Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court
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Elizabeth Imbragulio appealed a Superior Court decision that reversed the decision of the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board (“the Board”) and concluded that she had been terminated for just cause by her employer, Civic Health Services, LLC (“Civic Health”). The Board cross-appealed, arguing that the Superior Court lacked jurisdiction to consider Civic Health’s appeal in the first instance because it was not filed in a timely manner. The issue raised by the cross-appeal was whether Superior Court Civil Rule 6(a)’s method for computing time applied to the requirement in 19 Del. C. section 3323(a) that a party seeking judicial review of a decision by the Board must do so within ten days after the decision becomes final. After careful consideration, the Delaware Supreme Court agreed with the Board that it did not, and therefore concluded that the Superior Court did not have jurisdiction over Civic Health’s appeal. Accordingly, the Supreme Court directed the Superior Court to vacate its judgment. View "Imbragulio v. UIAB" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellee Paula Knecht, individually and as executrix of the estate of her late husband, Larry Knecht filed suit against 18 defendants alleging defendants failed to warn Mr. Knecht of the dangers of asbestos. During his lifetime, Mr. Knecht developed mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos. While the case was awaiting trial, Mr. Knecht passed away. When the trial date arrived, there was only one remaining defendant appellant Ford Motor Company. A jury held Ford liable for Mr. Knecht's illness and awarded damages. Negligence was apportioned between the parties, Ford was assigned a 20% share of the total negligence. The trial judge then applied 20% to the $40,625,000 damages award and arrived at a compensatory damages award against Ford of $8,125,000. The jury also awarded plaintiff $1,000,000 in punitive damages. After the jury returned its verdict, Ford filed two motions: (1) a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law under Superior Court Rule 50(b) or, in the alternative, a new trial; and (2) a motion for a new trial, or, in the alternative, remittitur. The trial judge denied both motions. On appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court, Ford argued: (1) the Superior Court erred by not granting Ford judgment as a matter of law on the ground that plaintiff failed to prove that Mr. Knecht’s injury was caused by Ford’s failure to warn of the dangers of asbestos; (2) the Superior Court erred by not granting a new trial on the ground that the jury rendered an irreconcilably inconsistent verdict; and (3) the Superior Court erred by not granting a new trial or remittitur on the ground that the compensatory damages verdict is excessive. The Supreme Court concluded the Superior Court’s rulings against Ford on the first two claims were correct. However, the Court concurred the third contention had merit, reversed judgment and remanded to the Superior Court for further consideration of Ford’s motion for a new trial, or, in the alternative, remittitur. View "Ford Motor Company v. Knecht, et al." on Justia Law

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Appellant Christiana Care Health Services, Inc. (“CCHS”) brought an interlocutory appeal of a Superior Court decision to deny its motion for partial summary judgment. The alleged medical negligence at issue in the underlying case occurred during surgery performed on Margaret Rackerby Flint at Christiana Care Hospital, which is operated by CCHS. The surgery allegedly caused her death two days later. The complaint was filed by Meeghan Carter, Ms. Flint’s daughter, individually and as administratrix of Ms. Flint’s estate. It named as defendants Dr. Michael Principe, who performed the surgery, Dr. Eric Johnson, who assisted him, and CCHS. Later, the medical practices of the two doctors were added as defendants. The sole claim against CCHS was that the two doctors were its agents and it is vicariously liable for their alleged negligence. Mediation resolved claims against Dr. Principe and his medical practice. As part of that settlement, plaintiff signed a release which released all such claims. CCHS was not a party to the settlement or the release. Following that settlement, CCHS filed its motion for partial summary judgment against plaintiff on the theory that the release of Dr. Principe released it from any vicarious liability for Dr. Principe’s alleged negligence. The Superior Court denied the motion. CCHS argued: (1) the release of an agent released a vicarious liability claim against the principal as a matter of law; and (2) the terms of the release which plaintiff signed when she settled with Dr. Principe and his medical practice also released it from liability for Dr. Principe’s conduct. The Delaware Supreme Court agreed with CCHS’s second contention, finding that the written release operated as a complete satisfaction of plaintiff’s vicarious liability claim against CCHS arising from Dr. Principe’s alleged conduct, and the motion for partial summary judgment should have been granted. View "Christiana Care Health Services Inc. v. Carter, et al." on Justia Law

