JOSEPH F. POLI, JR. and RHONDA DANIEL, Defendants Below, Appellants,
810 SOUTH BROOM STREET OPERATIONS, LLC d/b/a HILLSIDE CENTER, Plaintiff Below, Appellee.
Submitted: December 2, 2016
Below-Superior Court of the State of Delaware C.A. No.
HOLLAND, VALEffURA, and VAUGHN, Justices.
15th day of March 2017, it appears to the Court
Joseph F. Poli, Jr. (hereinafter "Joseph") filed
this appeal from the Superior Court's order denying his
motion to vacate a default judgment entered against his wife,
Rhonda Daniel (hereinafter "Rhonda"). The Court
concludes that the judgment on appeal must be reversed.
record reflects that Joseph and Rhonda were the defendants in
a debt action that was filed on January 15, 2015 by 810 South
Broom Street Operations, LLC d/b/a Hillside Center. Hillside
Center is a nursing home and rehabilitation center in
Wilmington. Rhonda was a patient at Hillside in 2014. On
December 15, 2014, Rhonda executed a durable power of
attorney naming Joseph as her agent.
March 26, 2015, court staff notified Hillside's counsel
that neither Rhonda nor Joseph had filed an answer to the
complaint. By letter dated April 3, 2015, Hillside's
counsel advised the court that he had received an answer from
Joseph but not from Rhonda, and that a default judgment would
be filed against Rhonda. On the same date, Hillside's
counsel filed "directions for entry of default"
April 12, 2016, Hillside's counsel filed a motion for
summary judgment against Joseph. The motion recited the entry
of judgment against Rhonda and alleged that nothing had been
paid on that judgment. By memorandum opinion dated June 14,
2016, the Superior Court granted the motion after determining
that Joseph was liable for the judgment against
June 27, 2016, Joseph filed a motion for relief from judgment
under Superior Court Civil Rule 60(b). By order dated July
15, 2016, the Superior Court denied the motion. Having reviewed
the record on appeal, we conclude that the denial of the Rule
60(b) motion was an abuse of discretion.
Superior Court Civil Rule 55(b)(1) provides that, in
appropriate circumstances, a plaintiff may direct the
prothonotary to enter a default judgment against a defendant
who "has failed to appear, plead or otherwise defend as
provided by this Rules." Under Rule 5(aa)(1) of the
court's rules, a defendant's "[a]ppearance may
be made by . . . the service or filing of any motion or
pleading purporting to be responsive to, or affecting the
this case, the record reflects that Joseph's answer to
the complaint attached a copy of Rhonda's durable power
of attorney ("POA") dated December 15, 2014, naming
him as her agent, and his notarized affidavit dated February
13, 2015, purporting to "speak legally for [Rhonda],
first party charged in this law suit."
record reflects that Joseph and Rhonda believed that Joseph
could rely upon the POA to answer the complaint on
Rhonda's behalf. Instead of directing the entry of a
judgment against Rhonda, Hillside's attorney should have
filed a motion objecting to Joseph's authority to act for
Rhonda. That would have given Rhonda an opportunity to file
her own answer pro se or by a licensed attorney.
Similarly, the Superior Court should have advised Joseph that
Rhonda needed to appear pro se or by a licensed
attorney. In fact, when this appeal was filed by Joseph on
Rhonda's behalf, he was advised that Rhonda had to sign
the notice of appeal and she did.
Joseph had individual standing to contest the default
judgment entered against Rhonda because that judgment was the
basis for entry of the judgment against him. Rule 60(b)(1)
authorizes the Superior Court to relieve a party from a final
judgment that is entered by
"mistake." In this case, Hillside's counsel made
a mistake when directing the prothonotary to enter a default