Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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A stormwater pipe ruptured beneath a coal ash pond at Duke Energy Corporation’s Dan River Steam Station in North Carolina. The spill sent a slurry of coal ash and wastewater into the Dan River, fouling the river for many miles downstream. In May 2015, Duke Energy pled guilty to nine misdemeanor criminal violations of the Federal Clean Water Act and paid a fine exceeding $100 million. The plaintiffs, stockholders of Duke Energy, filed a derivative suit in the Court of Chancery against certain of Duke Energy’s directors and officers, seeking to hold the directors personally liable for the damages the Company suffered from the spill. The directors moved to dismiss the derivative complaint, claiming the plaintiffs were required under Court of Chancery Rule 23.1 to make a demand on the board of directors before instituting litigation. Plaintiffs responded that demand was futile because the board’s mismanagement of the Company’s environmental concerns rose to the level of a "Caremark" violation, which posed a substantial risk of the directors’ personal liability for damages caused by the spill and enforcement action. The Court of Chancery disagreed and dismissed the derivative complaint. The Delaware Supreme Court concurred with the Court of Chancery that the plaintiffs did not sufficiently allege that the directors faced a substantial likelihood of personal liability for a Caremark violation. Instead, the directors at most faced the risk of an exculpated breach of the duty of care. Thus, the stockholders were required to make a demand on the board to consider the claims before filing suit. View "City of Birmingham Retirement & Relief System v. Good, et al." on Justia Law

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At issue before the Delaware Supreme Court in this matter was whether unelected officials from the Delaware parks and forest departments (whose power was expressly limited) could ban (except for a narrow exception for hunting) the possession of guns in state parks and forests in contravention of Delawareans’ rights under the State’s constitution. "Clearly they cannot. They lack such authority because they may not pass unconstitutional laws, and the regulations completely eviscerate a core right to keep and bear arms for defense of self and family outside the home -- a right this Court has already recognized." As such, the regulations were ruled unconstitutional on their face. View "Bridgeville Rifle & Pistol Club, Ltd. v. Small" on Justia Law

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With certain exceptions, a sex offender can rebut the presumption established by the Child Protection From Sex Offenders Act by demonstrating his compliance with the conditions in the statute. This appeal raised one issue: whether the Sex Offenders Act and its rebuttable presumption operated outside of Family Court custody proceedings. The Delaware Supreme Court concluded, as did the Family Court, that the General Assembly intended that the Act and its rebuttable presumption to operate only when the Family Court determines custody, residency, and visitation as part of a Family Court custody proceeding. The Court therefore affirmed the Family Court’s order. View "Division of Family Services v. O'Bryan" on Justia Law

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The New Castle County Office of Assessment (“New Castle County”) valued office condominium units for real property tax purposes but failed to take into account depreciation. The Superior Court affirmed the decision of the New Castle County Board of Assessment Review (the “Board”) upholding New Castle County’s valuation. The property owner appealed, arguing that its office condominium units were over-assessed because New Castle County and the Board did not factor in the age and resulting depreciation of the units. Because Delaware law required that all relevant factors bearing on the value of a property (in its current condition) be considered, the Delaware Supreme Court reversed and required that New Castle County reassess the value of the units, taking into account the influence depreciation has on their taxable value. View "Commerce Associates, LP, et al. v. New Castle County Office of Assessment, et al." on Justia Law

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This dispute centered on subrogation claims Victoria Insurance Company and Nationwide Insurance Company asserted against the City of Wilmington. This appeal presented a question of first impression before the Supreme Court: whether, under Delaware's motor vehicle insurance statute governing subrogation disputes among insurers and self-insurers, the losing party may appeal de novo to the Superior Court from an adverse arbitration award. In considering consolidated motions to dismiss two such appeals filed by the City against the insurers, the Superior Court determined that 21 Del. C. 2118(g)(3), which mandated arbitration for subrogation disputes arising between insurers and self-insurers, did not provide a right to appeal. Because the statute unambiguously provided for appeals from mandatory arbitration of subrogation disputes between insurers and self-insurers, the Supreme Court reversed. View "City of Wilmington v. Nationwide Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Magdalena Guardado, an undocumented worker, was employed as a machine manager for Roos Foods when she was involved in a work-related accident. She injured her left wrist and thereafter received total disability benefits. The employer petitioned the Industrial Accident Board (“the Board”) to terminate those benefits on the ground that the worker was no longer disabled and could return to work. The Board found: (1) the employer met its initial burden of showing that the worker was no longer totally disabled; (2) that the worker was a prima facie displaced worker based solely on her status as an undocumented worker; and (3) the employer had failed to meet its burden of showing regular employment opportunities within the worker’s capabilities. Accordingly, it denied the employer’s petition. The questions this case presented for the Delaware Supreme Court's review were: (1) whether an injured worker’s immigration status alone rendered her a prima facie displaced worker; and (2) whether the Board properly found that the employer failed to meet its burden of showing regular employment opportunities within the worker’s capabilities because its evidence failed to take into account the worker’s undocumented status. The Court concluded that an undocumented worker’s immigration status was not relevant to determining whether she was a prima facie displaced worker, but it was a relevant factor to be considered in determining whether she is an actually displaced worker. The Court also concluded that the Board correctly rejected the employer’s evidence of regular employment opportunities for the worker because that evidence failed to consider her undocumented status. View "Roos Foods v. Guardado" on Justia Law