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In 2006, Verizon divested its print and electronic directories business to its stockholders in a tax-free “spin-off” transaction. As part of the transaction, Verizon created Idearc, Inc. and appointed John Diercksen, a Verizon executive, to serve as Idearc’s sole director. Verizon then distributed Idearc common stock to Verizon shareholders. Idearc launched as a separate business with $9.1 billion in debt. In connection with the Idearc spinoff, Verizon and Idearc purchased primary and excess Executive and Organizational Liability Policies (“Idearc Runoff Policies"). The Idearc Runoff Policies covered certain claims made against defined insureds during the six-year policy period that exceeded a $7.5 million retention. Relevant here, Endorsement No. 7 to the policies stated that “[i]n connection with any Securities Claim,” and “for any Loss . . . incurred while a Securities Claim is jointly made and maintained against both the Organization and one or more Insured Person(s), this policy shall pay 100% of such Loss up to the Limit of Liability of the policy.” “Securities Claim” was defined in pertinent part as a “Claim” against an “Insured Person” “[a]lleging a violation of any federal, state, local or foreign regulation, rule or statute regulating securities (including, but not limited to, the purchase or sale or offer or solicitation of an offer to purchase or sell securities).” Under the policy, Verizon could recover its “Defense Costs” when a Securities Claim was brought against it and covered directors and officers, and Verizon indemnified those directors and officers. Idearc operated as an independent, publicly traded company until it filed for bankruptcy in 2009; a litigation trust was set up to pursue claims against Verizon on behalf of creditors. Primary amongst the allegations was Dickersen and Verizon saddled Idearc with excessive debt at the time of the spin-off. This appeal turned on the definition of a "Securities Claim;" the Superior Court found the definition ambiguous. Using extrinsic evidence, the court held that fiduciary duty, unlawful dividend, and fraudulent transfer claims brought by a bankruptcy trustee against Verizon Communications Inc. and others were Securities Claims covered under the policy. The Delaware Supreme Court disagreed, finding that, applying the plain meaning of the Securities Claim definition in the policy, the litigation trustee’s complaint did not allege any violations of regulations, rules, or statutes regulating securities. Thus, the Superior Court’s grant of summary judgment to Verizon was reversed and that court directed to enter summary judgment in favor of the Insurers. View "In Re Verizon Insurance Coverage Appeals" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Alex Tiger and John Dowling decided to revive the Boast tennis apparel brand. The pair started Boast Investors, LLC, which would later be converted into the named defendant in this case, BAI Capital Holdings, Inc. (“BAI”), as well as Branded Boast, LLC. Boast Investors owned a majority interest in Branded Boast, which in turn purchased the Boast intellectual property from tennis player Bill St. John’s holding company, Boast, Inc. Over the next several years, Tiger and Dowling had several conflicts in managing Boast Investors. Tiger and Dowling attempted to resolve their disagreements through negotiations but were not able to do so. In late 2014, Tiger delivered his first 8 Del. C. 220 (Delaware General Corporation Law "Section 220") demand to BAI, requesting 22 categories of documents. The stated purposes of Tiger’s inspection demand were to, among other things, value his shares, investigate potential mismanagement, and investigate director independence. BAI responded with a proposed confidentiality agreement, which would have Tiger from using BAI documents in subsequent litigation. Tiger rejected this proposal. BAI made a revised proposal that prohibited use of the documents in litigation other than derivative actions. Tiger then requested that BAI produce all documents that were not confidential, but BAI demurred. In 2017, Tiger sent a second Section 220 demand. BAI again offered Tiger the opportunity to review Tiger’s demanded documents but once again asked Tiger to sign a confidentiality agreement. As before, Tiger asked BAI to produce all non-confidential materials, but BAI again asked for a confidentiality agreement. In a report that was adopted by the Court of Chancery, a Master in Chancery held that books and records produced to a stockholder under Section 220 were “presumptively subject to a ‘reasonable confidentiality order.’” And in response to the stockholder’s request for a time limitation on such a confidentiality order, the Master responded that, because the stockholder had not demonstrated the existence of exigent circumstances, confidentiality should be maintained “indefinitely, unless and until the