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.

Branson v. Mestre

United States District Court, D. Delaware

June 16, 2017

ALBERT E. BRANSON, DAVID J. BRANSON, and ROBERT J. BRANSON, Plaintiffs,
v.
LEE MESTRE, VINCENT BRANSON, and 10 NORTH FOURTH STREET TRUST, and JOHN DOES 1-20, INCLUSIVE and ALL UNKNOWN OWNERS OR CLAIMANTS OF PROPERTY LOCATED AT SOUTH BETHANY/ OCEAN HIGHWAY, LOT 39, BLK 1 N. ADD, INDIAN RIVER HUNDRED, SUSSEX COUNTY, DELAWARE TMP No. 134-17.20-199.00, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          SHERRY R. FALLON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Presently before the court in this civil action to quiet title to real property is a motion to remand the case to the Court of Chancery, filed by plaintiffs Albert E. Branson, David J. Branson, and Robert J. Branson (collectively, "plaintiffs"). (D.I. 10) Defendants Lee Mestre and Vincent Branson (together, "defendants"), oppose the motion. (D.I. 12) For the following reasons, the court will grant plaintiffs' motion to remand and award costs and attorney's fees incurred as a result of the removal of the case.

         II. BACKGROUND

         In September 2001, Dorothea Branson died, and her will was probated in the Register of Wills of Sussex County, Delaware on November 9, 2001. (D.I. 1, Ex. 48 at ¶¶ 23, 26) The will left her entire estate, including an interest in real property located at 10 N. Fourth Street, South Bethany Beach, Delaware (the "Cottage"), to her children, Albert, David, Theresa, Robert, and Vincent. (Id. at ¶¶ 24, 27) On November 21, 2001, defendant Vincent Branson accepted a distribution of cash from the estate in lieu of any interest in the Cottage. (Id. at ¶ 30)

         As executor of the estate, plaintiff David Branson asked each sibling to convey his or her interest in the Cottage to the estate in the summer of 2004 to perfect Dorothea's interest in the Cottage. (Id. at ¶ 33) All siblings, except defendant Vincent Branson, deeded their interests to the estate. The quitclaim deeds conveying 80% legal title in the Cottage to the estate were recorded on October 27, 2005. (Id.)

         In September 2004, Vincent Branson initiated an action in the Court of Chancery against plaintiffs for specific performance of an alleged oral agreement or, alternatively, for a partition and sale of the Cottage. (Id. at ¶ 34) Vice Chancellor Noble rejected both claims on September 1, 2010, finding that Vincent Branson had no interest in the Cottage. (Id. at ¶ 35) Vice Chancellor Noble's ruling was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Delaware on December 9, 2011. (Id. at¶ 36); Branson v. Branson, 35 A.3d 418 (Del. 2011).

         On June 7, 2012, plaintiffs filed an action to quiet title against Vincent Branson in the Court of Chancery. (Id. at ¶ 37) On July 19, 2013, the Court of Chancery ruled against Vincent Branson on summary judgment, dismissing Vincent Branson's counterclaims and granting plaintiffs' request to clear title. (Id. at ¶ 42) The Court of Chancery shifted fees to Vincent Branson, describing his litigation conduct as "purely vexatious legal maneuvers, " and characterizing his arguments as "obviously meritless." (Id. at ¶¶ 42-43); Branson v. Branson, C.A. No. 7603-VCG, 2013 WL 3789755, at *5 (Del. Ch. July 19, 2013), aff'd, 91 A.3d 561 (Del. 2014). The Supreme Court of Delaware affirmed the Court of Chancery's ruling on April 15, 2014. (Id. at¶46)

         On August 3, 2012, Vincent Branson filed an action against plaintiffs in Delaware Superior Court for "abusive and coercive conduct" in the Court of Chancery litigation. (Id. at ¶ 48) The Superior Court dismissed his claims with prejudice on September 21, 2012, citing the Court of Chancery's 2010 ruling and imposing sanctions against Vincent Branson for his "frivolous attempt to relitigate" the 2010 ruling. (Id. at ¶ 49) On March 19, 2013, the Supreme Court of Delaware affirmed the Superior Court's dismissal of the action and award of sanctions. (A* at ¶ 50)

