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Tracker Marine, L.L.C. v. Pena

Court of Chancery of Delaware

July 17, 2017

TRACKER MARINE, L.L.C., d/b/a TRACKER MARINE GROUP and TMBC, L.L.C. d/b/a TRACKER MARINE BOAT CENTER, LLC, Plaintiffs,
v.
DANIEL PENA, Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING CERTIFICATION OF INTERLOCUTORY APPEAL

         WHEREAS:

         A. On September 30, 2015, Daniel Pena took his boat to TMBC, LLC ("TMBC") in Port St. Lucie, Florida to have it repaired. Mr. Pena signed a one-page repair order (the "Repair Order") authorizing TMBC to fix the boat, which had been manufactured by its sister company, Tracker Marine, L.L.C. ("Tracker Marine"). TMBC and Tracker Marine are referred to together as the "Tracker Companies."

         B. The Repair Order is a one-page form contract that was created for TMBC's benefit.[1] In fine print, the Repair Order contains a forum selection clause providing that jurisdiction and venue for any legal action arising out of it shall be brought in a state or federal court of proper jurisdiction in Delaware.

         C. On June 27, 2016, after sustaining injuries in a boating accident several months earlier, Mr. Pena sued the Tracker Companies in Florida state court asserting six claims: three for strict liability and three for negligence.

         D. On May 8, 2017, more than ten months after Mr. Pena filed the Florida action, and facing a potential trial in Florida in November 2017, [2] the Tracker Companies filed this action seeking an anti-suit injunction to prevent Mr. Pena from litigating his negligence claims in the Florida action as a result of the forum selection clause in the Repair Order. The Tracker Companies did not seek to enjoin the prosecution of the strict liability claims, which they acknowledge "would not be subject to the forum selection clause."[3]

         E. Since the Florida action was filed, the parties have been engaged in active litigation in Florida. As of May 25, 2017, the docket in the Florida action contained 191 entries. The parties in Florida action have exchanged written discovery requests and taken thirteen depositions, eight of which were taken by the Tracker Companies. The Tracker Companies also filed notice of intent to serve 21 subpoenas, a majority of which have been served, and filed at least four motions seeking affirmative relief, F. When they filed this action on May 8, 2017, the Tracker Companies simultaneously filed a motion for expedited proceedings and a motion for a preliminary injunction to enjoin Mr. Pena from further litigating his negligence claims in the Florida action. Mr. Pena opposed the motion for expedition, asserting that the Tracker Companies had waived the forum selection clause in the Repair Order and that their claims in this action were barred under the doctrine of laches.

         G. On June 14, 2017, after full briefing, I denied the motion for expedited proceedings after finding that the Tracker Companies had failed to demonstrate good cause for expedited proceedings (the "Order"). More specifically, I concluded that, given the compelling case that had been made for the application of laches, the Tracker Companies had failed to demonstrate the existence of a colorable claim or to make a sufficient showing of imminent irreparable harm so as to warrant imposing on the parties and the Court the burden and expense of expedited proceedings.[4]Given my reliance on the doctrine of laches, I did not address the merits of Mr. Pena's waiver argument.

         H. On June 26, 2017, the Tracker Companies applied for an interlocutory appeal of the Order. Mr. Pena filed an opposition on July 6, 2017.

         NOW THEREFORE, the Court having considered the parties' submissions, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED, this 17th day of July, 2017, as follows:

         1. Supreme Court Rule 42(b)(1) provides that an interlocutory appeal will not be certified "unless the order of the trial court decides a substantial issue of material importance that merits appellate review before a final judgment." In deciding whether to certify an interlocutory appeal, the trial court should examine the applicability of eight criteria enumerated in Supreme Court Rule 42(b)(iii).

         2. "Interlocutory appeals should be exceptional, not routine, because they disrupt the normal procession of litigation, cause delay, and can threaten to exhaust scarce party and judicial resources."[5] As a result, the trial court must assess "the most efficient and just schedule to resolve the case, " and then "identify whether and why the likely benefits of interlocutory review outweigh the probable costs, such that interlocutory review is in the interests of justice. If the balance is uncertain, the trial court should refuse to certify the interlocutory appeal."[6]

         3. I assume for purposes of this ruling that the Order decided a substantial issue of material importance, albeit on a preliminary basis, given that application of the doctrine of laches would serve as a complete defense to the Tracker Companies' sole claim for relief under the Repair Order.[7] Nevertheless, the Order does not merit appellate review before entry of a final judgment in my opinion because it did not decide any issue with finality, other issues remain for decision in the case (including Mr. Pena's waiver defense), none of the criteria set forth in Rule 42(b)(iii) have been satisfied, and, at bottom, the Order simply implicates an exercise of the Court's discretion in the management of its docket.

         4. The only issue the Court decided in entering the Order was whether the Tracker Companies had made a sufficient showing of good cause to warrant imposing on the parties and the Court the burden and expense of expedited proceedings. Given the Tracker Companies' concededly unreasonable delay in seeking to enforce the forum selection clause in the Repair Order, the facts presented made out a compelling case for a laches defense that negated any legitimate basis for expedition.

         5. "[L]aches generally requires the establishment of three things: first, knowledge by the claimant; second, unreasonable delay in bringing the claim, and third, ...


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