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Winder v. Myers

Superior Court of Delaware, Kent

October 31, 2017

CLIFTON WINDER, Plaintiff,
v.
GILBERT MYERS, Defendant.

          Submitted: September 1, 2017

          Robert C. Collins, Esquire, Peter K. Schaeffer, Jr., Esquire.

          ORDER

          NOEL EASON PRIMOS JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Defendant Gilbert Myers's (hereinafter "Mr. Myers") motion to dismiss in lieu of answer. The motion requests dismissal of the complaint of Clifton Winder (hereinafter "Mr. Winder"), who seeks damages for Mr. Myers's alleged violations of 25 Del. C. § 7006: the inclusion of prohibited terms and exclusion of mandatory terms in a lease agreement for a manufactured home lot.

         Prior to the instant action, Mr. Myers had sued Mr. Winder in the Justice of the Peace Court in Gilbert Myers v. Clifton Winder, et al.[1] In that action, Mr. Myers claimed that Mr. Winder was occupying one of his rental units but had ceased to pay rent. After trial, the Justice of the Peace awarded possession of the rental unit and past due rent to Mr. Myers on June 26, 2017. Two days later, on June 28, 2017, Mr. Winder filed the instant action.

         Mr. Myers argues dismissal is warranted because (1) Mr. Winder is ineligible for the relief offered by 25 Del. C. § 7006, as he was no longer a tenant of Mr. Myers at the time of filing; and (2) the claim is barred by res judicata as a result of the Justice of the Peace Court's decision.

         Mr. Winder responds that the landlord-tenant relationship between the parties continued to the date when the action was filed. He also argues that res judicata is not applicable because the Justice of the Peace Court's decision concerned a summary possession claim, whereas the action here is based on Mr. Myers's alleged violation of statutory law, and because the Justice of the Peace Court could not have jurisdiction over the instant claim due to the amount of damages claimed.

         Upon this Court's review of a motion to dismiss, "(I) all well-pleaded factual allegations are accepted as true; (ii) even vague allegations are well-pleaded if they give the opposing party notice of the claim; (iii) the Court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party; and (iv) dismissal is inappropriate unless the plaintiff would not be entitled to recover under any reasonably conceivable set of circumstances susceptible of proof."[2]

         25 Del. C. § 7006 establishes mandatory and prohibited terms for inclusion in leases for manufactured homes and provides remedies directly to tenants against their landlords for violations of the statute. Before a plaintiff obtains relief, "a court of competent jurisdiction [must] find[] that a tenant's rental agreement contains" a prohibited term or omits a required term.[3] In order to recover, a plaintiff must be a tenant. A tenant is defined as "an owner of a manufactured home who has a tenancy of a lot in a manufactured home community; a lessee."[4]

         Here, the material facts are not at issue. The Justice of the Peace Court awarded summary possession to Mr. Myers on June 26, 2017. Pursuant to 25 Del. C. § 5711 (a), this "final judgment determine[d] the rights of the parties, " and specifically that Mr. Myers had the right of possession, and that Mr. Winder did not.[5] The parties agree that despite this order, Mr. Winder remained in possession past June 28, 2017, when he filed this action.

         Mr. Winder argues that at the time this action was filed, he was still a tenant because "Defendant had no legal right to exclude Plaintiff from the premises until the period for appeal ran." The Court understands Mr. Winder to be referring to 25 Del. C. § 5715, which prohibits the Court from issuing a writ of possession prior to "the expiration of the time for the filing of an appeal."[6]

         The Court is unconvinced by this argument. Simply because Mr. Myers would be unable to remove Mr. Winder from the premises does not mean that Mr. Winder was "entitled under a rental agreement to occupy [the] rental unit." The effect of the order granting summary possession was to terminate the landlord-tenant relationship.[7]

         The order of the Justice of the Peace controls during the period of holdover, not the terms of the lease. This is illustrated by the Justice of the Peace's order for a per diem of $20 to be paid starting June 1, 2017, until such time as Mr. Winder vacated the premises.[8] Therefore, to the extent any of the lease terms may have been improper, Mr. Winder was no longer bound by or harmed by them at the time he brought suit.

         Because the landlord-tenant relationship between Mr. Winder and Mr. Myers was terminated on June 26, 2017-prior to the filing of the complaint-Mr. Winder is unable to show his entitlement to the relief offered by 25 Del. C. § 7006©. Having determined that Mr. Winder's claim must be dismissed, the Court ...


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