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Robert Ovens appealed the Superior Court’s reversal of the Delaware Human Relations Commission’s award of damages, attorney’s fees, and costs to Ovens based on the Commission’s determination that a prison was a place of "public accommodation." The Commission found that the Department of Correction (“DOC”), through its operation of Sussex Correctional Institution (“SCI”), violated section 4504(a) of the Delaware Code (known as theEqual Accommodations Law), by not providing equal accommodations to Ovens, who was deaf, while he was incarcerated. After review of the issue, the Delaware Supreme Court concluded that a prison was not a place of "public accommodation" as contemplated by the law. "Ovens’ argument hinges on his assertion that a prison is a state agency, and therefore, it falls under the second sentence of section 4502(14), which includes state agencies, local government agencies, and state-funded agencies in the definition of a place of public accommodation. But, he ignores that the second sentence of section 4502(14) cannot be decoupled from the critical language in the first." View "Ovens v. Danberg" on Justia Law

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While off-duty, out of uniform, driving his own car, and under the influence of alcohol, Wilmington Police Officer Michael Spencer ran a red light and collided with a car driven by Morgan McCaffrey. After the accident, Officer Spencer asked McCaffrey to handle the matter without police involvement and to move their damaged cars out of the roadway and into parking spaces in front of McCaffrey’s nearby apartment. Officer Spencer and McCaffrey then went into the apartment, where Officer Spencer undressed and made sexual advances toward McCaffrey, which she refused. McCaffrey called the police after Officer Spencer passed out in her bed. The responding officers took Officer Spencer to the hospital, and later to the police station, where after a delay of five hours, Officer Spencer supposedly passed field tests for intoxication. The Wilmington Police Department (WPD) disciplined Officer Spencer for his conduct that evening. McCaffrey filed suit against Officer Spencer, the WPD, and others, including former Chief of Police Michael Szczerba, stemming from the car accident and Officer Spencer’s admitted inappropriate conduct with McCaffrey. In a series of opinions, the Superior Court dismissed all claims against the defendants other than Officer Spencer, and entered a final judgment excluding Officer Spencer. McCaffrey raised two issues on appeal: (1) the Superior Court erred by dismissing Count I of her complaint arguing that she sufficiently alleged that Spencer was acting within the scope of his employment as a Wilmington Police Officer when he ran into McCaffrey’s car and made inappropriate sexual advances after the accident; (2) that the Superior Court erred in dismissing Count IV, against Chief Szczerba and the City because the County and Municipal Tort Claims Act did not immunize them from suit for Officer Spencer’s actions. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court. View "McCaffrey v. City of Wilmington, et al." on Justia Law

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In this appeal, Mary DiFebo argued that the Superior Court erred by dismissing her amended petition seeking review of a Board of Adjustment decision that granted a variance application for two land plots located near DiFebo's home to be subdivided into four flag lots. The Superior Court had two related reasons for dismissing the amended petition: (1) that DiFebo had not named the owners of the two properties that were the subject of the Board's proceeding within the thirty-day statute of limitations for commencing a petition challenging a Board decision, and for that reason alone she was foreclosed from proceeding; (2) alternatively, the court found that DiFebo had not met the requirements for relation back under Superior Court Civil Rule 15(c)(3). The Supreme Court concluded that the Superior Court correctly determined that DiFebo did not satisfy all of Rule 15(c)(3)'s requirements to have her amended petition relate back to her initial filing. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed dismissal of DiFebo's amended petition. View "DiFebo v. Board of Adjustment of New Castle County, et al." on Justia Law

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"Adam" was born in early 2015 addicted to narcotics. Adam was eventually released to his parents, David Hunt and Carey Land. A few months later, Adam was found unconscious and unresponsive. He was transported to the hospital. The parents offered no explanation as to why Adam had been found unresponsive or unconscious. Though they were home when emergency personnel arrived, neither parent accompanied the child to the hospital. Due to the seriousness of the child's condition, he was transported to a trauma center. Medical personnel determined the child had sustained multiple trauma caused by "unexplained abusive trauma." In addition to multiple fractures, Adam's other diagnoses included chronic bilateral subdural hematomas, destruction of brain tissue, seizures, respiratory failure, malnourishment and splitting of the layers of the retina in his left eye. Emergency custody would ultimately be awarded to the Department of Family Services. This expedited proceeding was the parents' appeal of a Family Court decision granting the attorney guardian ad litem's motion to instruct Adam's medical providers to de-escalate intervention and place a do-not re-intubate order and a do-not-resuscitate order and a "comfort measures" order on Adam's medical chart. The appeal presented four issues for the Delaware Supreme Court's review: (1) whether the Family Court had jurisdiction to de-escalate medical care, a no re-intubate order and do not resuscitate order on the minor's chart; (2) whether the Family Court had authority to allow such orders when the parental rights have not been terminated; (3) whether the Family Court violated the parents' procedural due process rights by not providing the parents adequate notice and process prior to issuing the orders; and (4) were the parents' due process rights violated without receiving evidence from an independent medical expert. The Supreme Court found no reversible error in the Family Court's decision, and affirmed. View "Hunt v. DFS & Office of the Child Advocate" on Justia Law