Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court
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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

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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