ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Legal Newsline) – A Maryland appellate court has upheld a decision that a man is still not allowed to harvest oysters in the tidal waters of Maryland.
The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland sided on Sept. 3 with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and affirmed the ruling of an administrative law judge (ALJ) in George M. Hayden’s lawsuit. Hayden filed the lawsuit after his commercial oystering license was revoked after he relayed oysters from a closed area.
Judge Christopher B. Kehoe wrote the opinion.
Kehoe answered “no” to the question: “In a revocation of authorization action brought pursuant to Nat. Res. Section 4-1210, is the Department required to prove that the licensee knew that he or she was violating the law when committing the predicate offense?”
The judge also answered “yes” to the question, “Was the administrative law judge’s finding that Mr. Hayden ‘willfully disregarded and failed to learn the laws and requirements of oyster harvesting’ supported by substantial evidence?”
Considering these answers, Kehoe affirmed that Hayden’s opportunity to harvest oysters in the waters should be withdrawn.
Kehoe noted in the ruling that one’s authorization can only be revoked if an ALJ determines that they “knowingly” committed an act that is not allowed. The appeals court initially settled an issue over the definition of “knowingly” and whether Hayden “knowingly” violated the rules when he took the oysters that were more than 200 feet in a closed off area and used equipment that isn’t allowed in the area to do it.
Hayden, who admits that he broke the statute in 2017 but said he wasn’t aware of the requirements to begin with, used Black’s Law Dictionary to define “knowingly.” That definition says, the ruling states, that knowingly means “with knowledge, consciously; intelligently; willfully; or intentionally.”
But MDNR insisted that “knowingly” isn’t just defined as a licensee’s awareness of the law, but their mindset when they carry out a violated act. The department said knowingly should be more so considered as “consciously” or “deliberately,” according to the opinion, and Kehoe agreed.
“We do not believe that Mr. Hayden’s reliance on this definition is particularly persuasive," Kehoe wrote.
He noted that when the law is considered as a whole, and not just based on knowledge of it, the weight of the word “knowingly” doesn’t go far alone. Plus, that would allow others to act more negligently with the excuse that they simply didn’t know the law.
As for whether there’s enough evidence to prove Hayden acted deliberately, Kehoe said there is. For starters, Hayden signed a receipt that proved that he was knowledgeable of the law and the Shellfish Closure Manual that explained the areas where oyster harvesting was not allowed.
Also, the concern of if Hayden needed a riparian lease is not related to this case. Plus, Hayden spoke with a Maryland Department of the Environment worker, and Kehoe said that conversation proves he knew that White Hall Creek was closed to oyster harvesting because to pollution before he began operations.
Ultimately, it was determined that Hayden “deliberately ignored information at his deposal” when he relayed oysters from a forbidden area.