Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court

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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

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In this case, a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP”) recipient, Cindy Gonzalez, was found to have defrauded the federal government of $6,159 worth of SNAP benefits by representing that she lived alone and did not receive any income, when in fact she was not living alone and was receiving income. After discovering this wrongdoing, the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services (“DHSS”) brought an administrative proceeding against Gonzalez to disqualify her from continued participation in SNAP and claw back the benefits she received through her misrepresentations. The hearing officer found that DHSS had established intentional program violations and disqualified Gonzalez from continued participation in SNAP for one year, and DHSS’s audit and recovery arm assessed an overpayment of $6,159, which the federal government has started to collect by offsetting the other federal benefits she receives against her SNAP obligations. About five months after the DHSS final decision, the State of Delaware brought a civil action against Gonzalez under Delaware common law and the Delaware False Claims and Reporting Act based on the same circumstances underlying the DHSS administrative proceeding. This time, however, the State sought between approximately $200,000 and $375,000 in restitution, damages, and penalties; attorneys’ fees and costs; and an order enjoining Gonzalez from participating in SNAP until she pays the judgment. Gonzalez in turn filed an answer asserting an affirmative defense that federal law preempted the State’s Delaware law claims, and the State moved for judgment on the pleadings. The Superior Court granted the State’s motion, holding that federal law did not preempt the State’s claims. Gonzalez brought an interlocutory appeal of that determination. After review, the Delaware Supreme Court reversed, finding federal law prohibited the State from bringing consecutive administrative and civil actions against a SNAP recipient based on the same fraud. View "Gonzalez v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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Ashlee Oldham and Robert Prunckun (collectively, “Recipients”) were the only two Delaware Medicaid recipients housed at Judge Rotenberg Center (“JRC”), a facility in Massachusetts and the only facility in the United States known to use electric shock therapy as part of their comprehensive behavioral treatment plans. These services were covered by Medicaid with the knowledge and approval of Delaware’s Department of Health and Social Services (“DHSS”). in 2012, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) advised the Massachusetts state agency responsible for Medicaid administration that continued use of electric shock therapy would place that state’s waiver program in jeopardy of losing federal funding. Following CMS’s letter to Massachusetts, Delaware took measures to avoid placing its own Home and Community Based Services (“HCBS”) waiver program at risk. DHSS finally terminated JRC as a qualified provider after JRC refused to cease using electric shock therapy. Although the procedural history was complex, the gist of Appellants’ challenge on appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court was that they were denied due process because Delaware’s administrative hearing officer bifurcated proceedings to address what she concluded was a threshold issue, namely, whether electric shock therapy was a covered Medicaid service under the Medicaid HCBS Waiver program. Instead, Recipients contended they should have been allowed to introduce evidence that electric shock therapy was medically necessary, and that by removing shock services, DHSS threatened Recipients’ ability to remain in a community-based setting (a conclusion they desired to prove through evidence and expert testimony). The Supreme Court determined the hearing officer's determination that electric shock therapy was not a covered service under federal and state law was supported by substantial evidence and free from legal error, and affirmed the district court. View "Prunckun v. Delaware Dept. of Health & Social Services" on Justia Law

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Licensed nurses may be disciplined if they engage in “unprofessional conduct.” The applicable Delaware statute did not define “unprofessional conduct,” so the Board of Nursing adopted a rule to flesh the term out. Two nurses who held supervisory roles at a correctional facility were disciplined by the Board under that rule after they participated in the retrieval of medication from a medical waste container for eventual administration to an inmate. The nurses appealed to the Superior Court, and the court set their discipline aside. The court read the Board’s rule to require not just proof that the nurses breached a nursing standard, but also proof that in doing so, they put the inmate or the public at risk. And in the court’s view, the State had not made that showing. Because the Board applied the correct standard and its decision was supported by substantial evidence, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed its decision and reversed the Superior Court. View "Delaware Board of Nursing v. Francis" on Justia Law

