In the Matter of JANE TYLER, A person with a disability.
Submitted: April 3, 2018
Below: Court of Chancery of the State of Delaware C.M. No.
STRINE, Chief Justice; VALIHURA, and SEITZ, Justices.
L. VALIHURA JUSTICE
parents and legal guardians of Jane Tyler
("Appellants") appeal the decision of the Court of
Chancery and request that this Court reverse and remand this
matter with instruction. Jane is a twenty-six-year-old woman
with severe autism, which renders her unable to speak, care
for herself, or make significant decisions. Jane currently
lives in a group home under contract with the Delaware
Division of Developmental Disabilities Services
("DDDS"). In October of 2017, certain members of
Jane's group home staff alleged that Mr. Tyler may have
sexually abused Jane on more than one occasion. The matter
was referred to the New Castle County Police Department and
several State agencies.
Although no agency arrested or pressed charges against Mr.
Tyler, the Court of Chancery limited his visitation rights to
the common areas of Jane's home in an interim ex
parte order dated October 18, 2017 ("Interim
Order"), and ordered an investigation by the
Guardianship Monitoring Program ("GMP"). The GMP
filed the report of its investigation ("GMP
Report") under seal on January 11, 2018 and recommended
continuing the visitation restrictions. The Court of Chancery
agreed and issued its Order for Supervised Visitation on
January 26, 2018. The Appellants filed a Petition for Relief
challenging the visitation restrictions and the continued
confidentiality of the GMP Report. The Master in Chancery
denied these requests. Appellants then filed exceptions to
the Master's order, which the Court of Chancery denied.
On appeal, the Appellants argue, among other claims, that the
Court of Chancery denied them due process by maintaining the
GMP Report under seal pursuant to Court of Chancery Rule
180-D ("Rule 180-D"), and that the court improperly
invoked 24 Del. C. § 1768 ("Section
1768") to maintain the GMP Report under seal.
Appellants, however, no longer challenge the visitation
After reviewing the record, we conclude that the Court of
Chancery did not err in relying upon Rule 180-D for the
continued sealing of the GMP Report. Further, we reject
Appellants' contention that the Vice Chancellor overruled
the Appellants' exceptions without conducting a
meaningful review. Accordingly, except to the extent it may
have relied upon Section 1768, an issue which we need not
address, we AFFIRM the Court of Chancery's June 12, 2018
Master's Final Order and its September 26, 2018 Order
Overruling Exceptions and Adopting Master's Report.
and Procedural History
May 18, 2011, the Court of Chancery appointed Appellants as
Jane's co-guardians. At that time, Appellants were
represented by Kevin O'Brien ("O'Brien").
Since 2012, Jane has lived in a group home. The Appellants
have had disagreements with the group home staff since 2016,
and, on several occasions, Mr. Tyler has had heated arguments
concerning care issues with the group home's staff.
Appellants, who are Caucasian and Jewish, believe that some
of the African-American and Muslim staff harbored racial and
anti-Semitic animosity toward them. When the Appellants visit
Jane together, their preference has been to visit in the
family room "common area," but they would sometimes
visit Jane in her room if she was unwilling to come out.
October 18, 2017, DDDS filed a Motion for Supervised
Visitation ("Motion"). DDDS served this Motion on
O'Brien. In its Motion, DDDS alleges that on October 12,
2017, NHS reported allegations that Mr. Tyler sexually abused
Jane. DDDS reported these sexual abuse allegations to the New
Castle County Police Department, the Department of Health and
Social Services Division of Long Term Care Residences
Protection, and the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit of the
Attorney General's Office. The Court of Chancery ordered
the GMP to investigate. While these investigations were
pending, DDDS sought an order from the Court of Chancery
prohibiting Mr. Tyler from unsupervised visitation with Jane.
About forty-two minutes following the filing of the motion
for supervised visitation, the Court of Chancery entered the
Interim Order prohibiting Mr. Tyler from having unsupervised
visits with Jane or removing Jane from the group home. The
Interim Order provided that it could be reviewed upon a
showing of good cause by Mr. Tyler or upon completion of all
investigations of alleged sexual abuse.
