Justia Delaware Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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Appellant Heather Rybicki was convicted by a jury of driving under the influence of alcohol (“DUI”). She was sentenced to two years of Level V incarceration, suspended after three months for one year and six months of Level IV home confinement, suspended after six months for one year of Level III probation. On appeal, Rybicki argued: (1) there was no probable cause to issue the search warrant to obtain a blood sample used to determine her BAC; (2) there was no probable cause for her warrantless arrest; (3) absent the BAC evidence, there was insufficient evidence for conviction; (4) the State did not lay a sufficient foundation for the BAC evidence; and (5) two jury instructions given by the trial court were improper comments on the evidence. Rejecting all of appellant's contentions on appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Rybicki v. State" on Justia Law
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Defendants-appellants Hill International, Inc., David Richter, Camille Andrews, Brian Clymer, Alan Fellheimer, Irvin Richter, Steven Kramer and Gary Mazzucco sought review of Court of Chancery orders dated June 5, 2015 and June 16, 2015. In its June 5, 2015 Order, the Court of Chancery enjoined Hill from conducting any business at its June 9, 2015 Annual Meeting, other than convening the meeting for the sole purpose of adjourning it for a minimum of 21 days, in order to permit plaintiff-appellee Opportunity Partners L.P. to present certain items of business and director nominations at Hill’s 2015 Annual Meeting. On June 16, 2015, the Court of Chancery entered the Order dated June 5, 2015 as a partial final judgment pursuant to Court of Chancery Rule 54(b). This expedited appeal presented for the Supreme Court's resolution a dispute over the proper interpretation of certain provisions of Articles II and III of Hill’s Bylaws as Amended and Restated on November 12, 2007. The sections of the Bylaws at issue, specifically language in Sections 2.2 and 3.3, concerned the operative date for determining the time within which stockholders must give notice of any shareholder proposals or director nominees to be considered at Hill’s upcoming annual meeting. After review of the bylaws and the Court of Chancery's orders, the Supreme Court found reversible error and affirmed. View "Hill International, Inc., et al. v. Opportunity Partners, L.P." on Justia Law
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Defendant-appellant Mark Zambrana was convicted by the Superior Court following a bench trial on two counts of Sexual Solicitation of a Child. On appeal, he argued that his admitted misconduct of soliciting his 15 year old neighbor, S.Z., to remove her shirt and bra while he surreptitiously watched her did not qualify as sexual solicitation. He argues that 11 Del. C. 1112A required a defendant to create a physical “depiction” of the victim’s nudity in order to be convicted, and that he created no such “depiction” here. The Supreme Court disagreed and affirmed the conviction: "[a]lthough the term 'depiction' has multiple definitions, we find that for the purposes of section 1112A, 'depiction' encompasses not only tangible manifestations such as photographs and videos, but also includes live conduct. This definition best accords with the statute as a whole and the legislative purpose in enacting it. Applying this definition to the facts before us, we conclude that Zambrana’s actions constituted Sexual Solicitation of a Child." View "Zambrana v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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This case arose when Henry and Mary Lou Black and Blackball Properties, LLC (collectively, the “Blacks”), challenged the Department of Land Use's decision to grant a change of use certificate to neighboring property owners, Gary Staffieri and Adria Charles-Staffieri, to the New Castle County Board of License, Inspection and Review. The Staffieris had rented out the property for use as office space for approximately ten years before deciding to open an automobile detailing shop on the premises, which required them to obtain a change of use certificate from the Department. When the Staffieris first received their certificate from the Department, the Blacks successfully appealed and the Board reversed the Department's decision. But the Staffieris reapplied, the Department once again issued their certificate, and this time, the Board affirmed the Department's decision. The Blacks were unable to appeal the Board's decision to a reviewing court because the General Assembly chose not to provide that right to parties aggrieved by a Board decision. The Blacks therefore sought review by writ of certiorari filed at the Superior Court. The Superior Court granted the writ and affirmed the Board. The Supreme Court, after its review, found no reversible error and affirmed the Superior Court. View "Black v. New Castle Cty. Bd. of License, Inspection & Review" on Justia Law

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit certified a question of Delaware law arising out of an appeal from a decision issued by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The question pertained to contract interpretation. Plaintiff-appellant NAF Holdings secured a contractual commitment of its contracting counterparty, defendant Li & Fung (Trading) Limited, to render a benefit to a third party. The counterparty breached that commitment. Could "the promisee-plaintiff bring a direct suit against the promisor for damages suffered by the plaintiff resulting from the promisor's breach, notwithstanding that (i) the third-party beneficiary of the contract is a corporation in which the plaintiff-promisee owns stock; and (ii) the plaintiff-promisee's loss derives indirectly from the loss suffered by the third-party beneficiary corporation; or must the court grant the motion of the promisor-defendant to dismiss the suit on the theory that the plaintiff may enforce the contract only through a derivative action brought in the name of the third-party beneficiary corporation?" The Delaware Supreme Court answered that under Delaware law, a party to a commercial contract who sues to enforce its contractual rights can bring a direct contract action under Delaware law. "Although the relationship of that party to the third-party beneficiary might well have relevance in determining whether the contract claim is viable as a matter of contract law, nothing in Delaware law requires the promisee-plaintiff's contract claim to be prosecuted as a derivative action. " View "NAF Holdings, LLC v. LI & Fung (Trading) Limited" on Justia Law