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A stormwater pipe ruptured beneath a coal ash pond at Duke Energy Corporation’s Dan River Steam Station in North Carolina. The spill sent a slurry of coal ash and wastewater into the Dan River, fouling the river for many miles downstream. In May 2015, Duke Energy pled guilty to nine misdemeanor criminal violations of the Federal Clean Water Act and paid a fine exceeding $100 million. The plaintiffs, stockholders of Duke Energy, filed a derivative suit in the Court of Chancery against certain of Duke Energy’s directors and officers, seeking to hold the directors personally liable for the damages the Company suffered from the spill. The directors moved to dismiss the derivative complaint, claiming the plaintiffs were required under Court of Chancery Rule 23.1 to make a demand on the board of directors before instituting litigation. Plaintiffs responded that demand was futile because the board’s mismanagement of the Company’s environmental concerns rose to the level of a "Caremark" violation, which posed a substantial risk of the directors’ personal liability for damages caused by the spill and enforcement action. The Court of Chancery disagreed and dismissed the derivative complaint. The Delaware Supreme Court concurred with the Court of Chancery that the plaintiffs did not sufficiently allege that the directors faced a substantial likelihood of personal liability for a Caremark violation. Instead, the directors at most faced the risk of an exculpated breach of the duty of care. Thus, the stockholders were required to make a demand on the board to consider the claims before filing suit. View "City of Birmingham Retirement & Relief System v. Good, et al." on Justia Law

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At issue before the Delaware Supreme Court in this matter was whether unelected officials from the Delaware parks and forest departments (whose power was expressly limited) could ban (except for a narrow exception for hunting) the possession of guns in state parks and forests in contravention of Delawareans’ rights under the State’s constitution. "Clearly they cannot. They lack such authority because they may not pass unconstitutional laws, and the regulations completely eviscerate a core right to keep and bear arms for defense of self and family outside the home -- a right this Court has already recognized." As such, the regulations were ruled unconstitutional on their face. View "Bridgeville Rifle & Pistol Club, Ltd. v. Small" on Justia Law

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With certain exceptions, a sex offender can rebut the presumption established by the Child Protection From Sex Offenders Act by demonstrating his compliance with the conditions in the statute. This appeal raised one issue: whether the Sex Offenders Act and its rebuttable presumption operated outside of Family Court custody proceedings. The Delaware Supreme Court concluded, as did the Family Court, that the General Assembly intended that the Act and its rebuttable presumption to operate only when the Family Court determines custody, residency, and visitation as part of a Family Court custody proceeding. The Court therefore affirmed the Family Court’s order. View "Division of Family Services v. O'Bryan" on Justia Law

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The New Castle County Office of Assessment (“New Castle County”) valued office condominium units for real property tax purposes but failed to take into account depreciation. The Superior Court affirmed the decision of the New Castle County Board of Assessment Review (the “Board”) upholding New Castle County’s valuation. The property owner appealed, arguing that its office condominium units were over-assessed because New Castle County and the Board did not factor in the age and resulting depreciation of the units. Because Delaware law required that all relevant factors bearing on the value of a property (in its current condition) be considered, the Delaware Supreme Court reversed and required that New Castle County reassess the value of the units, taking into account the influence depreciation has on their taxable value. View "Commerce Associates, LP, et al. v. New Castle County Office of Assessment, et al." on Justia Law

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This dispute centered on subrogation claims Victoria Insurance Company and Nationwide Insurance Company asserted against the City of Wilmington. This appeal presented a question of first impression before the Supreme Court: whether, under Delaware's motor vehicle insurance statute governing subrogation disputes among insurers and self-insurers, the losing party may appeal de novo to the Superior Court from an adverse arbitration award. In considering consolidated motions to dismiss two such appeals filed by the City against the insurers, the Superior Court determined that 21 Del. C. 2118(g)(3), which mandated arbitration for subrogation disputes arising between insurers and self-insurers, did not provide a right to appeal. Because the statute unambiguously provided for appeals from mandatory arbitration of subrogation disputes between insurers and self-insurers, the Supreme Court reversed. View "City of Wilmington v. Nationwide Insurance Co." on Justia Law