Greenfield v. Foley, C.A. No.: CPU5-17-001915

CourtCourt of Common Pleas of Delaware
Writing for the CourtThe Honorable Judge Robert Surles
PartiesHENRY GREENFIELD Plaintiff, v. DANIEL FOLEY, Defendant.
Docket NumberC.A. No.: CPU5-17-001915
Decision Date29 July 2020

HENRY GREENFIELD Plaintiff,
v.
DANIEL FOLEY, Defendant.

C.A. No.: CPU5-17-001915

COURT OF COMMON PLEAS FOR THE STATE OF DELAWARE IN AND FOR KENT COUNTY

Reserved: June 6, 2020
July 29, 2020


Gregory A Morris, Esq.
46 The Green
Dover, DE 19901
Attorney for Plaintiff

David J. Bever, Esq.
2 West Lockerman Street
Dover, DE 19801
Attorney for Defendant

MEMORANDUM OPINION ON ATTORNEY'S FEES AND EXPERT COST

The underlying breach of contract action brought by Plaintiff Henry Greenfield against Defendant Daniel Foley stems from Foley's failure to repay $16,500. loaned to him by Greenfield. A bench trial was held on January 10, 2020. After trial, the Court found in favor of Greenfield and judgment was entered against Foley in the amount of $16,500.1 Greenfield requested an award for attorney's fees and expert witness costs, and the Court afforded the parties the opportunity to submit briefing on the issue.

Both parties timely submitted briefing on the issue of attorney's fees and expert witness costs, and the Court took the matter under advisement. For the reasons set forth below,

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Greenfield's request for attorney's fees and expert witness costs is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

RELEVANT FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In 2004, Foley began working for Greenfield, performing odd jobs such as yardwork, painting, and clerical tasks. Throughout their working relationship, Greenfield made numerous loans to Foley, the terms of which were generally not commemorated in writing. One such verbally memorialized loan was the subject of this litigation; in December 2014, Greenfield provided Foley with a cash loan in the amount of $16,500. The parties agreed that Greenfield would secure his interest with a lien against Foley's vehicle, a black Mercedes-Benz (the "Black Mercedes").

Shortly thereafter, the relationship between the parties disintegrated. Foley's employment was terminated, and he ceased making payments to Greenfield on his numerous outstanding loans. Greenfield soon discovered that Foley was driving a new vehicle, and began investigating the status of the Black Mercedes. Ultimately, Greenfield learned that the Black Mercedes had been sold, the title transferred, and his lien released; however, Greenfield maintained that he did not authorize or sign the lien release.

At trial on January 10, 2020, Greenfield argued that Foley breached the parties agreement by forging his signature on the lien release and removing the lien before his obligation to pay back the loan was satisfied. Foley contended that Greenfield's signature on the lien release was not forged, and that Greenfield had voluntarily removed the lien. To demonstrate that he did not sign the lien release, Greenfield offered testimony of forensic document examiner, Carolyn Kurtz. Ms. Kurtz testified that the signature on the lien release did not belong to Mr. Greenfield. At the conclusion of trial, the Court reserved decision.

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In its Decision after Trial, the Court, having weighed the evidence presented, found that Greenfield's signature on the lien release had been forged. The Court held that Foley had breached the agreement, and judgment was entered in favor of Greenfield.

PARTIES' CONTENTIONS

Greenfield contends that an award of $4,350 in attorney's fees is warranted because Foley's fraudulent conduct with respect to the forged signature on the lien release constitutes bad faith. Greenfield also seeks to recover $2,020 in expert witness costs on the basis that Foley's bad faith conduct required Greenfield to offer expert testimony to demonstrate that the lien release had been forged. Foley argues Greenfield does not provide clear evidence that Foley's bad faith conduct increased the cost of litigation, and thus does not warrant deviation from the American Rule.

DISCUSSION

A. Attorney's Fees

Generally, Delaware follows the American Rule, whereby each party must bear its own costs and attorney's fees absent contractual or statutory authority.2 Delaware courts rarely deviate from the American Rule, but certain narrow exceptions have been recognized, including the bad faith exception.3 To recover attorney's fees under the bad faith exception, the requesting party bears the burden of proving bad faith conduct by clear evidence.4

The...

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