Justia Delaware Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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Tracey West was pulled over by police officer Thomas Gaul when her car was drifting back and forth in the lane. The officer saw the car swerve sharply to avoid hitting a concrete island. When he approached the car, Gaul smelled alcohol. West "staggered out of the car" and failed field sobriety tests. She was charged with an illegal lane change and driving under the influence. Before trial, West moved to suppress the evidence that she was intoxicated. She claimed that Officer Gaul lacked the reasonable suspicion required by the Fourth Amendment to make an investigative stop of her car. Thus, any evidence of her intoxication gathered after the stop should have been suppressed. After hearing testimony from the officer and reviewing the video from the police car camera, the trial judge dismissed the lane change charge, but denied the motion to suppress. The State then introduced at trial the evidence of her intoxicated state, and a jury convicted West of drunk driving. West appealed her conviction to the Superior Court, which affirmed the trial court’s ruling on the community caretaker doctrine, and also found that Officer Gaul had reasonable suspicion to stop West for driving while intoxicated. West then appealed to the Delaware Supreme Court, arguing the community caretaker doctrine did not apply, and Officer Gaul lacked reasonable suspicion as required by the Fourth Amendment for an investigatory stop of her car. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "West v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellee Isaiah McCoy was a pretrial detainee awaiting trial on capital murder and related charges. In May 2010, McCoy was arrested and charged with the murder of James Munford in Dover. He was convicted and sentenced to death at his first trial in June 2012. In January 2015, the Supreme Court reversed his conviction and remanded the case for a new trial. Using a points-based, objective risk assessment tool, the Department of Correction classified him to be held in the maximum security Secured Housing Unit (“SHU”) at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center (“JTVCC”). McCoy filed a motion in the criminal case requesting that he be transferred from the SHU to the prison’s general population on the ground that detention at the SHU was interfering with his Sixth Amendment right to assistance of counsel. The Superior Court, over the State’s objection, granted McCoy’s motion, and McCoy was, in fact, transferred to general population. While McCoy had some complaints about the adequacy of the attorney visitation rooms in the SHU and access to the library, the Superior Court based its order in significant part upon its perception of “the emotional and physical impact that prolonged, solitary placement has had on [McCoy’s] Sixth Amendment right to assistance of counsel . . . .” The Superior Court found there that it had such jurisdiction under 10 Del. C. sec. 542, 11 Del. C. sec. 6504, and several other cases, to order the transfer of a detainee from maximum security to the general population. The State renewed its jurisdictional argument in this case. After review, the Delaware Supreme Court concluded that neither the Sixth Amendment right to assistance of counsel nor the statutes and cases relied upon by the Superior Court granted it the authority to transfer a detainee from one housing unit to another in a criminal case. The order of the Superior Court was, therefore, vacated. View "Delaware v. McCoy" on Justia Law

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Milton Taylor was sentenced to death in 2001. He petitioned the Delaware Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Superior Court to docket his second motion for post-conviction relief under Superior Court Criminal Rule 61. The State conceded that the writ should be issued. After careful consideration, the Court held that the Superior Court erroneously concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to act in Taylor’s case because of a stay of execution order entered by the United States District Court for the District of Delaware. The Delaware Supreme Court issued the writ. View "Matter of Taylor" on Justia Law

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Joann Enrique appealed the Superior Court’s grant of summary judgment for State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company in an action she brought for bad faith denial of uninsured motorist (“UM”) coverage stemming from a 2005 car accident. In 2005, an uninsured driver crashed into Enrique’s car by improperly turning into her lane. Enrique suffered a fractured rib, trauma to the right knee requiring arthroscopic surgery, trauma to the left knee for which she was a candidate for arthroscopic surgery, abrasions, and soft tissue injuries. Throughout the settlement negotiations and the processing of Enrique’s claim, State Farm personnel expressed concerns about whether Enrique’s knee injuries were caused by pre-existing conditions. The record was unclear as to why there were large lapses in time during the settlement negotiations. While the parties were waiting for the Independent Medical Examiner report, in July 