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City of Wilmington v. Flamer

Superior Court of Delaware, New Castle

May 22, 2013

CITY OF WILMINGTON, Appellant, Defendant Below,
v.
LIONELL M. FLAMER, Appellee, Plaintiff Below

Submitted: February 25, 2013

On Appeal from the Court of Common Pleas Decision

Martin C. Meltzer, Esquire, Wilmington, Delaware, Attorney for Appellant.

Lionell M. Flamer, Wilmington, Delaware, Pro Se Appellee.

Eric M. Davis Judge

Introduction

This is an appeal from a decision of the Court of Common Pleas awarding Appellee-Plaintiff Below Lionell M. Flamer a judgment against Appellant-Defendant Below City of Wilmington (the "City") in the amount of $400.00. The $400.00 represents amounts Mr. Flamer paid to the City for purported parking violations. The Court of Common Pleas based its determination on a finding that the city's enforcement of its parking regulations for guest permits is confusing and not reasonable. The City appeals from the Court of Common Pleas' decision on several grounds. For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Court of Common Pleas is AFFIRMED.

Procedural Posture

Mr. Flamer commenced suit against the City by filing a Complaint with Justice of the Peace Court Number 13 ("J.P. Court 13") for reimbursement of debts arising from parking ticket fines and damage caused to Mr. Flamer's vehicle as a result of booting and towing. During a hearing held on June 1, 2011, J.P. Court 13 dismissed the Complaint without prejudice on the basis that Justice of the Peace Court Number 20 had jurisdiction over city parking violations. J.P. Court 13 advised Mr. Flamer to file an action to vacate the parking tickets in Justice of the Peace Court Number 20.

On June 9, 2011, Mr. Flamer filed a Complaint and Summons on Appeal with the Court of Common Pleas. The City was served with the Complaint and Summons on Appeal on December 19, 2011.

On August 9, 2012, the Court of Common Pleas heard Mr. Flamer's appeal from the J.P. Court action. The Court of Common Pleas denied a pre-trial motion to dismiss brought by the City and then held a trial on the merits. At the conclusion of the trial, the Court of Common Pleas entered a judgment in favor of Mr. Flamer for $400.00.

The City filed its Notice of Appeal with the Court of Common Pleas on August 24, 2012. The Court of Common Pleas issued writs for service on September 20, 2012. This Court issued a briefing schedule on December 18, 2012. The City filed its Opening Brief on January 7, 2013. Mr. Flamer filed his Answering Brief on February 1, 2013. The City filed its Reply Brief on February 7, 2013. This Court received transcripts from the Court of Common Pleas on February 19, 2013. This matter was assigned to this Judge on February 25, 2013.

Factual Background

The City issued tickets against Mr. Flamer for parking in a residential area without a parking permit on the dates of February 2, 3, 22, 23 and 25 and March 1, 2, 4, 5 and 8 in 2010. The violations resulted in a fine of $1100.00, which Mr. Flamer paid. Mr. Flamer properly protested the violations, claiming he had a valid temporary guest parking pass. Carolyn Martin-Pettaway, the City of Wilmington Civil Appeals Director, reviewed Mr. Flamer's protests and denied them. Ms. Martin-Pettaway testified at trial that she sends a certain letter to individuals whose protests are denied, including Mr. Flamer. According to the City, that letter states –

If you wish to protest further, please fill out and return the enclosed form in its entirety and return it within ten days. When your hearing date has been scheduled, you will receive a written notification from the State of Delaware's Justice of the Peace Court No. 20.[1]

Mr. Flamer did not return the form and denies that he received it.

Seeking assistance about how to protest Ms. Martin-Pettaway's determination, Mr. Flamer contacted his City Counsel representative, Paul Ignudo. Ms. Martin-Pettaway reviewed Mr. Flamer's case at Mr. Ignudo's request and found that Mr. Flamer did have a valid permit, although there was no evidence the permit was displayed correctly. She did not find the permit in the system initially because Mr. Flamer provided her an inaccurate name for the purchaser of the guest pass, identifying his grandmother instead of his grandfather as the purchaser. Ms. Martin-Pettaway refunded Mr. Flamer $700.00, representing seven consecutive days that his vehicle was lawfully parked. Subsequently, Mr. ...


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