Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court
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A Delaware superior court affirmed an Industrial Accident Board (the “IAB” or “Board”) decision denying Appellant Joseph Wilson’s (“Wilson”) petition seeking payment for a cervical spine surgery. The parties agreed the treatment Wilson received was reasonable and necessary. Wilson was injured in a work-related accident on August 1, 2002 while working for Appellee Gingerich Concrete and Masonry (“Employer”). Sometime after the accident, Wilson started treatment with Dr. Bikash Bose (“Dr. Bose”), a certified Delaware workers’ compensation healthcare provider. Wilson’s injury necessitated two related cervical surgeries. The first surgery was performed while Dr. Bose was certified under the Delaware workers’ compensation system (the “Delaware Certification”) according to the requirements set forth in the Act. Employer’s carrier paid the bills related to Wilson’s first surgery. But Wilson’s first surgery proved unsuccessful, and Dr. Bose recommended a second surgery. During the time between Wilson’s first surgery and his second surgery, Dr. Bose’s Delaware Certification lapsed, and he did not seek re-certification for nineteen months. The issue presented was whether the second surgery was compensable given that the treating physician’s certification under the Delaware Workers’ Compensation Act (the “Act”) had lapsed by the time of treatment. If the treatment was not compensable, as the IAB and superior court held, then Wilson asked the Delaware Supreme Court to anticipatorily resolve the question of whether he could be liable for the bill even though no one asserted such a claim. The Supreme Court concluded Dr. Bose’s lapse rendered him uncertified, and, thus, the disputed bills were not compensable under 19 Del. C. § 2322D. View "Wilson v. Gingerich Concrete & Masonry" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant, Ocean Bay Mart, Inc. (“Ocean Bay”), owned a 7.71- acre parcel of real property in the City of Rehoboth Beach (“the City”). In June 2015, Ocean Bay submitted a Site Plan to the City proposing to develop the property into 63 residential condominium units. Under the plan, the 7.71 acres would remain a single, undivided parcel. The development would be known as “Beach Walk.” The submission of the Site Plan set into motion a chain of events over whether Beach Walk could be approved as a single, undivided parcel or whether the project had to be subdivided into individual lots corresponding to the residential units. The events included a decision by the City’s Building Inspector that the project could not be approved as a single, undivided parcel; a decision by the City’s Board of Adjustment overruling the Building Inspector’s decision; a decision by the City’s Planning Commission, rendered after the Board of Adjustment’s decision, that the Site Plan could not be considered unless it was resubmitted as a major subdivision application; a decision by the City Commissioners upholding the Planning Commission; an appeal of the Commissioners’ decision to the Superior Court, which reversed the Commissioners; and the City’s adoption of three amendments to its zoning code. Ocean Bay filed this action with the Delaware Court of Chancery, alleging that it had a vested right to have its Site Plan approved substantially in the form submitted without going through major subdivision approval, and that the City was equitably estopped from enforcing the zoning code amendments against Beach Walk. After a trial, the Court of Chancery ruled that Ocean Bay did not have a vested right to develop Beach Walk as laid out on the Site Plan and the City was not equitably estopped from enforcing its new zoning amendments. Ocean Bay appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed. View "Ocean Bay Mart, Inc. v. The City of Rehoboth Beach Delaware" on Justia Law

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Under New Castle County, Delaware's Unified Development Code, heavy industrial uses were permitted as of right on land zoned for heavy industry or HI. On August 27, 2019, New Castle County Council adopted Ordinance 19-046 amending the Code, then stating that property owners with HI-zoned property had to obtain a special use permit from the County before expanding Heavy Industry use of their property. Croda, Inc. filed a complaint in the Court of Chancery to enjoin enforcement of Ordinance 19-046, claiming, among other things, that Ordinance 19-046 was invalid because the Ordinance title did not put Croda and the public on notice of the substance of the zoning amendment in violation of state and county law and federal due process guarantees. The Court of Chancery dismissed Croda’s state law claims as untimely under the state sixty-day statute of repose and rejected its constitutional claims because Croda did not have a vested right in a zoning category. On appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court, Croda claimed the Court of Chancery erred because the alleged lack of proper notice tolled the statute of repose, and it did not have to show a vested right to state a procedural due process claim. The Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Chancery’s judgment: the statute of repose was not subject to tolling. "And while our reasoning is different than that of the Court of Chancery, Croda’s procedural due process claim fails because those protections do not apply to the County’s legislative acts adopting the Ordinance." View "Croda Inc. v. New Castle County" on Justia Law