2008, Enrique filed suit against State Farm, seeking benefits up to the $100,000 policy limits, as well as punitive damages against State Farm for bad faith by refusing to pay up to those limits. In support of the bad faith claim, Enrique alleged that State Farm refused to compensate her up to the UM policy limits without any reasonable justification. In October 2008, the Superior Court severed and stayed the bad faith claim pending resolution of the UM damages claim. The parties then stipulated to a partial dismissal of the bad faith claim without prejudice. Due to the continuing impasse, in September 2008 State Farm decided to advance Enrique $25,000, as the parties both agreed the claim was worth at least that much. As trial approached, State Farm offered Enrique another $20,000 to settle the case, for a total of $45,000. Enrique also revised her demand, and as of January 2010, was willing to settle for an additional $65,000, representing a $90,000 demand. The parties could not bridge the gap, and the damages case went to trial in February 2010. The jury returned a $260,000 verdict. State Farm did not seek remittitur, but did appeal on an evidentiary issue. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed, and State Farm paid the remaining $75,000 of their policy limits, costs and interests. Enrique then pursued her bad faith claim against State Farm, claiming as damages the unpaid $160,000 portion of the jury verdict, prejudgment interest, and punitive damages. The Superior Court granted State Farm summary judgment because Enrique failed to make a prima facie showing of bad faith. The court based its decision on causation issues arising from Enrique’s pre-existing knee problems (which gave State Farm a reasonable basis for its actions), State Farm’s multiple valuations of Enrique’s claim that put it below policy limits, and her failure to offer facts showing State Farm exhibited reckless indifference in handling her claim. Finding no reversible error as to the Superior Court's grant of summary judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Enrique v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Caris Life Sciences, Inc. operated three business units: Caris Diagnostics, TargetNow and Casrisome. The Diagnostics unit was consistently profitable. TargetNow generated revenue but not profits, and Carisome was in the developmental stage. To secure financing for TargetNow and Carisome, Caris sold Caris Diagnostics to Miraca Holdings. The transaction was structured using a "spin/merge" structure: Caris transferred ownership of TargetNow and Carisome to a new subsidiary, then spun off that subsidiary to its stockholders. Owning only Caris Diagnostics, Caris merged with a wholly owned subsidiary of Miraca. Plaintiff Kurt Fox sued on behalf of a class of option holders of Caris. Fox alleged that Caris breached the terms of the Stock Incentive Plan because members of management as Plan Administrator, rather than the Board of Directors, determined how much the option holders would receive. Regardless of who made the determination, the $0.61 per share attributed to the spun off company was not a good faith determination, and resulted from an arbitrary and capricious process. The Court of Chancery found that fair market value was not determined, and the value received by the option holders was not determined in good faith and that the ultimate value per option was determined through a process that was "arbitrary and capricious." Caris appealed, arguing the Court of Chancery erred in arriving at its judgment. Finding no reversible error in the Court of Chancery's judgment, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed. View "CDX Holdings, Inc. v. Fox" on Justia Law

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In this direct appeal, the issue before the Delaware Supreme Court implicated the constitutional boundaries of a trial court’s discretion to limit the scope of a criminal defendant’s cross-examination of the witnesses against him. Wayne Williams was indicted on two counts of Drug Dealing plus aggravating factors, one count of Tampering with Physical Evidence, one count of Resisting Arrest, and two counts of Possession of Drug Paraphernalia. The principal question presented on appeal was the extent to which Williams should have been permitted at trial to cross-examine witnesses concerning misconduct at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (“OCME”) and elicit testimony that presented an alternative explanation for the weight discrepancy involving the drug evidence in his case. The Court concluded there was no unconstitutional restriction of Williams’ confrontation rights and that the Superior Court imposed reasonable limits when exercising its discretion to limit the scope of cross-examination. In view of the overwhelming evidence unrelated to the misconduct at the OCME, the Court held that, even if the trial court had erred, the error would have been harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Accordingly, but for the Tampering with Physical Evidence conviction which the State conceded had to be reversed, the Supreme Court affirmed Williams’ convictions. View "Williams v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs were all affiliates of Arthur