Fisher Dev. Corp. v. Tigani, Case No. CPU4-19-003443

CourtCourt of Common Pleas of Delaware
Writing for the CourtSMALLS, C.J.
PartiesFisher Development Corporation, Nina Fisher & Michael Phouts Appellants, v. Christopher Tigani, Appellee.
Decision Date11 December 2020
Docket NumberCase No. CPU4-19-003443

Fisher Development Corporation,
Nina Fisher & Michael Phouts Appellants,
v.
Christopher Tigani, Appellee.

Case No. CPU4-19-003443

COURT OF COMMON PLEAS FOR THE STATE OF DELAWARE IN AND FOR NEW CASTLE COUNTY

Submitted: November 9, 2020
December 11, 2020


Christopher Tigani
3391 Concord Pike PO Box 7752
Wilmington, DE 19803
Appellee Pro Se

Thomas C. Marconi Esq.
1813 N. Franklin Street, PO Box 1677
Wilmington, DE 19899
Attorney for Appellant

ORDER ON MOTION TO DISMISS

SMALLS, C.J.

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FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

This case arises from a landlord-tenant relationship gone awry. On December 30, 2018, Christopher Tigani, ("Appellee") and Fisher Development Corporation, ("Fisher"), entered into a lease agreement, for rental property located at 2831 Grubb Road, Wilmington, Delaware, 19810. However, shortly thereafter, Appellee fell behind on rent payments. On March 20, 2019, Fisher filed a summary possession action in the Justice of the Peace Court against Appellee, solely seeking possession of the rental property for failure to pay rent.

On April 29, 2019, a trial was held in the Justice of the Peace Court. The Justice of the Peace issued judgment in favor of Fisher for possession, with court cost and post judgment interest. When Appellee filed a timely appeal of that decision to the three-judge panel for a trial de novo, the panel found in favor of Fisher and granted Fisher possession of the rental property. On July 26, 2019 possession of the rental property was returned to Fisher. At no point during the course of this summary possession proceedings did Fisher seek monetary recover for the unpaid rent pursuant to the lease.1

On July 30, 2019, Appellee filed this replevin action in the Justice of the Peace Court alleging Fisher, Nina Fisher, and Michael Phouts, ("Appellants") wrongfully

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retained possession of Appellee's personal belongings following his eviction on July 26, 2019. On August 22, 2019 a trial was held in The Justice of the Peace Court. On September 30, 2019, Appellants, filed this de novo appeal pursuant to 10 Del. C. §9571 from the Justice of the Peace Court decision.

On October 10, 2019, Appellee filed his Complaint on appeal.2 In his Complaint, Appellee alleged that he and Appellants came to an agreement as to how long he would have to move his belongings out of the rental property following his eviction from the premises. Appellee further alleged that Appellants subsequently violated this agreement and held his personal property unlawfully.

On December 9, 2019, Appellants filed an Answer asserting that Appellee failed to remove his property from the premises within 24 hours of the posting of the writ of possession as required by the landlord-tenant code and thus his property was deemed abandoned.

On March 29, 2020, Appellee filed a Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint to include additional facts and allegations regarding the Appellants' conduct. This motion was subsequently granted on July 20, 2020.

On July 21, 2020. Appellee filed an Amended Complaint which restated the allegations of the original. However, Appellee added additional claims, stating that

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the garage in which Appellants held his belongings was burglarized, that Appellant is still in possession of Appellee's belongings, which resulted in additional expenses in replacing the held items.

On August 3, 2020, Appellants filed an Answer to Appellee's Amended Complaint along with a counterclaim. Appellants' Answer avers that Appellants returned all of Appellee's belongings in their possession on May 2, 2020, however, admits that the garage in which Appellee's belongings were stored was burglarized. In the counterclaim, Appellants makes a claim in the amount of $28,000 for unpaid rent from the 2018 lease agreement that was the subject of the summary possession proceeding in the Justice of the Peace Court. In addition to the claim for unpaid rent, Appellants filed a counterclaim for moving and storage expenses incurred in the amount of $5,000.

On October 23, 2020, Appellee filed this instant Motion to Dismiss. In the motion, Appellee argues that Appellants' counterclaims are barred by the doctrine of res judicata and claim splitting because Appellants failed to raise their counterclaims at the time summary possession was sought.

On November 4, 2020, Appellants filed a response to Appellee's motion. Appellants argues that Appellee's motion misstates the applicable law on the doctrine of res judicata.

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On November 9, 2020, The Court held a hearing on the motion. Following the hearing, decision was reserved.

PARTIES' CONTENTIONS

Appellee argues Appellants are barred from now bringing their counterclaims because the claims were required to have been filed at the time Appellants brought the summary possession action but failed to do so. Appellee argues the principles of res judicata and claim splitting prohibit Appellants from proceeding with their counterclaims. Appellee cites to McManus v. East Pointe Apartments for the proposition that landlords must split their claims at the time they bring a summary possession action or be barred from later seeking unpaid rent.

Appellants argue that this is a permissible form of claim splitting because, due to the jurisdictional limit of the Justice of the Peace Court, they would not have been able to bring their rent claim in its entirety, because the amount of rent sought, exceeded the Justice of the Peace Court $15,000 limit. Thus, Appellants argue that under Jezyk v. Brumbaugh, their actions were appropriate. Lastly, Appellants argue that their claim for $5,000.00 in...

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