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Fultz v. Fultz

Court of Common Pleas of Delaware, New Castle

March 3, 2017

JAMES R. FULTZ, SR., Defendant-Below/Appellant,
GLORIA A. FULTZ, Plaintiff-Below/ Appellee.

          Submitted: January 11, 2017

          Elwood T. Eveland, Esquire The Eveland Law Firm Attorney for Appellant

          Gloria A. Fultz Self-Represented Appellee



         This is an appeal from the Justice of the Peace Court pursuant to 10 Del. C. § 9571. The facts of this case involve an alleged oral contract between two parents concerning the funeral expenses of their deceased son. Plaintiff-Below/Appellee Gloria A. Fultz ("Plaintiff) brings a breach of contract claim against Defendant-Below/Appellant James R. Fultz, Sr. ("Defendant") seeking $5, 000.00 based upon a verbal agreement regarding the use of insurance proceeds to pay for their son's funeral.

         On January 11, 2017, the Court held a trial on the matter. The evidence consists of testimony from Plaintiff, Defendant, Ernest Dubois, Joseph Bethard, Sharon Houston, and Catherine Fultz. Plaintiff also submitted documentary evidence for the Court to consider. At the conclusion of trial, the Court reserved decision. This is the Court's decision after trial.


         During the trial, the Court sat as the sole trier of fact. Therefore, it is the Court's responsibility to assess the credibility of the testifying witnesses and, where there is a conflict in the testimony, to reconcile these conflicts, "if reasonably possible[, ] so as to make one harmonious story."[1] In doing so, the Court takes into consideration the demeanor of the witnesses, their apparent fairness in giving their testimony, their opportunities in hearing and knowing the facts about which they testified, and any bias or interest they may have concerning the nature of the case.[2] Accordingly, the Court finds the following facts by a preponderance of the evidence.

         Plaintiff and Defendant are former spouses who divorced in 2005. During the course of their marriage, the parties had three children. On August 18, 2014, one of their children, James Jr., died in an automobile accident. The funeral expenses for James Jr. amounted to approximately $15, 000.00.[3] On August 20, 2014, Plaintiff transferred $15, 000.00 from her retirement account and placed it into a separate bank account to pay the funeral expenses.[4]Plaintiff intended to recoup this money from two insurance policies the parties had on James Jr. The first policy was a $10, 000.00 Met Life Insurance Policy, the proceeds of which Plaintiff received on September 13, 2014.[5] The second policy, and the one that is the center of this dispute, is a $5, 000.00 Auto-Insurance Policy with Liberty Mutual Insurance ("Auto-Policy").

         James Jr.'s automobile was insured by Liberty Mutual under an auto-insurance policy purchased by Defendant. The auto-insurance policy includes a provision for "No-Fault Benefits, " which pays a maximum of $5, 000.00 for an insured's funeral expenses if the death occurs during the operation of the vehicle. In the days leading up to their son's funeral, Plaintiff and Defendant had several discussions regarding the Auto-Policy. The parties came to an agreement where Plaintiff would file a claim for "No-Fault Benefits" on Defendant's behalf, and such funds received from the policy would go towards payment for James Jr.'s funeral expenses.

         On September 4, 2014, Plaintiff completed the "No-Fault Benefits" application and submitted it to Liberty Mutual.[6] Liberty Mutual approved the parties' request for "No-Fault Benefits, " and issued a check for $5, 000.00 payable to both Plaintiff and Defendant. Plaintiff demanded the entire check pursuant to their verbal agreement. Defendant refused to tender the entire check. Eventually, the check expired and was returned to Liberty Mutual due to the parties' inaction. Liberty Mutual then reissued the check payable solely to Defendant.

         On May 27, 2015, Plaintiff brought an action in the Justice of the Peace Court seeking $5, 000.00, representing the Auto-Policy proceeds Defendant promised to pay for funeral expenses. Defendant filed a counterclaim seeking the recoupment of cash payments allegedly made to Plaintiff that exceeded his "fair share" of the funeral expenses. On October 9, 2015, the Justice of the Peace Court issued a decision finding in favor of Plaintiff in the amount of $5, 000.00, and denied Defendant's counterclaim. On October 21, 2015, Defendant filed a timely appeal to this Court, and initiated the instant action.


         Plaintiff contends that in the days following James Jr.'s death, the parties had several discussions concerning the proceeds of the Auto-Policy. Plaintiff testified the parties entered into a verbal agreement where Plaintiff was to complete the Liberty Mutual application for "No-Fault Benefits, " and Defendant was to give the proceeds to her to pay for James Jr.'s funeral expenses. Plaintiff testified that after Defendant received the proceeds from the Auto-Policy, he refused to pay pursuant to their verbal agreement. Plaintiff testified that since James Jr.'s death, she has not ...

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