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Washington v. Talley

Court of Common Pleas of Delaware, New Castle

February 15, 2017

THERESA WASHINGTON, Plaintiff,
v.
SININA TALLEY, WENDY SCOTT, and DANNY WASHINGTON, Defendants.

          Submitted: December 12, 2016

          Theresa Washington Self-Represented Plaintiff

          Sinina Talley Self-Represented Defendant

          Wendy Scott Self-Represented Defendant

          Danny Washington Self-Represented Defendant

          DECISION ON MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS

          Alex J. Smalls, Chief Judge.

         This is a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings pursuant to Court of Common Pleas Civil Rule 12(c). The underlying matter is a dispute between Plaintiff Theresa Washington ("Theresa") [1] and Defendants Sinina Talley ("Sinina"), Danny Washington ("Danny"), and Wendy Scott ("Wendy") (collectively "Defendants"), where Theresa brings a claim for harassment, defamation, libel, and slander. On December 12, 2016, the instant Motion was filed by Sinina and the Court reserved decision. This is the Court's opinion and order on the Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         This dispute originates with and largely involves the Trinity School of the Bible (the "School"). Theresa and the Defendants are all siblings and are also all board members and/or trustees of the School. In or around June 2014, the mother of the parties passed away. What followed was a breakdown of family relationships and a number of actions and counteractions involving the School and the parties. Due to the nature and hostility of the dispute, I will only recite the relevant facts as I find them, in order to clarify the issues raised by Motion, the pleadings, and any other legally cognizable causes of action.[2]

         Three weeks after the passing of the parties' mother, Sinina sent a text message to two other members of the School's board. While Theresa did not provide the precise wording of the message, she does allege the statement indicated Theresa was going to be arrested. No other information was provided by Theresa with respect to these circumstances. At this time, if not earlier, Theresa began living in the School, and appears to have assumed control of its operations. It is unclear whether the School has continued to operate as a school or whether it is otherwise in use beyond Theresa's residence.

         Approximately one year later, Defendants filed an action in the Justice of the Peace Court in an attempt to evict Theresa from the School. Theresa alleges Sinina made false allegations and presented false evidence in the Justice of the Peace Court proceedings. That matter was ultimately dismissed. Following dismissal, Defendants filed a new action in the Court of Chancery, where Theresa again alleges Sinina made false allegations against Theresa. That matter was dismissed without prejudice, as the Court of Chancery found the claims to be derivative of the School's board and, therefore, the School had to be represented by counsel under Delaware law.

         On July 26, 2016, Theresa initiated the instant matter by filing a Complaint[3] against Defendants. The Complaint attempts to bring claims for harassment, defamation, libel, and slander. The Complaint sets forth the facts discussed supra, while also alleging Defendants conspired against Theresa to evict her from the School. The Complaint, along with other various filings of the parties, refers to a protracted course of litigation involving numerous courts, the filing of Protection From Abuse orders, and various offenses committed during the preceding several years.[4]

         At the time the Complaint was filed, all three Defendants were not residents of the State of Delaware. Sinina and Danny resided separately in New York, while Wendy resided in South Carolina. Service was attempted via certified mail against each of the Defendants; however, at no point did Theresa file a return of service or an affidavit of nonresidency with respect to any Defendant.

         On August 22, 2016, Sinina and Danny jointly filed a Motion for Enlargement of Time, which the Court granted. Sinina and Danny were ordered to file their Answers by September 10, 2016. This date was later modified with respect to Sinina, with her Answer due on October 7, 2016. Sinina filed her Answer on October 10, 2016. Sinina's Answer includes a counterclaim against Theresa for harassment stemming from derogatory text messages Theresa allegedly sent to Sinina over the span of several years.

         In late September 2016, Theresa filed a series of motions with the Court, seeking default judgment against Wendy, along with motions compelling discovery. The Court denied the motion for default judgment, because Theresa failed to perfect service against Wendy. Theresa was instructed to perfect service against Wendy by November 18, 2016. The motions to compel were granted, however, the Court modified Theresa's requests for admissions.

         As of November 18, 2016, Theresa had failed to serve her Complaint upon Wendy. In a letter dated December 5, 2016, Wendy advised she received Theresa's Complaint earlier that same day. On December 20, 2016, Theresa wrote her own letter to the Court, in which she admitted to not meeting the November 18, 2016 deadline for serving her Complaint. Theresa advised she had sent the Complaint to an attorney that had represented Wendy on another matter, and had asked the attorney to forward the Complaint to Wendy. On November 28, 2016, the attorney responded to Theresa and advised her that service of process was not effective, as the attorney lacked the authority to accept service on behalf of Wendy.

         On December 12, 2016, Sinina filed the instant "request for judicial action, " in which Sinina requested a "[r]eview of the pleadings, facts, issues and exhibits in this case in the hope that the judge will render a decision[.]" The Court will analyze this pleading under Court of Common Pleas Civil Rule 12(c), which governs motions for Judgment on the Pleadings.

         LEGAL ...


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