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Stalana, LLC v. Halmagyi

Court of Common Pleas of Delaware, New Castle

January 27, 2017

STALANA, LLC, Defendant-Below/Appellant,
v.
GERARD HALMAGYI, Plaintiff-Below/Appellee. & GEORGE SHAER and NARIMAN SHAER Defendants-Below/Appellees,

          Submitted: December 12, 2016

          Robert C. McDonald, Esquire Silverman McDonald & Friedman Attorney for George and Nariman Shaer

          Wilfrieda Vleugels 211 North Washington Street Milford, Representative for Stalana, LLC

          Donald L. Gouge, Jr., Esquire Attorney for Gerard Halmagyi

          DECISION ON MOTION TO DISMISS

          Alex J. Smalls, Chief Judge.

         This is a Motion to Dismiss (the "Motion") an appeal brought by Wilfrieda Vleugels[1]("Vleugels") on behalf of Defendant-Below/Appellant Stalana, LLC ("Stalana"), an artificial business entity. Gerard Halmagyi ("Halmagyi") brings this Motion arguing Stalana's notice of appeal violates the Mirror Image Rule pursuant to Court of Common Pleas Civil Rule 72.3(f). Furthermore, Halmagyi contends that Stalana, being an artificial business entity, must be represented by an attorney in order to appear before this Court, and any appeal brought by Vleugels on behalf of Stalana must be dismissed.

         On November 18, 2016, the Court held a hearing on the Motion. During the hearing, Vleugels stated the defects contained in her notice of appeal were made after consulting and receiving advice from the Court of Common Pleas' Clerk's Office (the "Clerk's Office"). At the conclusion of the hearing, the Court reserved decision on the Motion and ordered Vleugels to submit an affidavit detailing her interactions with the Clerk's Office. This is the Court's decision on the Motion after consideration of Vleugels's affidavit and Halmagyi's response thereto.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On June 6, 2016, Halmagyi brought an action in the Justice of the Peace Court No. 13 seeking the return of his security deposit. The complaint alleges Halmagyi was the tenant of a residential unit owned by Defendants-Below/Appellees George and Nariman Shaer (collectively, the "Shaers").[2] The complaint further alleges the Shaers hired Stalana to be the property manager for the unit. The original complaint in the Justice of the Peace Court was captioned: "Gerard Halmagyi v. Stalana LLC and George & Nariman Shaer." A trial was held in the Justice of the Peace Court on September 14, 2016, where Vleugels represented Stalana as provided by Supreme Court Rule 57(b) and Justice of the Peace Court Civil Rule 91.[3] At the conclusion of trial, the court entered judgment for Halmagyi in the amount of $4, 600.00 and against defendant, Stalana, LLC. The Justice of the Peace Court did not enter a judgment against George and Nariman Shaer.

         On September 30, 2016, Vleugels filed a Notice of Appeal to this Court on behalf of Stalana, LLC. However, in doing so, Vleugels also added herself as a party appellant. The caption for the notice of appeal reads: "Wilfrieda Vleugels, Stalana LLC, George Shaer, Nariman Shaer v. Gerard Halmagyi."[4]

         On October 25, 2016, Halmagyi filed the instant Motion to Dismiss. Halmagyi contends Stalana's notice of appeal violates the Mirror Image Rule as set forth in Court of Common Pleas Civil Rule 72.3(f). Specifically, Halmagyi argues that Vleugels, by adding herself as a party to the appeal, failed to have the same parties that were before the Justice of the Peace Court, which violates the rule, thus divesting this Court of jurisdiction. Furthermore, Halmagyi argues the notice of appeal docketed with the Court is void because an attorney did not file it on behalf of Stalana. It is Halmagyi's contention that only a Delaware attorney may represent a business entity in this Court. Halmagyi maintains Vleugels is not a Delaware attorney, and as such may not file the appeal for Stalana, an artificial entity. Therefore, Halmagyi contends the appeal must be dismissed.

         On November 18, 2016, the Court held a hearing on the Motion. At the hearing, Vleugels claimed a clerk in the Court's Clerk Office instructed her on how to complete the notice of appeal, including adding her name as a party to the documents. Furthermore, Vleugels claimed the Clerk's Office told her that she would not need an attorney to represent Stalana because it was operated by a sole proprietor. The Court therefore ordered Vleugels to submit an affidavit detailing the information provided by the Clerk's Office, and reserved decision on the Motion.

         On November 23, 2016, Vleugels submitted an affidavit regarding her encounter with the Clerk's Office. According to the affidavit, on September 30, 2016, Vleugels went to the Clerk's Office in order to file a notice of appeal on behalf of Stalana. Vleugels maintains that she filed the appeal documents with the same information that appeared on the original Justice of the Peace Court's subpoena, and the parties to the appeal were Stalana, the Shaers, and Halmagyi. Upon completion of the appeal documents, Vleugels states that she had a court clerk review them, and was instructed by the clerk to add her personal name and address to the notice of appeal.

         The affidavit further states that Vleugels was in fact informed by the clerk that she would need an attorney, however, this was after she paid the court and sheriff fees for the appeal. Conversely, the affidavit also states that the clerk was unsure if Vleugels needed an attorney because the judgment was only against Stalana. The affidavit further provides that upon hearing she would need an attorney, Vleugels claims she told the clerk to withdraw her appeal and return her money, because she was unable to afford an attorney at that time. Vleugels then states the clerk told her to leave the appeal documents with the Clerk's Office, and the clerk would have his supervisor contact Vleugels as to whether she needed an attorney. If it was determined that Vleugels did need an attorney, the clerk would not process the appeal and would return Vleugels's money. Later that same day, a supervisor from the Clerk's Office contacted Vleugels. Vleugels claims the supervisor told her that because Stalana was owned and operated by a sole proprietor, it would not need an attorney, and Vleugels could represent the business. Vleugels claims the supervisor told her to relay this information to a judge in order to avoid obtaining an attorney.

         On December 12, 2016, Halmagyi filed a Response to Vleugels's affidavit. Halmagyi concedes that there is case law that allows a pro se litigant some latitude in the event of court personnel error. However, Halmagyi contends it is not the function of the clerk to ignore the sufficiency of a notice of appeal which is tendered to the clerk for filing. Furthermore, Halmagyi argues an appellant's pro se status does not excuse his failure to comply with statutory law and court rules. Halmagyi maintains that Vleugels received from the Justice of the Peace Court a standard packet of information explaining how to properly file an appeal. Halmagyi contends that this is just another all too familiar case where a litigant blames someone else for the deficiencies in their appeal. However, ...


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