Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court
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In 2018, an enforcement officer working for the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control pulled over a truck hauling municipal solid waste from the Pine Tree Corners Transfer Station. The truck’s owner-operator, Contractors Hauling, LLC, did not have a valid permit to transport solid waste, violating Delaware law. The Department subsequently determined that on numerous occasions between September 2017 and July 2018, vehicles belonging to Contractors Hauling transported solid waste from the Pine Tree Station without a valid permit. The Delaware Solid Waste Authority operated the Pine Tree Station subject to a Department-issued permit. In 2017, the Authority transferred operations of the station to a subcontractor, Greggo & Ferrera, Inc. (“G&F”). Later that year - and apparently without the Authority’s knowledge - G&F began using vehicles owned and operated by its affiliate entity, Contractors Hauling, to transport waste from the transfer station to waste disposal facilities. The Department determined that each of the three entities - the Authority, G&F, and Contractors Hauling - violated various requirements related to solid waste, and the Department assessed civil penalties and costs. Each entity filed a timely appeal with the Environmental Appeals Board. The Board reversed the Department’s assessments of fines and penalties. The Department appealed to the Superior Court. The court held: (1) the Department had the authority to impose the permit condition, but it was unconstitutionally vague; (2) the Authority was strictly liable for failing to provide a complete list of transporters; (3) the Board erred by setting aside the penalties assessed against G&F and Contractors Hauling; and (4) the Secretary’s cost assessments were not before the Board. Each of the parties appealed the Superior Court’s decision. After review, the Delaware Supreme Court held: (1) the Superior Court and the Board erred by holding that the permit condition was unlawful; (2) the Superior Court properly held that the Authority was strictly liable for failing to provide a complete list of transporters; (3) the Superior Court erred by overturning the Board’s determination that no penalty should have been assessed against G&F and Contractors Hauling; and (4) the Superior Court properly held that the Secretary’s ability to recover costs was not before the Board. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded the case back to the Superior Court for further proceedings. View "Delaware Solid Waste Authority v. Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control" on Justia Law

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A Delaware superior court affirmed decisions by the Delaware Secretary of State (the “Secretary”) and the Delaware Board of Medical Licensure and Discipline (the “Board”) to revoke Dr. Nihar Gala’s medical license and controlled substance registration (“CSR”). The court upheld the Board’s and Secretary’s decisions after finding that substantial evidence existed to support the issued discipline. On appeal, Gala argued: (1) the Board’s decision to deliberate “behind closed doors” rendered the record incomplete for judicial review; (2) the Board and the Secretary were biased; and (3) the Board’s and the Secretary’s decisions to revoke his medical license and CSR were not supported by substantial evidence. The Delaware Supreme Court found the the Board and Secretary's decisions were supported by substantial evidence and were free from legal error. Accordingly, it affirmed the superior court. View "Gala v. Bullock" on Justia Law

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Appellant Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (“DNREC”), challenged the Superior Court’s holding that Appellee Food & Water Watch (“Watch”), had organizational standing to contest Order No. 2016-W-0008 (the “Secretary’s Order”), which established a system to regulate pollutants from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (“Feeding Operations”). Specifically, DNREC argued Watch did not have organizational standing to challenge the Secretary’s Order because its representatives could not adequately establish injury in fact, causation, and redressability. Watch responded that this action was moot: since DNREC ultimately won on the merits and neither party appealed the merits decision, the issue of standing was no longer justiciable because the action was not adversarial. Further, even if this action was not moot, Watch argued that it had standing. Having reviewed the briefs, the supplemental memoranda, and the record on appeal, the Delaware Supreme Court dismissed this appeal for lack of standing to appeal. DNREC was the prevailing party below; the Superior Court granted DNREC all of the relief it requested; and the Superior Court’s standing decision did not meet the criteria for a collateral adverse ruling. Accordingly, the standing decision did not render DNREC an aggrieved party, and DNREC does not have standing to appeal. View "DNREC v. Food & Water Watch" on Justia Law

