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Nationwide Assurance Co. v. Massey

Court of Common Pleas of Delaware, New Castle

February 26, 2018

NATIONWIDE ASSURANCE CO., A/S/O BRITTANY LAFAYETTE A/S/O MEHREEN AWAN A/S/O BRENDON LAFAYETTE AND A/S/O MESHAM AWAN Plaintiffs,
v.
ANTHONY MASSEY AND JESSE JAMES Defendants.

          Submitted: December 8, 2017

          Christopher Sipe, Esquire Attorney for Plaintiff

          Mary Higgins, Esquire Attorney for Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO SET ASIDE DEFAULT JUDGMENT

          HON. CARL C. DANBERG JUDGE

         This is a subrogation action. On November 14, 2017, the Defendant, Anthony Massey ("Mr. Massey"), brought the instant Motion to Set Aside Default Judgment.[1] Both parties provided initial briefing on the matter, and a hearing was convened on December 8, 2017. The Court heard oral argument from the parties and reserved judgment. This is the Court's Opinion and Order on Mr. Massey's Motion.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On November 27, 2006, Plaintiff Nationwide Assurance Company ("Plaintiff) filed a Complaint against Defendants Mr. Massey and Jesse James ("Mr. James").[2] Plaintiff alleged that on December 22, 2015, while driving Mr. James's uninsured vehicle, Mr. Massey crashed into the rear of an occupied vehicle. On November 28, 2006, a summons was issued for service by the New Castle County Sheriff. On December 7, 2006, service was made to Mr. Massey by leaving the summons with Mr. James at 11467 Valene Drive, Bridgeville, DE.

         On January 2, 2007, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Entry of Default Judgment for want of an answer. Mr. Massey did not respond to Plaintiffs Motion. The Court entered a default judgment against Mr. Massey in the amount of $2, 736.00 plus $100.00 in court costs.[3] On March 2, 2007, Plaintiff requested that a copy of the judgment be sent to the Delaware Division of Motor Vehicles ("DMV"), seeking an indefinite suspension of Mr. Massey's driver's license and driving privileges in the State of Delaware. The DMV suspended Mr. Massey's driving privileges, effective May 14, 2007.[4]

         On May 15, 2007, Mr. Massey called Christopher Sipe, Plaintiffs counsel, ("Mr. Sipe") to dispute the seriousness of the vehicle crash. Additionally, Mr. Massey told Mr. Sipe he did not care about the suspension of his Delaware driver's license because he had a Maryland driver's license, and told Mr. Sipe he was going to contact an attorney about this matter. Neither Defendant ever raised an issue of service until now.

         On October 16, 2015, Mr. Massey called Mr. Sipe, looking to take care of the instant matter because Mr. Massey wanted to transfer his Maryland driver's license to get a Delaware driver's license. Mr. Massey alleged that he knew nothing about the Complaint against him.

         On June 12, 2017, Mr. Massey emailed Plaintiffs counsel, seeking to resolve the legal matter so the State of Delaware could lift the suspension of his driver's license. Mr. Massey also sought payment arrangements for the amount owed. At some point after, Mr. Massey obtained legal representation and brought the instant Motion.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The standard for reviewing a Motion to Vacate Judgment is governed by CCP Civil Rule 60(b). Under Delaware law, a "party moving to vacate a final judgment or order must show that they are entitled to relief under Rule 60(b) by a preponderance of the evidence."[5] Motions to vacate "are within the sound discretion of the trial court, and they are not to be taken lightly or easily granted."[6] "Delaware courts look favorably on motions to vacate default judgments because they promote Delaware's strong judicial policy of deciding cases on the merits."[7]

         PARTIES' CONTENTIONS

         Through Counsel, Mr. Massey (hereinafter "Defendant") argues that the default judgment against him is void because he was never served with the Summons and, therefore, the Court lacked personal jurisdiction over him. At the time of the incident, Defendant alleges he lived in Spring Hill, Florida.[8] Defendant alleges he had not given Mr. James authority to accept service for him and alleges Plaintiff never made an attempt to properly serve him through the State's then-in-effect Long Arm Statute, 10 Del. C. § 3112.[9] Mr. Massey declined to appear for his own motion.

         Plaintiff alleges Defendant was properly served when the Sherriff left the summons with Mr. James. Plaintiff states that Mr. James voluntarily accepted service of two copies of the Complaint and Summons, one for him and one for Defendant.[10] Plaintiff further alleges Defendant learned about the claim against him shortly after the vehicle collision occurred, was "actively collaborating with Mr. James" during that period, and had asked Plaintiffs counsel for a payment arrangement multiple times. Plaintiff ...


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