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August v. Lin

Superior Court of Delaware

August 20, 2019

JENNIFER AUGUST, Appellant,
v.
JIE LIN and TOKYO STEAKHOUSE OF DELAWARE, INC. Appellees.

          Submitted: May 30, 2019

         Upon Appellant's Appeal from a Decision of the Court of Common Pleas

          Jennifer August, 2 Black Duck Reach, Plaintiff Below/Appellant, pro se

          Daniel F. McAllister, Esquire, and Brian V. DeMott, Esquire, BAIRD MANDALAS BROCKSTEDT LLC, Attorney for Defendants Below/Appellees, Jie Lin and Tokyo Steakhouse of Delaware, Inc.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          CRAIG A. KARSNITZ, J.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This case requires me to review the Court of Common Pleas' dismissal of Jennifer August's ("Appellant's" or "Ms. August's") Complaint on Appeal from the Justice of the Peace Court ("JP Court") for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Court of Common Pleas Civil Rule 12(b)(6) ("Rule 12(b)(6)"). This in turn requires me to decide whether Appellant's Complaint on Appeal satisfied the requirements of the applicable Court of Common Pleas statute and rule. No claims were raised in the Complaint against defendant Jie Lin ("Lin") or defendant Tokyo Steakhouse of Delaware, Inc. (the "Steakhouse") (hereinafter collectively referred to as "Appellee").

         10 Del. C. § 9571 provides a right of appeal from any final order, ruling, decision or judgment of the Justice of the Peace Court in a civil action to the Court of Common Pleas in the county in which that order, ruling, decision or judgment was rendered. Specifically, 10 Del. C. § 9571(c) provides:

         "The appeal shall be a trial de novo" [Emphasis supplied]

         Pursuant to authority granted to it by 10 Del. C. § 9571(d), the Court of Common Pleas has established appeal procedures by rule. Court of Common Pleas Civil Rule 72.3(f) ("Rule 72.3(f)") provides:

"The Mirror Image Rule is abolished as a basis for lack of jurisdiction over an otherwise perfected appeal de novo. An appeal to this Court shall join the necessary parties and raise the same issues that were before the Court below. Upon motion of a party or sua sponte, the Court may add or dismiss parties or claims in accordance with the Rules of the Court." [Emphasis supplied]

         At issue is whether the Court of Common Pleas erred when it did not sua sponte allow Appellant to amend her Complaint on Appeal to comply with the requirements of Rule 72.3(f). A corollary issue is whether Appellant failed to perfect her appeal with the Court of Common Pleas, thereby depriving the Court of Common Pleas of jurisdiction and its power to sua sponte allow Ms. August to amend her Complaint on Appeal.

         II. FACTS

         This case arises from a dispute over the amount of tips that Appellant contributed to a tip pool and the amount of tips reported on Appellant's paycheck while she was employed as a server by Lin at the Steakhouse. Appellant claimed $5, 893.62 in damages because Appellee allegedly required her to share 50% of her daily server wage tips with "non-primary direct service employees" in violation of the Delaware Minimum Wage Law, and also claimed that the amount of her tips was overstated on her paycheck.

         III. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On May 22, 2018, Ms. August filed a debt action against Appellee in JP Court. On September 25, 2018, a trial was held in JP Court, and on October 17, 2018, the JP Court, in a well-reasoned opinion, held that Appellant was owed nothing on the tip-sharing claim, but was owed $802 on the tip overstatement claim.

         On October 31, 2018, Appellant filed a Notice of Appeal with the Court of Common Pleas. The Complaint on Appeal in the Court of Common Pleas alleged various errors and abuses of discretion by the JP Court. Appellee filed a Motion to Dismiss the Complaint on Appeal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) on November 15, 2018. On December 28, 2018, Appellant filed a pleading styled "Motion for Declaratory Judgment" which essentially requested that the Court of Common Pleas accept her version of the facts and her conclusions of law from the JP Court trial. On January 3, 2019, the Court of Common Pleas held a hearing and on January 9, 2019, dismissed Appellant's Complaint on Appeal under Rule 12(b)(6). The Court of Common Pleas stated that it had undertaken a careful review of the JP Court's opinion and determined that the JP Court had evaluated all evidence introduced by Appellant and had reached its conclusions after a careful analysis of both facts and law.

         No Motion to Amend the Complaint on Appeal was ever filed by Ms. August with the Court of Common Pleas. The transcript of the January 3, 2019 hearing reflects neither that Ms. August verbally requested to amend the Complaint on Appeal, nor that the Court of Common Pleas sua sponte allowed Appellant to amend the Complaint on Appeal.

         On January 28, 2019, Ms. August filed her Notice of Appeal with this Court from the adverse decision of the Court of Common Pleas. On February 5, 2019, Appellee's counsel entered his appearance with this Court and filed a Motion to Dismiss Appeal on two grounds. First, Appellant's appeal was untimely.[1] At the hearing on the motion I found the appeal was timely. Second, Ms. August's appeal had never been perfected with the Court of Common Pleas, and thus the Court of Common Pleas lacked jurisdiction to hear the appeal altogether.[2] On February 15, 2019, Appellant filed her Response to Motion to Dismiss Appeal. I held a hearing on Appellee's Motion on March 1, 2019[3] and denied the Motion to Dismiss Appeal and set a schedule for briefing. Thereafter, the parties briefed the substantive issues. On July 31, 2019, I held a hearing at which the self represented Appellant, and counsel for Appellee presented their oral arguments. I reserved decision.

         IV. PARTIES' CONTENTIONS

         A. Appellant's Contentions

         In her Opening Brief on Appeal, Appellant states eleven (11) grounds for her appeal "which stem from matters-of-law errors and abuses of discretion" by the Court of Common Pleas. Although these grounds are stated in a somewhat redundant fashion, they may be summarized all claims the JP erred in its disposition of the case. No claims were made against the Steakhouse or Lin.

         Ms. August requests that I declare her ownership of all of the tips and grant vb her right to recover $5, 893.62 from Appellee. She asks that I enter judgment in her favor against Appellee in the amount of $5, 893.62 for wages claim, order Appellee to correct an error in Appellant's W-2 form, and order Appellee to conform its tips policy to the requirements of the Delaware Minimum Wage Law. She also requests that I either remand the case to the Court of Common Pleas so that she ...


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