and Angela Williams, who owned stock in Citigroup. The defendants were Citigroup and eight of its officers and directors. In 1998, Citicorp and Travelers Group, Inc. merged, forming Citigroup. At that point, Arthur Williams's shares in Travelers Group were converted into 17.6 million shares of Citigroup common stock, which were valued at the time of the merger at $35 per share. In 2007, the Williamses had these shares transferred into AHW Investment Partnership, MFS Inc., and seven grantor-retained annuity trusts, all of which the Williamses controlled. In 2007, the Williamses sold one million shares at $55 per share. But, the Williamses halted their plan to sell all of their Citigroup stock because, based on Citigroup's filings and financial statements, they concluded that there was little downside to retaining their remaining 16.6 million shares. The Williamses allegedly held those shares for the next twenty-two months, finally selling them in March 2009 for $3.09 per share. After selling their 16.6 million shares, the Williamses sued Citigroup in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, arguing that their decision not to sell all of their shares in May 2007, and their similar decisions to hold on at least three later dates, were due to Citigroup‘s failure to disclose accurate information about its true financial condition from 2007 to 2009. The Second Circuit certified a question of Delaware law to the Delaware Supreme Court arising from an appeal of a New York District Court decision. The Second Circuit asked whether the claims of a plaintiff against a corporate defendant alleging damages based on the plaintiff‘s continuing to hold the corporation's stock in reliance on the defendant's misstatements as the stock diminished in value properly brought as direct or derivative claims. The Delaware Court answered: the holder claims in this action were direct. "This is because under the laws governing those claims [(]those of either New York or Florida[)] the claims belong to the stockholder who allegedly relied on the corporation's misstatements to her detriment. Under those state laws, the holder claims are not derivative because they are personal to the stockholder and do not belong to the corporation itself." View "Citigroup Inc., et al. v. AHW Investment Partnership, MFS, Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Stephanie Buckley sought PIP benefits following an accident involving a school bus. Defendant State Farm insured the school bus that Buckley intended to take to school on March 27, 2012. Buckley was hit by another vehicle when, after receiving the signal from the bus driver, she crossed the street to board the bus. In a detailed opinion, the Superior Court explained why Buckley was entitled to PIP coverage from State Farm. The Supreme Court affirmed, finding that the Superior Court had no difficulty finding that the school bus was involved in the accident for purposes of 21 Del. C. 2118, "because the bus driver, by law, controlled the process by which Buckley entered and exited the bus, and the accident occurred after the bus driver signaled her to proceed and she followed that instruction." View "State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Buckley" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Martin Fountain appealed a superior court judgment denying his motion for resentencing on grounds that the Amended Sentencing Act did not apply retroactively. With the help of amicus curiae, he argued that the Act vested a judge with the discretion to modify a consecutive sentence entered before the Act was effective July 9, 2014, and to reimpose concurrent prison terms. The State argued the judicial discretion provided for in the Act operated prospectively only, because there was no express statement in the amendment that made it retroactive. After review, the Supreme Court agreed with the State that the Act applied prospectively. Therefore, the superior court's judgment was affirmed. View "Fountain v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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In this case, a large Georgia corporation that properly registered to do business in Delaware was sued in Delaware over claims having nothing to do with its activities in Delaware. Adhering to the interpretation given to Delaware's registration statutes, the Superior Court held that, notwithstanding the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in "Daimler AG v. Bauman," the foreign corporation consented to Delaware's general jurisdiction merely by registering to do business in Delaware. After review, the Delaware Supreme Court concluded that after "Daimler," it was "not tenable to read Delaware's registration statutes" in the same way as the Superior Court did in "Sternberg v. O'Neil … Delaware cannot exercise general jurisdiction over it consistent with principles of due process. Furthermore, the plaintiffs concede that they cannot establish specific jurisdiction over the nonresident defendant under the long-arm statute or principles of due process. Therefore, the plaintiffs' claim must be dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction. Accordingly, we reverse the Superior Court‘s judgment." View "Genuine Parts Co. v. Cepec, et al." on Justia Law