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Greenfield v. Budget of Delaware, Inc.

Superior Court of Delaware

October 31, 2017

TIFFANY GREENFIELD, as Next Friend and Guardian ad litem for ETHAN FORD, a minor, Plaintiff,
v.
BUDGET OF DELAWARE, INC., DFS DIRECTOR LAURA MILES, individually and in her official capacity, VICTORIA KELLY, individually and in her official capacity as DFS director, FAMILY CRISIS THERAPIST TRINA N. SMITH, Individually and in her official capacity; JAMIE ZEBROSKI M.S.W., individually and in her official capacity as a Supervisor for DFS; CRYSTAL BRADLEY, M.S., Individually and in her official capacity as a Senior Family Services Specialist for DFS; JAVONNE RICH Individually and in her capacity as a Master Family Services Specialist for DFS; NANCY CRAIGHTON, individually and in her official capacity as a Supervisor for DFS, Defendants.

          Submitted: July 19, 2017

         Upon Defendant Budget of Delaware, Inc.'s Motion to Dismiss DENIED.

          Andrew C. Dalton, Esquire, and Bartholomew J. Dalton, Esquire, Dalton & Associates, P.A., Attorneys for Plaintiffs.

          Jeffrey A. Young, Esquire, Young & McNelis, Attorney for Defendant Budget of Delaware, Inc.

          Joseph C. Handlon, Esquire, Deputy Attorney General, Delaware Department of Justice, Attorney for Defendants Laura Miles, Victoria Kelly, Trina Smith, Jaime Zebroski, Crystal Bradley, Javonne Rich, and Nancy Craighton.

          ORDER

          WHARTON, J.

         This 31st day of October, 2017, upon consideration of the Motion to Dismiss of Defendant Budget of Delaware, Inc. ("Budget"), Tiffany Greenfield's Response as next friend of and guardian ad litem for Ethan Ford ("Plaintiff), argument and the record in this case, it appears to the Court that:

         1. On July 15, 2017, Plaintiff brought this action against various employees of the Division of Family Services (with the exception of Nancy Craighton who was added as a defendant later) ("DFS Defendants") and Defendant Budget of Delaware, Inc., a Delaware corporation, doing business as Budget Motor Lodge.[1] The original complaint was dismissed by the Court on the motion of the then-named DFS Defendants.[2] The dismissal was without prejudice and the Court granted Plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint.[3] Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on March 24, 2017.[4] The allegations against Budget in the Complaint are unchanged in the Amended Complaint.

         2. The Amended Complaint alleges that Budget was negligent, grossly negligent, and reckless, in that its agents, apparent agents, and/or employees in the course of their duties knew or reasonably should have known that Ethan Ford and his sister were being abused and other illegal conduct was occurring on its premises, rendering them unsafe (Count I);[5] Budget's conduct amounted to an intentional infliction of emotional distress on Plaintiff (Count V);[6] and Budget's conduct amounted to a negligent infliction of emotional distress on Plaintiff (Count VI).[7]Plaintiff seeks general, special, and punitive damages, plus costs and interest.[8] More specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the agents of Budget knew of his destitute living conditions, his abuse, and that he was often locked alone in the motel room.[9]Plaintiff argues that Budget was tasked with the maintenance and operation of a business operating under the laws of Delaware as a place of public accommodation.[10]Therefore the staff, employees, owners, and or agents of Budget had a duty, which they failed, to provide a safe premises, to protect its patrons from criminal acts by third parties, and to notify the proper authorities upon discovering the ongoing criminal nature of Plaintiff s living environment.[11] Plaintiff claims that Budget was grossly negligent and reckless in dereliction of the duty of care it owed its patrons.[12]

         3. On March 28, 2017, Budget filed an Answer denying the allegations in the Amended Complaint and asserted various affirmative defenses, including that Plaintiff failed to state a claim against Budget upon which relief may be granted.[13]

         4. On May 4, 2017, Budget moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim.[14] Budget first argues that no claims exist against them because Plaintiffs Amended Complaint failed to establish a duty which was breached by Budget.[15] Budget asserts that allegations of unsafe premises do not apply in this case, that this case does not involve criminal conduct by a third party against the patron of a motel, and that the proprietor of a public place is not an insurer against all personal injuries inflicted on its premises.[16] Additionally, Budget argues that Plaintiffs claims are time-barred pursuant to 10 Del. C. § 8107.[17]

         4. On June 9, 2017, Plaintiff filed his answer opposing Budget's Motion to Dismiss.[18] Plaintiff asserts that he has adequately alleged claims sounding in negligence, therefore counts I, V, and VI should not be dismissed.[19] Plaintiff argues that Budget, an innkeeper and a business which profited from its business invitees, owed Plaintiff a heightened duty of care. Specifically, Budget owed a duty of reasonable care to protect business invitees whom it knew were likely to be victims of criminal acts by third parties on its premises. Plaintiff argues that Budget breached that duty, thereby injuring Plaintiff. Plaintiff also responds that its claims were filed timely.[20]

         5. Budget filed its Motion to Dismiss under Super. Ct. Civ. R. 12(c).[21]Rule 12(c) states, in relevant part, that a motion for judgment on the pleadings may be filed "after the pleadings are closed but within such time as not to delay the trial."[22] The Court may only grant a motion for judgment on the pleadings if there are no disputed facts and the moving party is entitled to judgment as matter of law.[23]

         6. The Court first turns to Defendant Budget's principal argument, which is that Plaintiff failed to establish a duty which was breached by the Defendant. Budget is incorrect. In Jardel Co., Inc. v. Hughes, the Delaware Supreme Court held that property owners have a residual obligation of reasonable care to protect business invitees from the acts of third persons.[24] Furthermore, in adopting Section 344 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts (1965), the Jardel court approved the concept that incidents of criminal activity provide a duty to foresee specific criminal conduct.[25]

          7. In particular Section 344 provides:

A possessor of land who holds it open to the public for entry for his business purposes is subject to liability to members of the public while they are upon the land for such a purpose, for physical harm caused by the accidental, negligent, or intentionally harmful acts of third persons or animals, and by the failure of the possessor to exercise reasonable care to (a) discover that such acts are being done or are likely to be done, or (b) ...

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