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In August 2013, officers from New Castle County Police Operation Safe Streets searched a home in Bear. During the search, the officers found Mark Smolka inside the house and a Taurus .38 special revolver in a closet. Smolka, who was a person prohibited from possessing a firearm, admitted at the scene that he had moved the gun to a closet and placed a lock on it. Smolka was arrested and charged with, among other offenses, possession of a firearm by a person prohibited. Before trial, Smolka moved to suppress evidence he claimed was illegally obtained during the search as well as his statements to the officers. The Superior Court denied Smolka's motion because Smolka failed to appear at the suppression hearing. The State then introduced at trial the evidence subject to the suppression motion. The jury found Smolka guilty of the firearm possession offense, and the trial judge sentenced him to three years imprisonment at Level 5 suspended for six months at Level 4 home confinement and one year at Level 3 probation supervision. Smolka claimed on appeal that the trial court erred when it found that he waived his right to suppress the evidence in question because he failed to appear at the suppression hearing. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that a defendant's voluntary failure to appear at a suppression hearing waived his right to be present at the hearing, but did not waive the defendant's constitutional right to challenge evidence as unlawfully obtained. The Court therefore remanded the case to Superior Court to conduct a suppression hearing. View "Smolka v. Delaware" on Justia Law
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A jury convicted Anzara Brown on various drug dealing and drug possession charges. In his direct appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court, Brown challenged three decisions of the Superior Court regarding the admissibility of certain evidence used against him at trial. Because the Supreme Court found that the Superior Court acted within its discretion to deny Brown's suppression motions and admit the evidence, the Supreme Court affirmed his judgment of convictions. View "Brown v. Delaware" on Justia Law
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In the name of controlling litigation costs, a heating and air conditioning contractor, Blue Hen Mechanical, Inc. sued Christian Brothers Risk Pooling Trust as subrogee for the Little Sisters of the Poor for malicious prosecution. In January 2008, the Little Sisters of the Poor contracted with Blue Hen to maintain the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning equipment at its nonprofit residential nursing home facility. Two months later, the nursing home's air conditioner broke, requiring the unit to be replaced at a cost of $168,740. The Little Sisters of the Poor filed suit against Blue Hen, alleging that the unit's failure was due to Blue Hen's negligence in inspecting and maintaining the equipment. After briefing and oral argument, the Superior Court determined that the Little Sisters of the Poor had not produced sufficient evidence of Blue Hen's negligence, and granted Blue Hen's motion for summary judgment. Rather than seek costs in that lawsuit, Blue Hen initiated another suit against the Little Sisters of the Poor, alleging malicious prosecution and abuse of process. Blue Hen conceded that the Little Sisters of the Poor initially had good cause to sue. But it contended that during the course of that litigation, the Little Sisters of the Poor should have realized that its suit lacked probable cause, and should have dismissed its claims against Blue Hen. The Superior Court refused to enlarge the tort of malicious prosecution, which has historically been disfavored by Delaware courts, and determined that under the tort (as Delaware court have defined it), Blue Hen failed to demonstrate that the Little Sisters of the Poor acted maliciously in bringing its action and granted summary judgment to the Little Sisters of the Poor. Blue Hen appealed, and the Supreme Court affirmed: "[w]hatever the original wisdom for sanctioning the tort of malicious prosecution, we refuse to extend it to encompass claims properly brought before the court in the first instance. As important, there is no basis in the summary judgment record to support a rational jury finding that the Little Sisters of the Poor acted maliciously in the original suit, rather than in a good faith belief that Blue Hen was responsible for the serious losses that the Little Sisters of the Poor had suffered." View "Blue Hen Mechanical, Inc. v. Christian Brothers Risk Pooling Trust" on Justia Law
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Defendant-appellee Andy Laboy was arrested and indicted on charges of driving under the influence. He pled guilty, admitting in his plea colloquy with the Superior Court and his plea agreement that he was eligible to be sentenced as a third-time offender because he had been convicted of two previous DUIs. The Superior Court sentenced Laboy as a first-time offender. The State appealed, arguing that the Superior Court erred in disregarding his first two DUI offenses. Upon further review, the Supreme Court agreed: the Superior Court did not have discretion to ignore Laboy's previous DUI convictions under the DUI statute. The Court therefore reversed and remanded so that Laboy could be sentenced in accordance with the DUI statute as a third-time offender. View "Delaware v. Laboy" on Justia Law
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Appellant Donta Vickers appealed his sentence stemming from his conviction as a habitual offender. A jury found Vickers guilty of assault second degree as a lesser-included offense of assault first degree; attempted robbery first degree; home invasion; conspiracy second degree; and three counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. Vickers did not dispute that he has been convicted of three violent felonies on three separate occasions, nor did he dispute that, at least as to all of the convictions, the requirements of the habitual offender statute, 11 Del. C. 4214(b), have been met by these offenses. Instead, Vickers argued on appeal that his conviction for the first of the three violent felony offenses, arson first degree, should not have been counted under the habitual offender statute because he was a juvenile at the time of the offense and conviction. The Supreme Court found no merit in the appeal and therefore affirmed. View "Vickers v. Delaware" on Justia Law
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