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Eaton v. Jeff White's Auto Inc.

United States District Court, D. Delaware

November 5, 2014

JAMES C. EATON, Plaintiff,
v.
JEFF WHITE'S AUTO INC., et at., Defendants.

James C. Eaton, Lewes, Delaware. Pro Se Plaintiff.

David W. Carickhoff, Jr., Esquire. Archer & Greiner, P.C., Wilmington, Delaware. Counsel for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

RICHARD G. ANDREWS, District Judge.

Plaintiff James C. Eaton appears pro se and has paid the filing fee. He filed this action pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §§ 1341, 1343, and 1964, all in relation to repairs made to his truck at an auto repair business located in Georgetown, Delaware. Before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss and Plaintiff's motion for discovery. (D.I. 25, 30).

BACKGROUND

Jeff White's Auto Inc. sued Plaintiff on December 20, 2012, in the Justice of the Peace Court of the State of Delaware in and for Sussex County, Civ. Act. No. JP17-12-007012 (hereinafter, "the JP case") for $4, 511.00 allegedly owed by Plaintiff for repairs made to his truck. (DJ. 26, ex. 1). Plaintiff answered the Complaint on January 14, 2013 and, on January 30, 2013, Jeff White's Auto Inc. filed a Bill of Particulars.

Plaintiff commenced this action on April 25, 2013 against Jeff White's Auto Inc., Jeff White's Autoworks, Inc., and Jeffrey A. White. (D.I. 1). The Complaint alleges wrongful acts occurred during, and following, the repair of Plaintiffs truck including installing used parts without Plaintiff's knowledge, repairs made without his consent, and threats when Plaintiff refused to pay for the repairs. The truck was initially repaired by Defendants in the Fall of 2011 and taken home by Plaintiff. In the late Spring of 2012, Plaintiff had the truck towed to Jeff White's Garage to repair a problem that had not been properly repaired the prior Fall. Plaintiff retrieved his vehicle in August 2012, and there was a dispute over retrieval of the truck, repairs and parts used, and the cost of the repairs. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants demanded payment for work that was not performed or completed, used the postal service to extort money from him for the alleged repairs, made telephone threats to Plaintiff and his spouse, stalked, and harassed him. The Complaint seeks "indemnification for fraud, extortion, telephone fraud, threats of defamation, mail fraud, stalking, harassment, terrorist threats, and RICO Act."[1] (D.I. 1). The Complaint does not reference any statutes, but the civil cover sheet invokes 18 U.S.C. § 1341 (mail fraud), 18 U.S.C. § 1343 (wire fraud), and 18 U.S.C. § 1964 (RICO). Plaintiff amended the ad damnum clause on June 12, 2013, seeking one million dollars including treble damages and punitive damages. (D.I. 3).

On May 15, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Counterclaim in the JP case against Jeffrey A. White, Jeff White's Autoworks Inc., and Jeff White's Auto, Inc. and sought $20, 087.00 in damages. While paragraphs one through forty-seven of the instant Complaint and the JP Counterclaim are identical, the prayer for relief is not. The JP Counterclaim seeks "monetary damages, including all Court cost[s], legal fees and cost[s] for expert witnesses, any and all expenses related to this case including interest at the legal rate and such other and future relief to which the plaintiff is entitled at law." (D.I. 26, ex. 3).

In the instant action, Defendants were served on May 13, 2013, and they were to answer or otherwise plead to the Complaint on or before June 3, 2013. ( See D.I. 4-6).

On May 28, 2013, Plaintiff and his spouse, Jeannie D. Eaton, filed another lawsuit against Defendants in the Court of Common Pleas for the State of Delaware in and for Sussex County, Civ. Act. No. CPU6-13-000564 (hereinafter, "the CCP case"). Paragraphs one through seventeen of the instant Complaint and paragraphs four through twenty of the CCP Complaint are, for the most part, identical. (D.I. 1, D.I. 26, ex. 4). The prayer for relief in the CCP Complaint seeks "indemnification for fraud, extortion, telephone fraud, threats of defamation, mail fraud, stalking, harassment, threats, theft, and mental anguish, fifty thousand dollars for monetary damages." (D.I. 26, ex. 4). The claims are based on the same facts as alleged in the instant Complaint and the JP Counterclaim. The CCP Complaint makes no mention of a RICO claim.

On June 4, 2013, trial was held in the JP Court on the claims and counterclaims asserted in the JP case. That day, judgment was entered. The Court sua sponte dismissed Jeff White's Auto Inc.'s claims with prejudice finding that it had violated 6 Del. C. § 4905A(b);[2] that Plaintiff was entitled to the return of monies paid to Jeff White's Auto, Inc. in the sum of $702.50; and that all other counterclaims were unsubstantiated. (D.I. 15, ex. 5). Neither party appealed. ( Id. at ex. 6).

One month later, on July 5, 2013, Defendants moved to dismiss the CCP Complaint based upon the doctrine of res judicata. ( Id. at ex. 7). On September 8, 2013, Jeffrey A. White died and a suggestion of death was filed in the CCP case.[3]

Defendants did not answer or otherwise appear in the instant action and, on September 19, 2013, default was entered. (D.I. 10). The application for a default judgment was scheduled to be heard on January 7, 2014. (D.I. 15, 20). On the same date, Defendants moved to set aside the entry of default, which Plaintiff opposed. (D.I. 17, 21). In the meantime, on February 12, 2014, the Court entered an order in the CCP case that granted Defendants' motion to dismiss, finding that the claims were barred by res judicata. (D.I. 26, ex. 8). The Order was not appealed. ( Id. at ex. 9).

On May 9, 2014, this Court granted Defendants' motion to vacate the entry of default and permitted the filing of a responsive pleading. Defendants filed ...


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