October 19, 2017, the Court of Chancery appointed the GMP to
investigate the sexual abuse allegations, and, on November 1,
2017, the Court of Chancery entered a sealed order pertaining
to the investigation ("November 1
Order"). The GMP filed its report under seal on
January 11, 2018 and recommended continuing the restrictions
limiting Mr. Tyler's visitation. On January 26, 2018,
the court ordered that Mr. Tyler's visitation was limited
to the common area of the group home and that he could not
visit Jane in her room. Citing Rule 180-D(c)(2), the
Court's order sealed the GMP's report because
"access by interested parties would be detrimental"
to Jane. This order was electronically served
on O'Brien, Appellants' counsel in the guardianship
Appellants filed a Petition for Relief ("Petition for
Relief") on April 24, 2018 challenging the visitation
restrictions and denying the sexual abuse allegations against
Mr. Tyler. They requested, in the alternative, that their
counsel be granted access to the November 1 Order and the GMP
Report. In GMP's response, it argued for
keeping the GMP Report under seal pursuant to Rule 180-D.
DDDS did not take a position on the use of Rule 180-D, but it
asserted that the materials it provided to GMP were
"peer review materials" protected from disclosure
under Section 1768. On June 12, 2018, the Master issued her
report ("Final Report") denying the Appellants'
petition, citing to Rule 180-D.In addition, the Court
stated that "[t]he GMP report was filed under seal and,
as noted in the DDDS petition, contains confidential
information protected from disclosure by 24 Del. C.
§1768." Accordingly, the Court concluded that
"access by [Mr. Tyler] to [the November 1 Order and GMP
Report], and the statutorily protected DDDS information
referred to in the GMP report, would be detrimental to
[Jane]." We agree with DDDS that a fair
reading of this aspect of the Court's order is that the
Court was not relying upon Section 1768 primarily as a basis
to seal the documents, although it noted that some of the
underlying documents provided to the GMP and referenced in
the reports may be protected by Section 1768. Also, the
Master reviewed the merits of Mr. Tyler's petition even
though he "failed to participate in these proceedings
earlier and did not avail himself of the opportunity to take
exception to the January 26 order."
June 14, 2018, Appellants filed a Notice of Exceptions to the
Final Report. On June 25, 2018, Appellants requested that the
adjudication of exceptions to the Final Report be stayed due
to a significant deterioration in Jane's health. An
emergency care conference was scheduled for June 27, 2018.
The Court of Chancery granted the stay under the conditions
that Appellants provide an update within seven days of the
conference and that the GMP be present at the conference and
submit a supplemental report.
July 9, 2018, Appellants submitted the required status update
about the emergency care conference and informed the Court
that Jane's deterioration was largely due to an issue
with her antipsychotic medication, and her well-being
generally improved after a medication adjustment. In the
status update, Appellants also requested that the Court
require the GMP and DDDS to "follow up" on a video
that allegedly had been taken without Jane's
consent. Two days later, the GMP submitted
its supplemental report from the emergency care conference
("GMP Supplemental Report"). GMP's Supplemental
Report concluded that the visitation restrictions should be
continued, as "[i]t is the opinion of this author that
the Court [of Chancery] should continue to err on the side of
caution in regards to protecting the ward moving
July 12, 2018 (the "Supplemental Order"), the
Master ruled that Appellants' requests that the Court
appoint the GMP to investigate the video taken of Jane and to
appoint the GMP to meet with Appellants to resolve these
issues did not further the mission of the GMP and were not in
furtherance of Jane's well-being.
July 26, 2018, Appellants filed their Opening Brief in
Support of their Exceptions to the Final Report and
Supplemental Order. In that brief, Appellants did not
challenge the portion of the Final Report that pertains to
the restrictions placed upon Mr. Tyler's visitation
rights, as set forth in the original January 26, 2018 order.
The Court of Chancery overruled Appellants' exceptions
and adopted the Final Report and July 12 Supplemental Order
on September 26, 2018. On October 24, 2018, Appellants
filed their Notice of Appeal with this Court.
Appellants raise three primary issues on appeal: (1) whether
the Master committed error by failing to act in Jane's
best interest; (2) whether the Master committed error by
denying the Petition; and (3) whether the Vice Chancellor
committed error by summarily overruling the exceptions
without a "meaningful review" and without providing
a sufficient explanation of her ruling. Although
Appellant's Opening Brief actually raises a host of
issues, we focus on the only one that merits serious
attention, namely, whether the GMP report can remain