Cohee v. Bates, C.A. No. JP17-20-004313

CourtCourt of Justice of Peace Court of Delaware
Writing for the CourtDeborah Keenan, Deputy Chief Magistrate John Martin, Senior Justice of the Peace Alan Davis, Chief Magistrate
PartiesDALE COHEE DBA PINEHAVEN M/H AND R/V PARK Plaintiff Below, Appellant v. CATHERINE BATES Defendant Below, Appellee
Docket NumberC.A. No. JP17-20-004313
Decision Date06 April 2021

DALE COHEE DBA PINEHAVEN M/H AND R/V PARK Plaintiff Below, Appellant
v.
CATHERINE BATES Defendant Below, Appellee

C.A. No. JP17-20-004313

JUSTICE OF THE PEACE COURT OF THE STATE OF DELAWARE IN AND FOR SUSSEX COUNTY COURT NO. 17

Submitted: March 11, 2021
April 6, 2021


TRIAL DE NOVO

APPEARANCES:
Dale Cohee, self-represented
Erika Tross, Esquire for Catherine Bates

Deborah Keenan, Deputy Chief Magistrate
John Martin, Senior Justice of the Peace
Alan Davis, Chief Magistrate

Page 2

ORDER ON TRIAL DE NOVO

The Court has entered a judgment or order in the following form:

This is a three-judge panel opinion memorializing the judgment of the Court delivered during a remote trial held on March 11, 2021. For the reasons stated during the hearing and for the reasons stated herein, the Court dismisses the appeal.

FACTS & PROCEDURAL POSTURE

The facts of this case are relatively undisputed. In March 2020, Catherine Bates moved into a rental unit on the property of the Plaintiff. The rental unit is an R/V travel trailer, which has been attached to the property to greater or lesser degrees by a porch, access to electric and sewer, and skirting. Ms. Bates sought to purchase the trailer. The purchase price was agreed upon at $3900, with her paying a down payment and making a $250 payment along with $500 rent every month. Soon after she moved in she ceased paying rent or the payments on the trailer, though she did make a partial payment in May of 2020.

In August, Plaintiff hand-delivered a demand for payment to Defendant. When she failed to make any payment, Plaintiff turned off essential utilities to the rental unit. Bates brought an action for unlawful ouster (JP17-20-003848), which was heard forthwith. The Court ordered the reinstatement of the utilities and set the matter for a later trial on the issue of whether the rental unit fell within the Landlord-Tenant Code or the Manufactured Home Owners and Community Owners Act.

After that initial hearing, Cohee sent a certified letter that included a five-day notice. That notice was unclaimed and returned to Plaintiff. Plaintiff brought an action for summary possession thereafter. In the interests of judicial economy, the Court below combined the actions regarding ouster and possession. At the trial below, Cohee asserted that the property did not fall under either chapter of the Code, as it was a travel trailer. Defendant contended that the circumstances of this case dictated that it should be considered a property covered by the dictates of the Landlord-Tenant Code. Ultimately, the trial judge agreed with the defense. Judgment was found in favor of Defendant in both cases.

Subsequently, Plaintiff timely appealed only his summary possession action, and this Court heard the matter on March 11, 2020. At the close of Cohee's case-in-chief, the defense moved for judgment as a matter of law on two bases. First, Bates claims that the 5-day notice is improper under the standards of Lasocha v. Weir, Del. J.P., C.A. JP16-08-003647 (Sept 2, 2008). While several of those standards were put forth to the Court, Bates relies specifically on the standard that the five-day notice is not itemized. Second, Defendant claims that this matter is not covered by the Landlord-Tenant Code and is therefore improperly before the Court. The Court ultimately granted the motion, partially based on the first ground.

Page 3

DISCUSSION

The Court will dispose of the second part of the motion first. In the case below. Defendant claimed most vociferously that the Landlord-Tenant Code applied to the situation at hand. She won on that issue in the combined cases below. Cohee only appealed the summary possession action. He did not appeal the original unlawful ouster claim. As such, the Court's determination with regard to whether the Landlord-Tenant Code ("the Code") applies to this situation is undisturbed - at least the issue of the applicability of the Code to these specific circumstances. Plaintiff acquiesced to that portion of the Court's decision and brought this appeal in good faith. Defendant did not appeal the Court's decision. Defendant may not now change her position and claim the Code is inapplicable. The doctrine of judicial estoppel applies when (i) a litigant advances a position inconsistent with a position taken in the same or earlier legal proceeding and (ii) the court was persuaded to accept the previous argument as a basis for its earlier ruling. In re Rural/Metro Corp. Stockholders Litigation, 102 A.2d 205 (Del. Ch. 2014) at 246. This Court is bound by and accepts its previous determination because, despite this being an appeal de novo of the possession action, the applicability of the Code remains decided as part of the ouster claim which was not appealed.

The Court now turns its attention to the motion to dismiss based on the five-day notice. Under 25 Del C. §5502(a):

(a) A landlord or the landlord's agent may, any time after rent is due, including the time period between the date the rent is due and the date under this Code when late fees may be imposed, demand payment
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