         On April 19, 2013, Vincent Branson filed Amended Exceptions to the Final Account in the Court of Chancery Office of the Register of Wills for Sussex County, alleging the existence of an oral agreement between Dorothea and Albert Branson requiring Albert to leave the Cottage to the grandchildren in fee simple in exchange for a life estate. (Id. at ¶ 51) On April 30, 2013, Vice Chancellor Glasscock ruled that Vincent Branson had no standing to bring the Exceptions because he had already taken his full and final distribution of the estate in cash. (Id. at ¶ 53) Vice Chancellor Glasscock issued sanctions and shifted fees in the case. (Id. at ¶ 55)

         On February 12, 2014, defendant Lee Mestre brought an action in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Maryland (the "First Maryland Action") against plaintiff David Branson and defendant Vincent Branson based on the alleged oral contract between Dorothea and Albert Branson. (Id. at ¶¶ 56-58) Before David Branson was served, Mestre filed a proposed consent order granting partial summary judgment on liability against Vincent Branson, which was granted on April 9, 2014. (Id. at ¶ 60) On August 12, 2014, Vincent Branson and Mestre formed "The 10 North Fourth Street Trust" (the "Trust") under Maryland law, naming Mestre as the trustee and Albert Branson as the beneficiary of the Trust, which purportedly contained title to 20% of the Cottage. (Id. at ¶¶ 62, 65) Thereafter, Vincent Branson and Mestre allegedly induced the court in the First Maryland Action to enter an August 26, 2014 order approving a settlement agreement commanding Vincent Branson to execute a quitclaim deed to Mestre as trustee of the Trust. (Id. at ¶¶ 72, 76) David Branson was not served with the summons and complaint in the First Maryland Action until September 9, 2014. (Id. at ¶ 80) On October 8, 2014, Vincent Branson recorded a quitclaim deed with the Assessment Division of Sussex County, Delaware that quit claimed the purported 20% title interest held by Vincent Branson in the Cottage. (Id. at¶77)

         Mestre voluntarily dismissed the First Maryland Action without prejudice on January 15, 2015. (Id. at ¶ 81) On January 20, 2015, Mestre filed a new action in the Circuit Court of Montgomery County, Maryland (the "Second Maryland Action") which was identical to the complaint that was voluntarily dismissed on January 15, except that David Branson was the sole defendant. (Id. at ¶ 82) Mestre's attorney executed and published a notice of lis pendens on January 22, 2015, which stated that the orders dismissing the First Maryland Action had been recorded, and Mestre was the trustee of the Trust in accordance with the orders. (Id. at ¶¶ 83-84)

         On September 15, 2015, plaintiffs filed a verified complaint in the Court of Chancery, seeking to clear title to the Cottage. (D.I. 1, Ex. 7) The complaint set forth causes of action for declaratory judgment, civil contempt, slander of title, prima facie tort, and civil conspiracy. (Id. at ¶¶ 80-103) Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on May 20, 2016, adding a cause of action to quiet title and maintaining causes of action for civil contempt and slander of title. (D.I. 1, Ex. 48 at ¶¶ 85-104) By letter dated February 1, 2017, Vice Chancellor Glasscock scheduled a March 1, 2017 oral argument on the pending motions to dismiss and for summary judgment. (D.I. 1, Ex. 87) On February 14, 2017, the Court of Chancery entered an order dismissing the causes of action for civil contempt and slander of title in the amended complaint, leaving only the count to quiet title to the Cottage. (D.I. 1, Ex. 89)

         Defendants filed a notice of removal to the United States District Court for the District of Delaware on February 28, 2017. (D.I. 1) As a result of the filing of the notice of removal, the March 1, 2017 hearing on the motions pending before the Court of Chancery did not go forward. On March 20, 2017, plaintiffs filed the instant motion to remand the action to the Court of Chancery. (D.I. 10)

         III. ...


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.