stockholder files suit, at which point confidentiality would be governed by the applicable court rules.” After the Court of Chancery adopted the Master’s Report, the stockholder appealed. The Delaware Supreme Court held that, although the Court of Chancery may condition Section 220 inspections on the entry of a reasonable confidentiality order, such inspections were not subject to a presumption of confidentiality. Furthermore, when the court, in the exercise of its discretion, enters a confidentiality order, the order’s temporal duration was not dependent on a showing of the absence of exigent circumstances by the stockholder. "Rather, the Court of Chancery should weigh the stockholder’s legitimate interests in free communication against the corporation’s legitimate interests in confidentiality." Nevertheless, although the Supreme Court disagreed with the Master’s formulation of the principles governing confidentiality in the Section 220 inspection context, the confidentiality order that the Court of Chancery ultimately entered seemed reasonable, and not an abuse of discretion, given the facts and circumstances of this case. View "Tiger v. Boast Apparel, Inc." on Justia Law

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Ohio residents Craig Richards and his wife Gloria filed suit against defendants in the Delaware, claiming that Mr. Richards’ exposure to asbestos-containing products at home and in the workplace caused his mesothelioma. The parties agreed that Ohio law applied to this case. To make the causal link between Mr. Richards’ asbestos exposure and his disease, the Richards served an expert report relying on a cumulative exposure theory, meaning that every non-minimal exposure to asbestos attributable to each defendant combined to cause Mr. Richards’ injury. After the Richards served their expert report, the Ohio Supreme Court decided Schwartz v. Honeywell International, Inc. , 102 N.E.3d 477 (Ohio 2018). In Schwartz, the Ohio Supreme Court rejected an expert’s cumulative exposure theory for a number of reasons, including its inconsistency with an Ohio asbestos causation statute. The Richards’ attorneys became aware of the Schwartz decision during summary judgment briefing. Instead of asking for leave to serve a supplemental expert report based on another theory of causation, the Richards argued in opposition to summary judgment that the Ohio asbestos causation statute and the Schwartz decision did not require any expert report. According to the Richards, as long as there was factual evidence in the record showing, in the words of the Ohio statute, the manner, proximity, frequency, and length of exposure to asbestos, summary judgment should have been denied. The Superior Court disagreed and held that, to defeat summary judgment, the Richards had to still offer expert medical evidence of specific causation, meaning that the asbestos exposure attributable to each defendant caused Mr. Richards’ mesothelioma. The Superior Court also denied reargument and found untimely the Richards’ later attempt to supplement their expert report. The Richards appealed the Superior Court’s dismissal rulings, arguing that the court misinterpreted Ohio law, and should have granted them leave to supplement their expert report after the court’s summary judgment rulings. As the Delaware Supreme Court read the Ohio asbestos causation statute and Ohio Supreme Court precedent, neither the Ohio General Assembly nor the Court intended to abrogate the general rule in Ohio in toxic tort cases that a plaintiff must provide expert medical evidence “(1) that the toxin is capable of causing the medical condition or ailment (general causation), and (2) that the toxic substance in fact caused the claimant’s medical condition (specific causation).” Thus, the Supreme Court determined the Superior Court correctly concluded expert medical evidence on specific causation had to be offered by the Richards to avoid summary judgment. The Superior Court also did not abuse its discretion in denying reargument and the Richards’ request to supplement their expert report after the court’s summary judgment ruling. View "Richards v. Copes-Vulcan, Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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Blue Bell Creameries USA, Inc. suffered a listeria outbreak in early 2015, causing the company to recall all of its products, shut down production at all of its plants, and lay off over a third of its workforce. Three people died as a result of the listeria outbreak. Pertinent here, stockholders also suffered losses because, after the operational shutdown, Blue Bell suffered a liquidity crisis that forced it to accept a dilutive private equity investment. Based on these unfortunate events, a stockholder brought a derivative suit against two key executives and against Blue Bell’s directors claiming breaches of the defendants’ fiduciary duties. The complaint alleges that the executives breached their duties of care and loyalty by knowingly disregarding contamination risks and failing to oversee the safety of Blue Bell’s food-making operations, and that the directors breached their duty of loyalty. The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to plead demand futility. The Court of Chancery granted the motion as to both claims. The Delaware reversed: "the mundane reality that Blue Bell is in a highly regulated industry and complied with some of the applicable regulations does not foreclose any pleading-stage inference that the directors’ lack of attentiveness rose to the level of bad faith indifference required to state a 'Caremark' claim. ... The complaint pled facts supporting a fair inference that no board-level system of monitoring or reporting on food safety existed." View "Marchand v. Barnhill, et al." on Justia Law