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Jack Lingo Asset Management (“Lingo”) owned and occupied property at 240 Rehoboth Avenue in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. The second story only covered a portion of the first, leaving a flat roof over the rest of the ground floor. In 2018, Lingo wanted to convert the second floor from residential to office space. As part of this project, it sought permission from the City of Rehoboth Beach (the “City”) to build an unroofed, railed walkway extending from the second floor over the flat roof to a stairway leading down to Christian Street. The exit walkway would not be visible from the main thoroughfare. The City denied Lingo’s application, finding the railings surrounding the walkway would technically expand the Gross Floor Area of 240 Rehoboth Avenue under Section 270 of the City's Zoning Code. This expansion would, in turn, require Lingo to provide an additional parking spot, which it had no room to do. Lingo appealed the denial. The Board of Adjustment of the City of Rehoboth Beach affirmed in two decisions, and the Superior Court agreed. The Delaware Supreme Court reversed, finding that the Rehoboth Zoning Code in effect at the time of Lingo’s application did not clearly and unambiguously establish that the proposed egress structure would increase the Gross Floor Area of 240 Rehoboth Avenue. Applying settled canon that zoning ambiguities be construed in the property owner's favor, the Supreme Court vacated the Board's decision. View "Jack Lingo Asset Management, LLC v. Board of Adjustment of the City of Rehoboth Beach" on Justia Law

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Zelda Sheppard appealed a superior court’s affirmance of an Industrial Accident Board (“IAB” or “Board”) decision granting Allen Family Foods’ (“Employer”) Petition for Review (“Petition”). The IAB determined that Sheppard’s prescribed narcotic pain medications were no longer compensable. Sheppard sought to dismiss the Petition at the conclusion of Employer’s case-in-chief during the IAB hearing, arguing that the matter should have been considered under the utilization review process. After hearing the case on the merits, the IAB disagreed, holding that Employer no longer needed to compensate Sheppard for her medical expenses after a two-month weaning period from the narcotic pain medications. On appeal, Sheppard argued the IAB erred as a matter of law when it denied Sheppard’s Motion to Dismiss Employer’s Petition because Employer failed to articulate a good faith change in condition or circumstance relating to the causal relationship of Sheppard’s treatment to the work injury. Accordingly, Sheppard argued that the Employer was required to proceed with the utilization review process before seeking termination of her benefits. The Delaware Supreme Court determined the IAB’s decision was supported by substantial evidence, therefore the superior court’s decision was affirmed. View "Sheppard v. Allen Family Foods" on Justia Law

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Delmarsh, LLC, a real-estate company, owned six lots in Bowers, Delaware. The lots had long been designated as wetlands on the State Wetlands Map. The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (“DNREC”) removed a portion of the lots from the Wetlands Map in 2013 at Delmarsh’s request. In June 2019, Delmarsh requested that DNREC designate the remaining portion of the lots as non-wetlands. DNREC denied the request, and Delmarsh appealed to the Environmental Appeals Board (“the Board”). The Board affirmed DNREC’s denial. Delmarsh appealed to the Superior Court, arguing that refusal to reclassify the lands as non-wetlands, constituted a taking. The Superior Court affirmed the Board’s decision. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed: At the time DNREC turned down Delmarsh’s request to de-designate the remainder of the lots as wetlands, the lots were zoned C/A: Conservation–Agriculture. Instead of focusing on the economic impact of the de-designation on the lots as zoned at the time of DNREC’s decision, Delmarsh relied exclusively on the economic impact on the lots as later rezoned to R-1—single-family residential housing. “By its own admission, the rezoning to residential occurred after the denial of its DNREC application. Delmarsh did not offer any argument or evidence that DNREC’s refusal to redesignate the lots caused them to lose any value while they were zoned as C/A. In the absence of such evidence, the Superior Court held correctly that no taking occurred.” View "Delmarsh, LLC v. Environmental Appeals Board of the State of Delaware" on Justia Law

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Appellant Nicholas Kroll appealed the Court of Chancery’s dismissal of his complaint. Kroll was terminated from his position as a police officer for the City of Wilmington (the “City”) on the ground that he failed to comply with a departmental requirement that he reside in the City. A second ground was that he violated a departmental regulation regarding dishonesty by giving a false or inaccurate address on annual, required residency affidavits. After his dismissal, he filed suit seeking a declaratory judgment that the City, its police department, and its mayor, in his official capacity, breached the police Collective Bargaining Agreement (the “CBA”) and his right to due process by modifying the definition of the term “residence” in October 2017, and applying the modified definition to him without giving the Fraternal Order of Police an opportunity to bargain the new definition on behalf of its members. The modification, Kroll argued, was material to the decision to terminate his employment. He also sought an injunction reinstating him as a City police officer with back pay. Appellees moved to dismiss, arguing the Court of Chancery lacked jurisdiction over the complaint’s subject matter. The Appellees argued, in part, that Kroll had an adequate remedy at law in the form of a petition for a writ of certiorari, which was within the jurisdiction of the Superior Court. Appellees had not argued that Kroll’s complaint fell within the CBA grievance procedure (that issue was raised sua sponte by the Court of Chancery in its ruling). The parties agreed the disciplinary action taken against Kroll was not subject to the grievance procedure set forth in the CBA. Appellees agreed the Court of Chancery committed legal error by basing its decision on the CBA’s grievance procedure. They urged the Delaware Supreme Court, however, to affirm on the alternative grounds for dismissal that were asserted in the Court of Chancery. Finding the Court of Chancery did not address Appellees' arguments, the Supreme Court reversed judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Kroll v. City of Wilmington" on Justia Law

