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Blevins v. Metzgar

Superior Court of Delaware

June 8, 2017

DENNIS D. & DIANE M. BLEVINS, Plaintiffs,
v.
HOPE L. METZGAR AND ROBERT O. METZGAR, JR., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          ERIC M. DAVIS, JUDGE.

         This civil action involves the cutting and removal of trees from a residential property in Townsend, Delaware. Through the complaint, Plaintiffs Diane and Dennis Blevins assert claims for Timber Trespass, Trespass to Chattels, and Conversion against Defendants Hope and Robert Metzgar. The Metzgars have asserted counterclaims for Unjust Enrichment, Malicious Prosecution/Bad Faith, and Abuse of Process. Before the Court is (i) Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (the "Motion") filed by the Metzgars; and (ii) Plaintiffs' Response in Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (the "Response") filed by the Blevins. For the reason set forth below, the Court DENIES the Motion.

         BACKGROUND

         The Blevins own and reside at 151 Lloyd Guessford Road in Townsend, Delaware (Parcel No. 1401900180) (the "Blevins Property"). The Blevins Property consists of approximately 2.12 acres of land. The Blevins purchased the Blevins Property in 2012. The Blevins, however, did not begin residing on the Blevins Property until 2015.

          The Metzgars own 149 Lloyd Guessford Road in Townsend, Delaware (Parcel No. 1401900208) (the "Metzgar Property"). The Metzgars purchased the Metzgar Property in 1996 and have resided on this property ever since. The Metzgar Property is in the shape of a "popsicle stick" and consists of approximately 6.8 acres of land. The Blevins Property and the Metzgar Property are adjacent to each other. The Metzgars' home sits about ten feet from the Blevins' property line.[1]

         The Blevins allege that from April 22, 2015 to May 25, 2015, the Metzgars entered the Blevins Property and cut down approximately forty feet of trees and foliage. The Blevins contend that the Metzgars kept the timber for their own use. The Blevins surmise that the Metzgars cut the trees in order to create a more direct access to the rear of their property where a large patio had recently been installed.

         The Metzgars admit to removing the trees, but claim they did not know the trees were on the Blevins Property. Additionally, the Metzgars claim that the trees and other vegetation removed were either dead or had no value. The Metzgars further justify removing the trees because the trees were at risk of falling on the Metzgars' home. The Metzgars contend that since they removed the trees, the Blevins have mulched, planted shrubs and flowers, and otherwise improved the area.

         On June 7, 2016, the Blevins filed a Complaint against the Metzgars for Timber Trespass, Trespass to Chattels, and Conversion. The Complaint states that the Metzgars are liable to the Blevins for the replacement value of the trees, including the cost for reestablishment of the forest area.

         The Metzgars filed their Answer and Counterclaims on July 21, 2016. The Metzgars counterclaim for Unjust Enrichment, Malicious Prosecution/Bad Faith, and Abuse of Process.

         The Answer states that the Metzgars enriched the Blevins by removing dead and dangerous trees from their property, and that the Blevins have brought this action in an effort to harass and intimidate the Metzgars.

         PARTIES' CONTENTIONS

         The Metzgars move for summary judgment on all three counts in the Complaint. As to the Count I claim for Timber Trespass, the Metzgars allege that the Blevins have shown no evidence of damages based on a legally accepted tree valuation method or reliably established the area denuded by the Metzgars. As to the Counts II and III claims for Trespass to Chattels and Conversion, the Metzgars allege that the claims fail because they are for real property, not personal property.

         The Blevins contend that their expert relies on the replacement cost valuation method, which is a legally accepted tree valuation method. The Blevins further contend that they sufficiently established an estimate of the disturbed area for purposes of assessing damages. Finally, the Blevins argue that their claims for Conversion and Trespass to Chattels are permissible because trees, once cut, become personal property.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         The standard of review on a motion for summary judgment is well-settled. The Court's principal function when considering a motion for summary judgment is to examine the record to determine whether genuine issues of material fact exist, "but not to decide such issues."[2]Summary judgment will be granted if, after viewing the record in a light most favorable to a nonmoving party, no genuine issues of material fact exist and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.[3] If, however, the record reveals that material facts are in dispute, or if the factual record has not been developed thoroughly enough to allow the Court to apply the law to the factual record, then summary judgment will not be granted.[4] The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating that the undisputed facts support his ...


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