JEFFREY A. CLOUSER, Plaintiff Below, Appellant,
KIM DOHERTY, et al., Defendants Below, Appellees.
Submitted: August 23, 2019
Below-Superior Court of the State of Delaware C.A. No.
SEITZ, Chief Justice; VALIHURA, and TRAYNOR, Justices.
Collins J. Seitz, Jr. Chief Justice.
careful consideration of the parties' briefs and the
record on appeal, it appears to the Court that:
appellant, Jeffrey A. Clouser, appeals from a March 25, 2019
Superior Court order granting summary judgment in favor of
the defendants, Wayne Barton and the Delaware Department of
Education ("the DDOE"). We conclude that the
Superior Court did not err in granting summary judgment.
Accordingly, we affirm.
Clouser, a former teacher employed by the Brandywine School
District, filed suit against two groups of defendants-one
comprised of certain school employees; the Brandywine School
District; and current and former members of the Brandywine
School District Board of Education (collectively, "the
School Defendants") and the other comprised of the DDOE;
Wayne Barton, then Director of Professional Accountability
for the DDOE; and Lillian Lowery, then Secretary of Education
(collectively, "the State Defendants"). The gist of
Clouser's complaint alleged that the State Defendants and
the School Defendants acted improperly in investigating his
reputed improper use of a school computer and then
disseminated inaccurate information about the investigation.
The investigation led to Clouser's resignation from his
position with the Brandywine School District. Clouser alleged
that the dissemination of inaccurate information concerning
the investigation left Clouser unable to secure employment in
the teaching profession.
Superior Court dismissed all of Clouser's claims against
both the School Defendants and the State Defendants. Clouser
appealed. We affirmed the Superior Court's dismissal of
the complaint against the School Defendants and
Lowery. But, we determined that the Superior Court
erred in ruling on the State Defendants' claim of
sovereign immunity on a motion to dismiss. Under 18 Del.
C. § 6511, "[t]he defense of sovereign
immunity is waived and cannot and will not be asserted as to
any risk or loss covered by the state insurance coverage
program, whether same be covered by commercially procured
insurance or by self-insurance." When the State's
insurance coverage program does not cover the loss, however,
the State typically files, and relies upon, an affidavit of
no insurance coverage. Although the State had filed an
affidavit of no insurance coverage in the Superior Court, the
court did not rely on it. Instead, the Superior Court
required Clouser to proffer that the State had expressly
waived sovereign immunity under § 6511. We held that the
Superior Court erred by requiring Clouser to plead insurance
coverage under § 6511.
Because Clouser had stated claims for defamation and tortious
interference with prospective business relations against the
DDOE and Barton under the lenient standard for sufficiency of
a claim applicable to a motion to dismiss, we determined that
the Superior Court's error was not harmless. Accordingly,
we remanded the case and directed the Superior Court to
permit the remaining parties- Clouser, the DDOE, and
Barton-to engage in limited discovery related to (i) the
State's affidavit of no insurance coverage and (ii)
Clouser's defamation and tortious interference with
prospective business relations claims against the DDOE and
remand, Clouser requested and received information from the
State Insurance Coverage Office regarding the State's
insurance policies. Clouser also filed, and subsequently
withdrew, several motions to compel discovery. After the
State Insurance Coverage Office responded to Clouser's
document request, Clouser filed a motion to compel "full
disclosure of discovery" from the office. Clouser next
asked the court to extend the discovery deadline. Lastly,
Clouser moved to amend his complaint to (i) add an additional
defendant, (ii) assert new claims against previously
dismissed defendants Doherty and Lowery, and (iii) raise
seven additional claims arising out of the same events that
led to Clouser's initial complaint. On July 6, 2018, the
Superior Court held a hearing on the outstanding motions. At
the hearing's outset, the Superior Court heard from the
parties about the pending discovery matters and concluded
that the only matters that remained pending were two
depositions that had not yet been scheduled. The Superior
Court then denied Clouser's motion for leave to amend his
complaint, stating its reasons on the record.
October 2018, the DDOE and Barton moved for summary judgment.
DDOE and Barton argued: (i) Clouser's claims were barred
by sovereign immunity, (ii) Clouser's defamation claim
failed as a matter of law, (iii) Barton was entitled to
conditional privilege for his communications regarding the
investigation, and (iv) Clouser's claim of tortious
interference with business relationships failed as a matter
of law. In November 2018, counsel for the State Defendants
realized they had inadvertently failed to file an answer to
Clouser's original complaint and docketed an answer.
Clouser then moved to strike the State Defendants' answer
and moved for default judgment.
March 25, 2019, the Superior Court issued two orders. The
first order granted the DDOE and Barton's motion for
summary judgment, finding that Clouser's claims were
barred by sovereign immunity. In so doing, the Superior Court
noted that it was not required to conduct a new inquiry into
the State's efforts to meet its responsibilities under 18
Del. C. §§ 6501-6503 every time the State
asserted the defense of sovereign immunity. The second order
denied Clouser's motion to strike the State
Defendants' answer as well as Clouser's motion for
default judgment. This appeal followed.
appeal, Clouser argues that (i) the Superior Court committed
procedural error by failing to consider his motion to compel
discovery from the State Insurance Coverage Office and for
failing to permit Clouser to amend his complaint, (ii)
Clouser was prejudiced by the State Defendants'
late-filed answer, (iii) there are material facts in dispute,
and (iv) the Superior Court committed error in its
application of the law to the facts of the case. We conclude
Clouser's arguments are without merit and, accordingly,
affirm the Superior Court's judgment.
This Court reviews the grant of a motion for summary judgment
de novo to determine whether the undisputed facts
entitled the movant to judgment as a matter of law, viewing
the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving
party.A party seeking summary judgment bears the
initial burden of showing that no genuine issue of material
fact exists. If the movant makes such a showing, the
burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to submit ...