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Claimant Christina Zayas, a paratransit bus driver, sued her employer, DART/State of Delaware (“Employer”), for injuries she sustained in a 2016 work incident where a passenger physically assaulted her (the “Incident”). In 2019, Zayas underwent left shoulder arthroscopic surgery performed by Dr. Evan Crain (“Dr. Crain”). After the surgery, Zayas was placed on total disability from May 2019 through October 2019. Zayas filed Petitions to Determine Additional Compensation Due relating to the Incident. Specifically, she sought payment of medical expenses, total disability benefits, and acknowledgement of the compensability of the surgery Dr. Crain performed in 2019. Zayas’ hearing was scheduled for November 2019. Prior to the Hearing, the parties stipulated that the limited issue in dispute was whether the May 2019 surgery was causally related to the Incident. The Board held that Zayas failed to meet her burden of proof that the surgery in 2019 was causally related to the Incident. Notably, although the Board had excluded them, the Board stated in its Decision that Medical Records by Zayas' physician were admissible. A review of the record indicated the Medical Records were never admitted into evidence; and the Superior Court did not consider this inconsistency, or the issues Zayas had raised regarding the medical testimony and records. Nevertheless, the Superior Court affirmed the Board’s decision and found that substantial evidence existed to support the Board’s legal conclusions. On appeal, Zayas again argued the Board erred by not admitting her Medical Records and that it abused its discretion by admitting the Employer's expert's deposition testimony during the Hearing. The Delaware Supreme Court concluded that because Dr. Tadduni, the Employer's expert, refused to answer relevant questions, Zayas was deprived of the opportunity to elicit relevant information. "In essence, Dr. Tadduni unilaterally determined that he would not answer questions concerning Dr. Cary’s treatment of Zayas. In admitting Dr. Tadduni’s testimony, and simultaneously excluding the Medical Records, the Board’s actions prevented Zayas from adequately presenting her case, violated fundamental notions of fairness, and thereby abused its discretion." As a result, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded the Superior Court's judgment, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Zayas v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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In 2012, then-Vice President Joseph Biden donated his Senatorial papers to the University of Delaware. The donation was made pursuant to a gift agreement that placed certain restrictions on the University’s ability to make the Senatorial Papers publicly available. In April 2020, Judicial Watch, Inc. and The Daily Caller News Foundation (“DCNF”) (collectively, “Appellants”) submitted requests under the Delaware Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) to access the Papers and any records relevant to or discussing the Papers. The University denied both requests, stating that the Papers were not subject to FOIA because the Papers did not meet the definition of “public records” and because the full Board of Trustees never discussed the Papers. Appellants then filed separate petitions with the Office of the Attorney General of the State of Delaware challenging the University’s denial of their requests. The Deputy Attorney General issued individual opinions to Judicial Watch and DCNF concluding that the University had not violated FOIA because the records Appellants requested were not subject to FOIA. Appellants appealed to the Superior Court, which affirmed the Deputy Attorney General’s opinions. Appellants appealed the Superior Court’s ruling to the Delaware Supreme Court. Having reviewed the briefs, the record on appeal, and after oral argument, the Supreme Court concluded the Superior Court properly interpreted the definition of “public record,” and did not erroneously shift the burden of proof to the Appellants. However, the Court concluded the University failed to carry its burden of justifying its denial of the Appellants’ FOIA requests, based on the record. Furthermore, the Court granted the Superior Court leave to reconsider the request for fees and costs, to the extent it deemed that necessary. Thus, judgment was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Judicial Watch, Inc. v. University of Delaware" on Justia Law

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Verisign, Inc. claimed large net operating loss deductions on its 2015 and 2016 Delaware income tax returns, which reduced its bill to zero in both years. The Division of Revenue reviewed the returns and found that Verisign’s use of net operating losses violated a longstanding, but non-statutory, Division policy. Under the policy, a corporate taxpayer that filed its federal tax returns with a consolidated group was prohibited from claiming a net operating loss deduction in Delaware that exceeded the consolidated net operating loss deduction on the federal return in which it participated. The Division applied the policy, determined that Verisign had underreported its income, and assessed the company $1.7 million in unpaid taxes and fees. After Verisign’s administrative protest of the assessment was denied, it appealed to the Superior Court. The Superior Court held that the policy violated the Uniformity Clause of Article VIII, section 1 of the Delaware Constitution. The Delaware Supreme Court agreed with the Superior Court that the Division’s policy was invalid, but it affirmed on alternate grounds: the policy exceeded the authority granted to the Division by the General Assembly in 30 Del. C. sections 1901– 1903. As a result, the Court declined to reach Verisign’s constitutional claims. View "Director of Revenue v. Verisign, Inc." on Justia Law