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The trustees of the Delaware Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection (the “LFCP”) requested an advisory opinion from the Delaware Supreme Court regarding whether the trustees had discretion to consider paying claims involving misconduct by attorneys who were not members of the Delaware bar, but who were admitted pro hac vice or who had in the past received limited permission to practice. The question arose from the language of Supreme Court Rule 66(a)(ii), which stated that the purpose of the trust fund was to address “losses caused to the public by defalcations of members of the Bar;” subsections 1 and 2 of Rule 4(1) of the LFCP Rules, which provide that the Trustees will consider for reimbursement from the fund certain claims involving “a member of the Delaware Bar;” and subsection 3 of Rule 4(1) of the LFCP Rules, which provides that the trustees will consider for reimbursement certain claims involving a “member of the Bar.” The Supreme Court held that the trustees’ discretion was not limited to paying claims for reimbursement involving an attorney who was a member of the Delaware bar at the time of the defalcation that gave rise to the claim. View "IN RE: Request of the Trustees of the Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection for an Advisory Opinion" on Justia Law

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The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control reviewed wastewater treatment facility construction permit applications under regulations adopted in 1999. In 2014, DNREC revised its regulations and adopted new requirements. In this appeal, the issue presented for the Delaware Supreme Court was whether Artesian Wastewater Management, Inc.’s 2017 construction permit application, which Artesian characterized as an amendment to its existing 2013 wastewater treatment facility construction permit, had to comply with the new requirements of the 2014 regulations. The Environmental Appeals Board and the Superior Court decided Artesian did not have to comply with the new requirements. The Supreme Court agreed and affirmed. View "Keep Our Wells Clean, et al. v. DNREC" on Justia Law

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Mother and Father appealed a Family Court order terminating their parental rights to Giselle, who was four months old when the Family Court first ordered her removed from the parents’ care. The court found Giselle was at risk of chronic and life threatening abuse based on the previous unexplained serious injuries to her older sibling. The Family Court also found Mother and Father failed to plan for Giselle’s physical needs and her mental and emotional health and development. Mother and Father challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the termination of parental rights and raised a number of constitutional arguments on appeal. Finding the arguments lacked merit, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Family Court’s judgment. View "Sierra v. DSCYF" on Justia Law

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Appellant, Overstock.com, Inc. (Overstock) appealed a superior court judgment awarding Appellees/Plaintiff-Relator William French and the State of Delaware (Plaintiffs), $22,000 in civil penalties and $7,266,412.94 in treble damages for violations of the Delaware False Claims and Reporting Act (the DFCRA or the Act). Plaintiffs alleged Overstock engaged in what they described as a scam to evade its obligation to escheat balances owed on abandoned gift cards to the Delaware State Escheator. It did so, they claimed, by making it falsely appear that its gift cards were held by an Ohio company, not Overstock. It was undisputed that Overstock did not file escheat reports or pay the money value of abandoned gift cards to the Delaware Escheator during the years in question. The case was tried before a jury on a theory that Overstock violated the Act between 2010 to 2013. Overstock raised several claims on appeal, but the Delaware Supreme Court addressed only one. Overstock contended the superior court misinterpreted the Act and erred by instructing the jury that the knowing failure to file escheat reports when required to do so was no different than actively making a false statement. Overstock contended that the failure to file such reports does not satisfy the Act’s requirement that a false record or statement be made or used to avoid, conceal or decrease an obligation to pay money to the Government. Furthermore, Overstock contended it did not make or use any false record or statement in connection with gift cards that violated the Act. The Supreme Court agreed that the evidence failed to establish the making or use of a false record or statement in violation of the Act. Accordingly, the superior court’s judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Overstock.com, Inc. v. State" on Justia Law

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The Division of Family Services ("DFS") investigated allegations that the minor, Appellant Daniel Spintz, sexually assaulted his younger sister. After its investigation, DFS determined to substantiate and place Spintz on the Child Protection Registry. This appeal concerned whether DFS provided adequate notice of its intent to substantiate and place Spintz on the Child Protection Registry. On November 27, 2017, DFS sent Spintz and his guardian the Notice through certified and regular mail. The certified mail was not successfully delivered and returned to DFS. On April 10, 2018, after the conclusion of parallel delinquency proceedings, DFS filed the Petition with the Family Court. DFS also sent Spintz and his guardian the Petition with a copy of the Notice attached for reference. Spintz claimed he did not receive the November 2017 notice, and only became aware of the substantiation proceedings in April 2018 when he received the Notice attached to the Petition. The Family Court commissioner concluded the Notice sent with the Petition in April 2018 satisfied all statutory and constitutional notice requirements. On review, the Family Court affirmed the commissioner's order. After considering the parties’ arguments and the record on appeal, the Delaware Supreme Court found that Delaware law required DFS to send the Notice of Intent to Substantiate before DFS files the Petition for Substantiation. Therefore, DFS did not meet its notice requirement by sending the Notice with the already-filed Petition. That, however, did not change the ultimate outcome of this appeal because DFS introduced evidence showing that it sent the Notice by certified mail on November 27, 2017, long before it filed the Petition. DFS also sent the Notice by regular mail at that time; and it sent the Notice a second time on April 10, 2018, which Spintz received. Based on this evidence, the Supreme Court concluded that DFS provided adequate notice that satisfied statutory and constitutional requirements. View "Spintz v. DFS" on Justia Law

