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In 2001, Luis Cabrera was convicted by jury on two counts of first degree murder and other offenses for the execution-style killing of Vaughn Rowe and Brandon Sanders. His co-defendant, Luis Reyes, was tried separately and also found guilty of first degree murder. Both defendants were sentenced to death. After Cabrera’s conviction and sentence were affirmed on direct appeal, Cabrera moved for postconviction relief claiming in part his trial counsel was ineffective in his defense. The motion took years to resolve due to events outside of counsel’s and the Superior Court’s control. The Superior Court in 2015 granted the motion in part, ruling that Cabrera’s trial counsel was ineffective during the penalty phase of the trial, and vacated Cabrera’s death sentence. The Superior Court denied the remainder of Cabrera’s postconviction claims. Cabrera appealed the Superior Court’s denial of his motion for postconviction relief. The State voluntarily dismissed its cross-appeal of the Superior Court’s vacatur of Cabrera’s death sentence in light of the Delaware Supreme Court’s decisions in Rauf v. Delaware and Powell v. Delaware finding Delaware’s death penalty statute unconstitutional and applying our ruling retroactively. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court’s ruling. View "Cabrera v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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Rule 61 is effectively a “gating mechanism” allowing a superior court to summarily dismiss certain claims. Appellant Cleveland Baldwin appealed a superior court’s summary dismissal of his first timely motion for postconviction relief. The charges against Baldwin that led to the convictions he sought to overturn were based on the allegation that he, along with two other men, assaulted a tenant who supposedly owed Baldwin’s aunt back rent. To wit, the State alleged that Baldwin confronted the victim, complained that he had disrespected his aunt, and pulled a pipe out of his pants and beat him with it. The Superior Court Rule of Criminal Procedure that governs postconviction relief, Rule 61, strikes a balance between fair consideration of postconviction claims and the preservation of scarce defense resources by granting access to counsel for certain first petitions, but also by allowing the superior court to weed out, by summary dismissal, claims that lack colorable merit. Here, the Superior Court used the mechanism of Rule 61 to summarily dismiss all the claims of a first petitioner without appointment of counsel for him, without adversarial briefing, and without any factual record beyond the form petition and trial record. On appeal, the Delaware Supreme Court concluded that the superior court was correct in most of its rulings, but that as to one claim, the superior court erred by not recognizing the potential merits of the claim and appointing counsel for the petitioner to present it in a more adequate way. View "Baldwin v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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Chicago Bridge & Iron Company N.V. (“Chicago Bridge”) and Westinghouse Electric Company (“Westinghouse”) had an extensive collaboration and complicated commercial relationship involving the construction of nuclear power plants by Chicago Bridge’s subsidiary, CB&I Stone & Webster, Inc. (“Stone”). As delays and cost overruns mounted, this relationship became contentious. To resolve their differences, Chicago Bridge agreed to sell Stone to Westinghouse. The purchase agreement was unusual in a few key respects: (1) the purchase price at closing by Westinghouse was set in the contract at zero ; and (2) Westinghouse agreed that its sole remedy if Chicago Bridge breached its representations and warranties was to refuse to close, and that Chicago Bridge would have no liability for monetary damages post-closing (the “Liability Bar”). In contesting Chicago Bridge’s calculation of the Final Purchase Price, Westinghouse asserted that Chicago Bridge (which had been paid zero at closing and had invested approximately $1 billion in the plants in the six months leading to the December 31, 2015 closing) owed it nearly $2 billion. Westinghouse conceded the overwhelming percentage of its claims were based on the proposition that Chicago Bridge’s historical financial statements (the ones on which Westinghouse could make no post-closing claim) were not based on a proper application of generally accepted accounting principles (“GAAP”). Chicago Bridge and Westinghouse unsuccessfully attempted to resolve their differences. But, once it was clear that Westinghouse would seek to have the Independent Auditor review Chicago Bridge’s accounting practices, Chicago Bridge filed this action seeking a declaration that Westinghouse’s changes based on assertions that Stone’s financial statements and accounting methodologies were not GAAP compliant were not appropriate disputes for the Independent Auditor to resolve when those changes were, in essence, claims that Chicago Bridge breached the Purchase Agreement’s representations and warranties and therefore were foreclosed by the Liability Bar. Westinghouse moved for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that the Purchase Agreement established a mandatory process for resolving the parties’ disagreements. The Court of Chancery ruled in favor of Westinghouse, reading the process the Purchase Agreement set out for calculating certain payments (called the “True Up”) as providing Westinghouse with a wide-ranging right to challenge any accounting principle used by Chicago Bridge. The Delaware Supreme Court concluded the Court of Chancery erred in interpreting the Purchase Agreement this way. The Court therefore reversed and required entry of a judgment on the pleadings for Chicago Bridge. View "Chicago Bridge & Iron Company N.V. v. Westinghouse Electric Co." on Justia Law

Posted in: Business Law, Contracts