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Two cases consolidated for review by the Delaware Supreme Court involved automobile accidents. John Henry and Charles Fritz sustained injuries in accidents while operating employer-owned vehicles during the course of their employment. In both cases, the accidents were allegedly caused by a third-party tortfeasor. Both employees received workers’ compensation from their respective employers’ insurance carriers. In each case, the vehicle was covered by an automobile liability insurance policy issued to the employer by Cincinnati Insurance Company. The superior court issued an order in Henry’s case first, finding the exclusive-remedy provision in the Delaware Workers’ Compensation Act in effect at the time of his accident precluded Henry from receiving underinsured motorist benefits under the Cincinnati policy. Following that decision, the Fritz court granted Cincinnati’s motion for summary judgment on the same ground. Henry and Fritz argued on appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court that the superior court erred in finding the Act’s exclusivity provision precluded them from receiving underinsured motorist benefits through the automobile liability policies their respective employers purchased from Cincinnati. The Supreme Court agreed both trial courts erred in finding the Act’s exclusivity provision prevented underinsured motorist benefits. The Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Henry v. Cincinnati Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The City of Lewes and its Historic Preservation Commission approved Ernest and Deborah Nepa’s plans to renovate a house in the historic district. The Nepas violated the conditions of the approvals by building a two story addition on the back of the house and increasing its already nonconforming setbacks from neighboring properties. After the City discovered the violations and issued a stop work order, the Nepas applied to the City’s board of adjustment for three area variances to complete the unauthorized addition; the board turned them down. The Nepas appealed the variance denials to the Superior Court, arguing that the City Code provision used by the board to evaluate their variance applications conflicted with a more lenient state law addressing municipal variances. The Superior Court agreed and reversed the board’s decision. On appeal, the City argued the Superior Court erred because the state statute relied on, 22 Del. C. 327(a)(3), only prohibited the City from loosening the state law requirements for granting a variance. The City was thus free to require stricter standards. The Delaware Supreme Court agreed with the City and reversed the Superior Court’s decision. “As long as the variance standards applied by the City of Lewes’ board of adjustment meet the minimum state statutory standards, nothing in the state statute prohibits the City, through its board of adjustment, from applying variance standards stricter than those set by the State.” View "City of Lewes & The Board of Adjustment v. Nepa" on Justia Law

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Tiffany Greenfield appealed after the lawsuit she filed on behalf of minor Ethan Ford, was dismissed. Greenfield alleged that the defendants, who worked for the Delaware Division of Family Services (“DFS”), contributed in some way (as case workers, others as managers and supervisors) to four faulty investigations of reports that Ford and his half-sister, Autumn Milligan, were being abused and neglected by their mother, Tanasia Milligan. According to Greenfield’s complaint, the defendants’ dereliction of duty resulted in the tragic death of Autumn and permanent and irreversible damage to Ford that she averred necessitated long-term physical care and psychological services. The Delaware Supreme Court determined that Ford’s guardian sought redress from individuals who were charged with protecting him but who were unable to do so. "Those same individuals, however, are also required to preserve and foster the family unit, which creates an obvious tension between their duties that requires the exercise of judgment. Under such circumstances, our law requires that complaints against such individuals be written to a higher standard. We agree with the Superior Court that Greenfield’s complaint did not satisfy that standard and therefore affirm." View "Greenfield v. DFS Director Miles, et al." on Justia Law