satisfactory employment for other employment with better pay be eligible to receive unemployment benefits when laid off through no fault of his or her own by the subsequent employer. It is well settled that the Legislature is presumed to be aware of decisions of the Court of Appeals, Giffin v. Crane, 351 Md. 133,
In each of the last two legislative sessions, in 2001 and 2002, bills were introduced in the House of Delegates and the Senate to overrule this Court's decision in Total Audio-Visual. In 2001, introduced as HB 1038, in the House, by Delegate Busch, and cross-filed as SB 665, in the Senate, by Senator Ruben, the legislation did not make it out of the Economic Matters Committee in the House or the Finance
DLLR, in addition to supporting the appellant's position as a substantive matter, argues, relying on State v. Green, 367 Md. 61, 79, 785 A.2d 1275, 1285 (2001), that this Court "is not compelled to reaffirm Total Audio-Visual, as the rule of stare decisis is a flexible rather than rigid rule under which cases may be overruled when they are wrongly decided and contrary to established principles." The purpose of stare decisis to insure that people are guided in their personal and business dealings by prior court decisions, through the established and fixed principles they announce, is not undermined, it submits, because only DLLR's Board of Appeals would be affected by a decision overruling Total Audio-Visual, the employers not being chargeable, pursuant to § 8-611(e)(4), for benefits paid under circumstances there, and here, involved. DLLR concludes, in any event,
We do not disagree that the rule of stare decisis is flexible and requires that a balance be struck between fixed and established rulings, for the sake of such rulings, and correct rulings and principles. Indeed, we have not hesitated in an appropriate case to strike that balance. The most recent occasion, as DLLR rightly acknowledges, was in State v. Green, 367 Md. 61, 785 A.2d 1275 (2001). In that case, we overruled Cardinell v. State, 335 Md. 381, 644 A.2d 11 (1994), which only a few years before had held for the first time that the State had a common law right of appeal in criminal cases. In overruling that case, we were sensitive to the stare decisis concerns, but recognized that the doctrine was not absolute. Acknowledging that our prior decisions are not lightly to be set aside "`because it is advisable and necessary that the law should be fixed and established as far as possible, and the people guided in their personal and business dealings by established conclusions, not subject to change because some other judge or judges think differently,' " Green, 367 Md. at 79, 785 A.2d at 1285 (quoting Townsend v. Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyard, Inc., 186 Md. 406, 417, 47 A.2d 365, 370 (1946)), we reasoned:
On the other hand, consistent with the Legislature's awareness of our cases, we have been reluctant to overrule our prior decisions where it is likely that the Legislature, by its inaction, indicates its adoption, or at least acceptance, of the interpretation reflected in the opinion announcing the decision. This principle was well stated by Judge Eldridge in Jones v. State, 362 Md. 331, 337-38, 765 A.2d 127, 130-31 (2001) (quoting Williams v. State, 292 Md. 201, 210, 438 A.2d 1301, 1305 (1981)), in which he observed for the Court:
In the case sub judice, the parties and the amici curiae are concerned with the fairness and equity of § 8-1001, as interpreted by the Total Audio-Visual Court. But, as we have seen, the matter has twice been presented to the General Assembly for its correction. We have recognized that it is appropriate generally that the Legislature balance the equity or fairness of a particular statutory provision. Philip Electronics v. Wright, 348 Md. 209, 229, 703 A.2d 150, 159 (1997). That is particularly
JUDGMENT AFFIRMED, WITH COSTS.
ELDRIDGE, CATHELL and BATTAGLIA, JJ., dissent.
Dissenting opinion by CATHELL, J. in which ELDRIDGE and BATTAGLIA, JJ., join
Judges Cathell, Battaglia and Eldridge dissent for the reasons stated in Judge Cathell's dissent in Total Audio-Visual Systems, Inc. v. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, 360 Md. 387, 758 A.2d 124 (2000).
Md. Ann.Code art. 95A, § 11(a) (1957, 1979 Repl.Vol., 1984 Cum.Supp.) directed that "[w]herever in this article the word `Executive Director' appears, it shall be construed to mean the Secretary of Employment and Training."
(b) Findings.—The General Assembly finds that:
(1) economic insecurity due to unemployment is a serious menace to the health, morals, and welfare of the people of the State;
(2) involuntary unemployment is a subject of general interest and concern that requires appropriate action by the General Assembly to prevent the spread of involuntary unemployment and to lighten its burden, which often falls with crushing force on the unemployed worker and the family of the unemployed worker;
(3) the achievement of security for society requires protection against involuntary unemployment, which is the greatest hazard of our economic lives; and
(4) security for society can be provided by encouraging employers to provide more stable employment and by the systematic accumulation of funds during periods of employment to provide benefits for periods of unemployment, maintaining the purchasing power, and limiting the serious social consequences of poor relief assistance.
"Allocation of regular benefits.—Except as provided in subsection (d) of this section, the Secretary shall charge pro rata against the earned rating record of each base period employer all regular benefits and the share of extended benefits required under subsection (c) of this section in the same proportion as the wages paid by the base period employer is to the total wages of the claimant during the base period, and rounded to the nearest dollar."