John A. Sergovic, Jr. Sergovic, Carmean & Weidman, P.A. Attorney for Plaintiff
Marinos P Baris and Despina Baris Pro se Defendants
Before the Court is Defendants Marinos P Baris' ("Mr. Baris") and Despina Baris' ("Mrs. Baris") (collectively "Defendants") Motion to Vacate Default Judgment. In their joint motion, Defendants make several assertions justifying why default judgment should be vacated. These include the following: (1) they were never served any documents related to their litigation with Rehoboth-By-The-Sea Realty Company ("Plaintiff"); (2) that the signature presented by Plaintiff's counsel regarding service does not belong to Mr. or Mrs. Baris; and (3) the Defendants did not receive sufficient notice of the change in hearing date, which was moved from April 17, 2015 to April 16, 2015.
Though the Court recognizes that litigation can be stressful, especially for one representing himself pro se, and does not downplay the personal difficulties associated with both caring for a disabled loved one and eviction from one's vacation property, those reasons alone are insufficient justification to set aside this default judgment. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' Motion to Vacate is DENIED.
Plaintiff is a Delaware corporation, located at 2400 Highway One, Dewey Beach, Delaware 19971. Defendants are Maryland residents, their home address being 9608 Hickory Hurst Drive, Nottingham, Maryland 21236. On or about November 7, 2008, two lots located within a development owned by Plaintiff were assigned to Defendants by an Assignment of Leases. The original lease related to the first lot ("Lot 16") created a term that commenced on May 1, 1965 for sixty (60) years, with varying annual lease rates. Similarly, the original lease related to the second lot ("Lot 15") created a term that commenced on May 1, 1985 for forty (40) years, at varying annual lease rates. Both of the original leases for Lot 16 and Lot 15 end on April 30, 2025.
Under the terms of the two original leases,  the lessees of said leases were to pay Plaintiff the amounts of the annual ground rents according to a formula stated in the lease documents. The lessees were further obligated to pay additional rent and costs. On February 12, 2015, Plaintiff filed a complaint ("Complaint") in Superior Court, primarily asserting Defendants had become "delinquent in their payment of rent and additional rent under the Original Leases [o]n or about March 2014." The Complaint went on to maintain that Plaintiff had provided Defendants notice of their delinquency, and that they had sixty (60) days to cure their breach.
The Complaint further claimed Defendants failed to cure the aforementioned breaches within the sixty (60) day time period. Further notice was then provided advising Defendants the leases would irrevocably terminate in sixty (60) days from the date of a letter (drafted and sent in accordance with the original lease agreements) ("Termination Notice") dated December 4, 2014. As such, the leases terminated on February 2, 2015.
The Complaint noted Defendants were still in possession of Lot 16 and Lot 15, and that the total amount due to Plaintiff was $4, 748.13. Plaintiff's Complaint requested: (1) Defendants be ejected from the property pursuant to 10 Del. C. § 6701; (2) this Court enter a declaratory judgment determining that Plaintiff is entitled to possession of the lots and all improvements thereon since it properly terminated the leases; and (3) Plaintiff is entitled to damages in the amount of past due rents, additional rents, late fees, and attorneys fees, all yet to be paid.
On March 18, 2015, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Default Judgment. The motion declared Plaintiff had filed its Complaint on February 12, 2015, that Defendants were subsequently served, pursuant of 10 Del. C. § 3104 (d) (3) on February 23 of the same year, and had not filed a response. The motion was scheduled for argument on April 17, 2015, but, was later rescheduled for April 16, 2015 on April 7, 2015, when notice thereof was sent to Defendants. Defendants' failed to appear on April 16, 2015 to defend against the motion, and default judgment was entered in favor of Plaintiff. On May 8, 2015, Defendants filed a joint Motion to Vacate. The Court has interpreted that motion as a Rule 60 (b), relief from judgment, motion.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
"A motion to open a default judgment pursuant to Superior Court Civil Rule 60 (b) is addressed to the sound discretion of the Court." There is, however, a strong public policy in Delaware for courts to decide cases on the merits. As such, any doubt as to whether a case should be reopened, a default judgment set aside, will be resolved in favor of the Defendants when determining whether they have satisfied the requirements necessary to grant relief. Though "the rule will be given a ...