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Claimant LeShawn Washington suffered an injury to his left shoulder in a work-related incident in 2016 and was placed on disability. Upon returning to work, he claimed that his shoulder symptoms had worsened. Claimant filed a petition seeking compensation for a recurrence of temporary total disability (the “TTD Petition”), which the Accident Board (the “IAB”) denied (the “TTD Opinion”). Claimant then filed a permanent impairment ("PI") Petition. Claimant's employer, Delaware Transit Corporation, successfully moved to dismiss, arguing the IAB had previously ruled on the matter during Claimant’s TTD Petition hearing when it stated that Claimant had “fully recovered” from his work injury. In preparing for the hearing on the PI Petition, both parties obtained medical expert opinions regarding the degree of Claimant’s permanent impairment. Both parties’ experts agreed that there was some degree of permanent impairment. Nevertheless, DTC moved to dismiss the PI Petition at the commencement of the hearing. The IAB agreed with the employer, and dismissed the PI petition on those grounds, before considering the permanent impairment testimony. Claimant appealed the IAB’s decision to the Superior Court, arguing that the IAB never concluded that he had “fully recovered.” Furthermore, Claimant argued: (1) the Superior Court erred in concluding that the Board had reasonably interpreted the TTD Opinion; and (2) the Superior Court erred as a matter of law in holding that the Board’s dismissal of his PI Petition was supported by substantial evidence. The Delaware Supreme Court held the Superior Court erred in affirming the Board’s decision to deny Claimant’s PI Petition. "Although the Board is permitted to interpret its own orders and rulings, the Board erred when it dismissed Claimant’s PI Petition based solely on the expert testimony presented in connection with his TTD Petition." The decision was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Washington v. Delaware Transit Corp" on Justia Law

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McGinnis Auto & Mobile Home Salvage, LLC salvaged discarded and dilapidated mobile homes on its property in Kent County, Delaware. According to the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), a large and unsightly waste pile, possibly contaminated with asbestos, had accumulated over time. DNREC cited McGinnis for environmental violations and for operating a reclamation facility without a permit. DNREC gave McGinnis a chance to bring the property into compliance, but McGinnis failed to do so. DNREC responded by issuing a cease and desist order requiring McGinnis to remove the waste pile from the property in an environmentally responsible manner. McGinnis appealed the order to the Environmental Appeals Board, arguing that DNREC could order the illegal activity to stop, but could not order McGinnis to take affirmative action to remove the waste pile from the property. The EAB agreed with McGinnis, finding that the order exceeded the scope of its authority. The Superior Court affirmed the EAB’s decision, finding that DNREC did not have the authority under its cease and desist power to require McGinnis to remove the waste pile, direct how the waste had to be removed, or demand documentation. On appeal, DNREC contended that the EAB and Superior Court took too narrow of a view of DNREC’s cease and desist authority. The Delaware Supreme Court agreed: "it follows that the only way to cease and desist from the violation is to remove the contaminated debris from the site. ... the Secretary can require a violator to cease and desist from continuing the illegal storage of solid waste. If the violator ignores the Secretary’s order, Section 6005 provides the possible remedies for a violation of 'any order of the Secretary.' The Secretary may impose monetary penalties. The Secretary may seek injunctive relief in the Court of Chancery. And, in his discretion, the Secretary may opt for conciliation. None of the possible remedies is mandatory or inconsistent with the Secretary’s authority to enter a cease and desist order." View "DNREC v. McGinnis Auto & Mobile Home Salvage, LLC" on Justia Law