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Black v. Staffieri

Supreme Court of Delaware

February 27, 2014

HENRY BLACK, MARY LOU BLACK, RAYMOND BUCHTA, W. SCOTT BLACK, AND BLACKBALL PROPERTIES, Defendants Below-Appellants,
v.
GARY STAFFIERI and ADRIA CHARLES STAFFIERI, Plaintiffs Below-Appellees.

Submitted: January 17, 2014.

Court of Chancery of the State of Delaware C.A. No. 7439.

Before HOLLAND, JACOBS, and RIDGELY, Justices.

ORDER

HENRY DUPONT RIDGELY, Justice.

This 27th day of February 2014, upon consideration of the parties' briefs and the record below, it appears to the Court that:

(1) The defendants-appellants (referred to collectively as "the Blacks") have filed this appeal from several post-trial decisions of the Court of Chancery. Among other things, the Blacks contend that the trial court erred in determining that express easements existed on their property and in awarding the plaintiffs-appellees ("the Staffieris") nearly all of their costs and attorney's fees under the bad faith exception to the American Rule. After careful consideration of the parties' contentions on appeal, we find no reversible error and thus AFFIRM the Court of Chancery's judgment.

(2) The record at trial reflects that Concord Development Corporation ("Concord") held the deeds to four lots presently identified as 1701, 1703, 1705, and 1707 Concord Pike. In 1946, Concord executed deeds transferring title to the three lots identified as 1701, 1703, and 1705 Concord Pike to three different purchasers ("the 1946 Deeds"). A two-story triplex building spans lots 1701, 1703, and 1705. One third of the triplex stands on each lot. In front of the triplex is a seventy-two foot wide, twenty-seven foot deep paved area containing seven parking spots ("the Front Parking Area"). In back of the triplex is an equally wide and deep paved area ("the Back Parking Area"), which is accessed by a nine foot wide driveway north of the triplex ("the Common Driveway") and located on lot 1705. The Blacks are the current owners of those three lots.

(3) The 1946 Deeds contained two sets of granting and reserving clauses. The first set granted:

[t]he free and uninterrupted right, use and privilege forever in common with [Concord], its successors and assigns, of the hereinafter described twenty-seven foot wide Common Parking and Driveway Area, for parking and driveway purposes. Subject, however, to a proportionate share of the expense of keeping said area in good order and repair….
RESERVING, however, unto [Concord], its successors and assigns, the free and uninterrupted right, use and privilege in common with others entitled thereto, forever, for parking and driveway purposes of the whole of the hereinabove described common parking and driveway area. Subject, however, to a proportionate share of the expense of keeping said area in good order and repair.

The second set granted:

[t]he free and uninterrupted right, use and privilege forever in common with [Concord], its successors and assigns, of the hereinafter described common driveway for driveway purposes. Subject, however, to a proportionate share of the expense of keeping said area in good order and repair….
ALSO RESERVING, however, unto [Concord], its successors and assigns, the free and uninterrupted right, use and privilege in common with others entitled thereto, forever, for driveway purposes of the whole of the hereinabove described common driveway. Subject, however, to a proportionate share of the expense of keeping said area in good order and repair.

(4) In 1955, Concord merged with W. Percival Johnson & Son, Inc. In 1980, that entity conveyed 1707 Concord Pike ("the 1980 Deed"), which was subsequently conveyed to the Staffieris in 2000. The 1980 Deed did not refer to any easement or reserve any driveway or parking rights. A single story building sits on lot 1707. After renting out 1707 Concord Pike for nearly a decade, the Staffieris decided to open an auto detailing shop there. The Blacks opposed the new business and petitioned New Castle County to enforce all possible permitting and zoning regulations against the Staffieris. While the Staffieris were working with County officials to address infractions, the Blacks erected a fence along the property lines ...


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