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The Delaware Supreme Court found that the trial court abused its discretion in this case when it denied defendant Chistopher Clay’s motion for judgment of acquittal on his Tampering with Physical Evidence charge, but rejected his remaining claims. The Court also found the trial court erred by requiring the State to provide a copy of the Department of Justice’s intake document and copies of the prosecutor’s notes under Superior Court Criminal Rule 26.2. Clay appealed after a jury verdict found him guilty of Robbery in the First Degree, Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony, Tampering with Physical Evidence, Conspiracy in the Second Degree, and Resisting Arrest. He claimed: (1) the trial court abused its discretion by denying his motion to sever his trial from the trial of his co-defendants; (2) the trial court erred by denying his motion for judgment of acquittal on all charges; and (3) the trial court erred by finding the police possessed a reasonable, articulable suspicion to seize him and probable cause to arrest him. On cross-appeal, the State argued that the Superior Court abused its discretion by requiring the State to provide the defendant with a redacted copy of a Department of Justice intake document and a copy of the prosecutor’s notes from witness interviews under Superior Court Criminal Rule 26.2. View "Clay v. Delaware" 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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A 54-count indictment charged Otis Phillips and numerous co-defendants with gang participation and charges associated with the activities of the “Sure Shots” criminal street gang, including three counts of first degree murder and first degree attempted murder. The jury acquitted Phillips on a count of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, but guilty on all other charges. Phillips was sentenced to death for the murder charges, life for second degree murder, and 130 years for the remaining offenses. Phillips appealed, arguing multiple errors at trial warranted reversal of his convictions. After review, the Delaware Supreme Court found Phillips’ death sentence should be vacated, and that he should have been resentenced on his first degree murder charge. The remainder of his arguments were without merit. View "Phillips v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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In 2015 Appellant Gabriel Pardo was convicted of Manslaughter, Leaving the Scene of a Collision Resulting in Death (LSCRD), Reckless Driving, and six counts of Endangering the Welfare of a Child. The charges arose from his involvement in a fatal hit-and-run collision with a bicyclist, Phillip Bishop, in 2014. The principal issue raised in this appeal was whether Pardo’s conviction for LSCRD violated his Due Process rights, as he contends that the LSCRD statute imposes strict liability. Pardo also contended that the Superior Court erred by adding a voluntary intoxication instruction to the pattern jury instruction for manslaughter, by denying his motion for judgment of acquittal, and by denying his request for a missing evidence instruction. The Supreme Court concluded that the statute governing LSCRD did not impose strict liability because it required the State to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant had knowledge that he or she was involved in a collision. Because the Court found Pardo’s other arguments without merit, it affirmed his conviction and sentence. View "Pardo v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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Appellee The Bank of New York Mellon, f/k/a The Bank of New York brought a foreclosure proceeding against Appellants J.M. and and Kathy Shrewsbury. The Bank was not the original mortgagee; it received the Shrewsbury mortgage by an assignment from the original mortgagee. The Shrewsburys answered the complaint asserting that the note representing the debt secured by the mortgage had not been assigned to The Bank. They further asserted that since the note had not been assigned to The Bank, it did not have the right to enforce the underlying debt and, therefore, did not have the right to foreclose on the mortgage. The Superior Court rejected the Shrewsburys' argument and granted summary judgment to The Bank. The narrow question presented on appeal was whether a party holding a mortgage must have the right to enforce the obligation secured by the mortgage in order to conduct a foreclosure proceeding. After review, the Supreme Court held that a mortgage assignee must be entitled to enforce the underlying obligation which the mortgage secures in order to foreclose on the mortgage. Accordingly, the Court reversed the trial court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Shrewsbury v. The Bank of New York Mellon" 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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Jesse Frederick-Conaway (“Jesse”) and Janice Russell-Conaway (“Janice”) were the original co-executors of the Estate of Everett T. Conaway (“Conaway”) and cosuccessor trustees of the Everett T. Conaway Revocable Trust (respectively, the “Estate” and the “Trust”). Janice was Conaway's widow, and Jesse was Conaway's adult son from another marriage. After intractable disputes arose, the Court of Chancery removed Janice and Jesse and appointed Kevin M. Baird, Esq. (“Baird”) as an independent successor administrator and trustee. Baird petitioned the court for instructions on whether certain of Jesse and Janice's transactions were proper. The Court of Chancery issued a Rule 54(b) order from which Jesse appealed and Janice cross-appealed. Jesse argued: (1) the Court of Chancery did not properly merge the administration of Conaway's Estate and Trust; and (2) the Court of Chancery erred in holding the Trust's interest in a limited partnership could be used to satisfy specific gifts where that the interest was subject to a contractual restriction on transfer and passed to Jesse as residuary beneficiary of the Trust. Janice's cross-appeal raised a question of whether the Court of Chancery abused its discretion by: (1) finding Janice liable for interest at the legal rate on $150,000 that the court determined she had received properly but prematurely; and (2) finding Janice liable for $77,987 she had improperly removed from the Estate, plus interest at the legal rate. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed those portions of the Court of Chancery's Order: (1) directing Jesse to return the Trust's 69% EJKC Limited Partnership interest, together with all interest and dividends paid thereon, to the Trust, to be treated as part of the residue of the Trust; and (2) finding Janice liable for amounts totaling $77,987 with interest at the legal rate. The Supreme Court reversed the determination that Janice's receipt of $150,000 in deferred payments owed to Conaway was proper. The Court also reversed the portion of the Court of Chancery's Order finding Janice liable for interest at the legal rate (as opposed to a rate applicable to funds on deposit) on the $150,000 she received. View "Frederick-Conaway v. Baird" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates