Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Saunders-Gomez v. Rutledge Maintenance Corp.

Superior Court of Delaware

April 3, 2017

TIBY SAUNDERS-GOMEZ, Appellant,
v.
RUTLEDGE MAINTENANCE CORPORATION, Appellee.

          Submitted: January 5, 2017

         On Appeal from the Court of Common Pleas.

          Tiby Saunders-Gomez, pro se Appellant.

          Edward J. Fornias, III, Esquire, Law Office of EJ Fornias, P.A., Attorney for Rutledge Maintenance Corporation.

          ORDER

          Ferris W. Wharton, J.

         This 3rd day of April, 2017, upon consideration of Appellant Tiby Saunders-Gomez's ("Appellant") Opening Brief, Appellee Rutledge Maintenance Corporation's ("Appellee") Answering Brief, Appellant's Reply Brief, and the record, it appears to the Court that:

         1. Appellant has owned a parcel of land in a housing development ("Rutledge") since 1994.[1] Appellant took possession of the lot subject to the Declaration, which has been in effect since December 18, 1991.[2] The Declaration requires all Rutledge lot owners to be members of a maintenance corporation.[3] Typically, all members of the maintenance corporation are required to pay an annual assessment in order to cover the costs associated with maintaining the open space in Rutledge.[4] If members fail to pay their annual assessment, the Declaration permits the maintenance corporation to take legal action against them.[5]

         2. Appellant allegedly failed to pay her annual assessment to Appellee from 2005 to 2013.[6]

         3. Appellee brought a debt action in the Justice of the Peace Court against Appellant to recover these outstanding assessments.[7] After considering testimony from both parties on November 13, 2013, the Justice of the Peace Court found that Appellant breached her contract with Appellee by failing to pay her annual assessments.[8] As a result, the Justice of the Peace Court awarded $1, 989.05 to Appellee, plus $250.00 in attorney's fees, and 5.75% post-judgment interest per annum.[9]

         4. On December 2, 2013, Appellant timely filed a Notice of Appeal to the Court of Common Pleas.

         5. The Court of Common Pleas ("Trial Court") held a trial on November 23, 2015 and November 24, 2015. The Trial Court found that the plain language of the Declaration required Appellant to pay an annual assessment to Appellee upon Appellant's purchase of the Rutledge lot.[10] The Trial Court found that the total amount assessed to each lot owner in Rutledge from 2005 to 2013 was $1020.00.[11] However, the Trial Court found that Appellant failed to make any payments to Appellee during this time period.[12] Therefore, the Trial Court awarded $1020.00 to Appellee.[13] The Trial Court also awarded $42.01 to Appellee for costs associated with sending certified letters to Appellant's residence that demanded payment of the assessments.[14] Finally, the Trial Court awarded Appellee's counsel $8, 975.83 in fees pursuant to a fee-shifting provision in the Declaration.[15]

         6. On March 10, 2016, Appellant timely filed a Notice of Appeal to this Court.

         7. On appeal, Appellant has submitted an Opening Brief that presents challenges for the Court in performing its appellate function, as it no doubt did for Appellee in answering. The Court recognizes that pro se litigants are afforded a certain measure of leniency in presenting their case to the Court.[16] However, "the [pro se litigant's] brief at the very least must assert an argument that is capable of review."[17] The Court finds that some of Appellant's grounds for appeal are incapable of review because they are conclusory and lacking in any supporting legal authority, or, in one instance, incomprehensible.[18]

         8. Appellant summarizes 11 arguments on appeal in the Summary of Arguments section of her Opening Brief.[19] Inexplicably, Appellant sets out only seven arguments in the Argument section.[20] Compounding the confusion, Appellant has included argument on various issues throughout the Statement of Facts section. Understandably confounded by the disorderly Opening Brief, Appellee has responded to 10 arguments it perceived raised by Appellant.

         9. The Court first deals with those arguments presented in the Argument section. Unfortunately for purposes of appellate review, none of these seven arguments is very clearly presented, some are duplicative of others, and some are simply conclusory. For example, Arguments III, IV, and VI present no real argument at all. Rather, they are merely assertions that the Trial Court erred.[21] Nonetheless, as best the Court can summarize, Appellant's arguments are: (1) the Justice of the Peace Court erred in finding that Appellee had complied with the requirements for providing a bill of particulars;[22] (2) the Trial Court did not have jurisdiction over the appeal because the mirror image rule was not satisfied, and the Trial Court improperly permitted an amendment of the complaint on appeal;[23] (3) the Trial Court erred when it denied Appellant's motion to compel discovery of a contract between Appellee and a property management company;[24] (4) the Trial Court erred when it denied Appellant's motion to join a party;[25] (5) the Trial Court failed to apply the correct statute of limitations;[26] (6) the Trial Court erred in some manner having to do with Supreme Court Rule 26, the "FDCPA law, " and "grounds for mistrial on appeal" from the Trial Court;[27] and (7) the Trial Court improperly awarded excessive attorney's fees to Appellee's counsel.[28]

         10. The standard of review by the Superior Court for an appeal from the Trial Court is the same standard applied by the Supreme Court to appeals from the Superior Court.[29] In addressing appeals from the Trial Court, this Court is limited to correcting errors of law and determining whether substantial evidence exists to support factual findings.[30] Substantial evidence is "relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion."[31] If factual findings are "sufficiently supported by the record and are the product of an orderly and logical[ly] deductive process, " then Lhey will not be challenged.[32] Questions of law are reviewed de novo.[33]

         11. The Court first turns to Appellant's argument that the Justice of the Peace Court legally erred in finding that Appellee complied with the requirements for providing a bill of particulars. According to Justice of the Peace Court Rule 26(b), "[i]f the plaintiff is a corporation, partnership or other artificial entity, [the bill of particulars] shall be verified by an officer of the entity as defined in Supreme Court Rule 57(a)(3) or any representative certified pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 57." Appellant argues that Appellee failed to comply with Rule 26(b) because Appellee failed to have one of its officers verify the bill of particulars.

         12. The Court finds that any alleged error committed by the Justice of the Peace Court is irrelevant for purposes of this appeal because the Trial Court tried this case de novo.[34] Pursuant to 10 Del. C. § 9571(c) and Court of Common Pleas Civil Rule 72.3(a), all appeals from the Justice of the Peace Court to the Court of Common Pleas are tried de novo.[35] "A de novo hearing on appeal from a Justice's court means a trial anew, whether of law or fact, according to the usual or required mode of procedure."[36] Indeed, § 9571 "requires that the parties begin anew, as if proceedings in the lower court never took place."[37] Therefore, because the Trial Court tried the case de novo, this Court limits its review to the Trial Court's decisions.

         13. Second, Appellant argues that the Trial Court lacked jurisdiction over the appeal because Appellee did not satisfy Court of Common Pleas Civil Rule 72.3(f). Pursuant to Rule 72.3(f), "[a]n appeal to [the Court of Common Pleas] that fails to join the identical parties and raise the same issues that were before the court below shall result in a dismissal on jurisdictional grounds." Appellant argues that Rule 72.3(f), also known as the mirror image rule, [38] was not satisfied because the complaint on appeal improperly referenced the maintenance declaration of an adjacent housing development, instead of the Declaration at issue here.

         14. The Court finds that the appeal to the Trial Court from the Justice of the Peace Court satisfied the mirror image rule. The mirror image rule is satisfied "if the complaint on appeal presents no parties or issues other than those presented by the original complaint below."[39] Here, Appellee perfected appellate jurisdiction by bringing the same claims against Appellant as it did in the Justice of the Peace Court. Indeed, Appellee's complaint in the Justice of the Peace Court raised both debt and quantum meruit as causes of action against Appellant. Appellee's complaint in the Trial Court contained those same claims. The fact that the complaint on appeal references the wrong maintenance declaration does not change the essence of the pleading. Once appellate jurisdiction is perfected, "parties may seek to amend the pleadings or otherwise add or dismiss issues or parties."[40] Accordingly, Appellee was free to amend its complaint to correct the error because jurisdiction had already been perfected under Rule 72.3(f).

         15. Third, Appellant's argument designated "III" in the Argument section of her Opening Brief is a single sentence asserting that the Trial Court erred by not compelling discovery of a contract between Appellee and BC Community, a property management company, and including a reference to 11 lines of trial transcript.[41] The Court finds that there was no error committed by the Trial Court in denying Appellant's motion to compel production of the contract. The relationship between Appellee and the property management company was simply irrelevant to the issue at trial-whether Appellant owed her annual assessments. Moreover, Appellant has offered no substantive argument in support of her assertion.

         16. Fourth, Appellant's argument designated "IV" in the Argument section of her Opening Brief is another single sentence, this time asserting that the Trial Court erred by denying her motion to join a party, as well as violating unspecified due process rights of Appellant. Appellant includes a citation to 10 lines of transcript.[42] Those lines merely refer to the Trial Court's earlier denial of the motion.[43] A transcript of the actual ruling on the motion has not been cited. It appears, however, that Appellant sought the joinder of the property management company on appeal to the Trial Court. The Trial Court observed in connection with Appellant's renewed motion to compel on the day of trial that the time for adding parties had long since passed. On appeal, Appellant makes no substantive argument in support of her assertion.

         17. Fifth, Appellant argues that the Trial Court legally erred by finding that the statute of limitations did not bar some of Appellee's contract claims. While it is difficult to understand Appellant's argument, Appellant appears to assert that the account in this case is not a "mutual and running account." Pursuant to 10 Del. C. § 8106, an action to enforce a contract has a three-year statute of limitations. The statute of limitations begins to accrue at the time of the breach.[44] In the case of a mutual and running account between parties, however, the statute of limitations "shall not begin to run while such account continues open and current."[45] Here, if the account is not a mutual and running account, as Appellant seems to suggest, then, according to Appellant, Appellee's contract claims from 2005 to 2010 would be time-barred.

         18. It is clear to the Court that the account was not a "mutual and running account." At best it was a running account, since Appellee's unpaid debt, along with interest, continued to accrue. However, there was none of the mutuality (or reciprocity) necessary for a "mutual and running account" because Appellee never incurred any reciprocal obligation to Appellant that would offset any of Appellant's obligations to Appellee.[46]

         19. This conclusion does not end the matter though, since Appellee's claims are subject to the twenty-year common law statute of limitations. It is well-established under Delaware law that instruments evidenced by seal are subject to the common law twenty-year statute of limitations.[47] Here, the Declaration provides that all Rutledge lot owners shall pay an annual assessment to the maintenance corporation. The Declaration is a recorded instrument under seal.[48]On September 6, 1994, NVR Homes Incorporated conveyed the lot by deed to Appellant. The deed granted the lot to Appellant subject to the Declaration. Appellant's deed is likewise evidenced by seal.[49] Thus, Appellant's "obligation to pay assessments is both created and evidenced by the sealed Declaration and her sealed Deed subject to the Declaration restrictions."[50] As such, the twenty-year limitations period applies, and none of Appellee's claims are time-barred under § 8106.

         20. Sixth, Appellant asserts that the Trial Court erred in concluding that

the debt was verified under the Supreme Court Rule 26 and the FDCPA law was not applicable to BC Community that held out in the demand that '[t]his is an attempt to collection a debt' check payable to Back Creek maintenance Corp. noted in the ans. av #38 and this is gounds for mistrial on appeal from Del. CCP.[51]

         The Court finds this argument incomprehensible. Moreover, Appellant has offered no substantive argument in support of this assertion.

         21. Seventh, Appellant argues that the Trial Court abused its discretion by awarding attorney's fees to Appellee's counsel. Appellant argues that the Trial Court should not have awarded fees to Appellee's counsel because the Trial Court incorrectly ruled in Appellee's favor. Alternatively, Appellant argues that the fees awarded to Appellee's counsel were "excessive" and ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.