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Millsboro Fire Co. v. Delaware State Fire Prevention Commission

Superior Court of Delaware, Kent

October 21, 2014

MILLSBORO FIRE COMPANY, Appellant,
v.
THE DELAWARE STATE FIRE PREVENTION COMMISSION AND DAGSBORO VOLUNTEER FIRE COMPANY, Appellee.

Submitted: October 2, 2014

Robert C. McDonald, Esquire, of Silverman, McDonald & Friedman, Wilmington, Delaware for Appellant.

Patricia Davis Olivia, Esquire, Deputy Attorney General, Department of Justice, Dover, Delaware for Appellee The Delaware State Fire Prevention Commission

Bruce A. Rogers, Esquire, of Bruce A. Rogers, P.A., Georgetown, Delaware for Appellee Dagsboro Volunteer Fire Company.

ORDER

ROBERT B. YOUNG J.

SUMMARY

Millsboro Fire Company ("Appellant") brings a petition for writ of certiorari from a decision of the Delaware State Fire Prevention Commission ("the Commission") setting the boundary line between its and Dagsboro Volunteer Fire Company's ("Dagsboro" and/or "Appellee Dagsboro") respective fire districts. The two fire companies have a storied past concerning the contested boundary area that dates back to May 1983. The current action arises from the Commission's April 2014 decision, in which it ruled in favor of Dagsboro, concerning the disputed territory. Appellant's main contention is that the Commission improperly disregarded its previous March 2007 ruling on this issue ("2007 Order"), and as such, Appellant's petition for writ of certiorari should be granted. The Court finds that the Commission should have addressed its prior 2007 Order. In failing to do so, the Commission proceeded irregularly in making its January 2014 decision. Thus, Appellant's petition for writ of certiorari is GRANTED and the decision is remanded to the lower tribunal.

FACTS AND PROCEDURES

Appellant and Appellee Dagsboro have a long history of boundary disputes, concerning the geographic areas served by their respective fire companies. The origin of the present matter dates back to May 3, 1983, when both parties submitted geographic descriptions of their fire districts to the Commission. Appellant and Appellee Dagsboro operated harmoniously pursuant to these descriptions for almost twenty-four years until 2007, when a boundary dispute arose requiring the intervention of the Commission. The contested area included the former site of a Vlasic Pickle Plant, which had been historically served by both fire companies. The Commission issued an order on March 20, 2007, which resolved the contest over the disputed area by splitting it between the two fire companies.

In 2013, it came to the attention of Appellant, that the local 911 Call Center was dispatching calls to Dagsboro instead of Appellant, for areas determined to be within Appellant's boundary line by the 2007 Order. It appears that the 911 Call Center continued to use maps reflecting the boundary lines as they existed in 1983. After being informed by Appellant that they were using the wrong maps, the 911 Call Center redirected calls to the contested area in accordance with the 2007 Order and resultant map. On August 16, 2013, upon learning of this change, Appellee Dagsboro wrote to the Commission requesting a fact finding hearing to resolve the proper apportionment of the territory in question. On January 21, 2014, the Commission held a hearing to determine the boundary dispute, this time resetting the lines in Dagsboro's favor. The Commission later reaffirmed its ruling on April 15, 2014, after Dagsboro informed the Commission that Appellant had refused to abide by the January order. Appellant presently appeals this ruling to this Court.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

A petition for writ of certiorari "is simply a form that calls up, for review, the record from the lower court or tribunal."[1] "The purpose of the writ is to permit the higher court to review the conduct of a lower tribunal of record."[2] However, the scope of review by the higher court is limited to the consideration only of the record below, and does not involve fact-finding or weighing of the evidence.[3]

As an initial matter, petitioners must meet two obligatory conditions: (1) the judgment must be final; and (2) there can be no other available basis for review.[4] A court will grant the petition only where the tribunal below has done at least one of the following three acts: (1) exceeded its jurisdiction; (2) committed errors of law; or (3) proceeded irregularly.[5] A court is viewed as having exceeded its jurisdiction where "the record fails to show that the matter was within the lower tribunal's personal and subject matter jurisdiction."[6] A court commits an error of law "when the record affirmatively shows that the lower tribunal proceeded illegally and manifestly contrary to the law."[7] Finally, a court proceeds irregularly where "the lower tribunal failed ...


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