Heaney v. New Castle County, No. 42

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Delaware
Writing for the CourtBefore VEASEY; VEASEY
Citation672 A.2d 11
Decision Date19 September 1995
Docket NumberNo. 42,1995
PartiesSusan G. HEANEY, Susan M. Heaney, and Jennifer A. Heaney, Plaintiffs Below, Appellants, v. NEW CASTLE COUNTY, Defendant Below, Appellee. . Submitted:

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672 A.2d 11
Susan G. HEANEY, Susan M. Heaney, and Jennifer A. Heaney,
Plaintiffs Below, Appellants,
v.
NEW CASTLE COUNTY, Defendant Below, Appellee.
No. 42, 1995.
Supreme Court of Delaware.
Submitted: Sept. 19, 1995.
Decided: Dec. 21, 1995.

Page 13

Upon appeal from Superior Court. AFFIRMED.

Court Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware in and for New Castle County; C.A. No. 91C-08-42.

Jeffrey S. Marlin of Biggs and Battaglia, Wilmington, for Appellants.

Francis J. Jones, Jr., and Peter A. Pietra of Morris, James, Hitchens & Williams, for Appellees.

Before VEASEY, C.J., WALSH and HARTNETT, JJ.

VEASEY, Chief Justice:

In this appeal we are presented primarily with the question of local government immunity from tort claims. Susan Heaney and her daughters, plaintiffs-below, appellants, appeal the grant of summary judgment in favor of New Castle County (the "County") with respect to their tort and civil rights claims arising from the death of Anthony Heaney. The Superior Court granted summary judgment for the County and the City of Wilmington on the state law claims on July 8, 1993. The federal claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 were dismissed on January 10, 1995 after the plaintiffs had conducted discovery.

We hold that the state law claims were properly dismissed for failure to state a claim since the County was entitled to immunity for the activities alleged in the complaint. We also hold that plaintiffs have failed to state a claim against the County under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

I. FACTS

Anthony Heaney, husband of Susan G. Heaney and father of Susan M. and Jennifer A. Heaney, was killed in his car in Rockford Park ("the Park") on July 16, 1990 when a tree fell on his parked car. The Park is owned by the City of Wilmington (the "City") and leased to the County until 2009.

A County Forestry Department Employee had worked in the area during the two weeks prior to the accident. He noted dead wood in the general area but did not file a report since the presence of dead wood was not considered a hazard. Dead wood is a natural and regular occurrence in trees. The employee had no recollection of inspecting the particular tree that fell. The employee expressed regret that perhaps a "more rigid inspection plan or policy" could have prevented this accident. Another County employee testified on deposition that personnel had been reduced, and as a result, regular tree inspections were not possible. The County also had reduced the number of outside educational courses for its forestry employees.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A decision granting summary judgment is subject to de novo review. This Court must determine whether the record shows that no genuine issue of material fact remains and that the prevailing party below was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Arnold v. Society for Savings Bancorp., Inc., Del.Supr., 650 A.2d 1270, 1276 (1994). See also Hoechst Celanese Corp. v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd's London, Del.Supr., 656 A.2d 1094, 1098-99 (1995); Merrill v. Crothall-American, Inc., Del.Supr., 606 A.2d 96, 100 (1992).

III. LOCAL GOVERNMENT IMMUNITY

Plaintiffs first argue that the Superior Court erred when it dismissed the plaintiffs' state law tort claims against the County based on local government immunity. The scope of local government immunity is governed exclusively by 10 Del.C. § 4010 et. seq. (the "Act") which was enacted in order to redefine the nature of governmental immunity in Delaware. Fiat Motors of N.Am. v. Mayor and Council of the City of Wilmington, Del.Supr., 498 A.2d 1062, 1064 (1985); Sussex County v. Morris, Del.Supr., 610 A.2d 1354, 1361 (1992) (Veasey, C.J., concurring). The Act establishes broad immunity for local government entities subject only to specific exceptions set forth in the Act. Moore v. Wilmington Hous. Auth., Del.Supr., 619 A.2d

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1166, 1168 (1993). The exceptions are construed narrowly. Sadler v. New Castle County, Del.Supr., 565 A.2d 917, 921 (1989); Triple C Railcar Svc., Inc. v. City of Wilmington, 630 A.2d 629, 631 (1993).

The Act provides: "Except as otherwise expressly provided by statute, all governmental entities and their employees shall be immune from suit on any and all tort claims seeking recovery of damages." 10 Del.C. § 4011(a). The Act then provides for the following exceptions for negligent acts or omissions by a local government:

(1) In its ownership, maintenance or use of any motor vehicle, special mobile equipment, trailer, aircraft or other machinery or equipment, whether mobile or stationary.

(2) In the construction, operation or maintenance of any public building or the appurtenances thereto, except as to historic sites or buildings, structures, facilities or equipment designed for use primarily by the public in connection with public outdoor recreation.

(3) In the sudden and accidental discharge, dispersal, release or escape of smoke, vapors, soot, fumes ... into or upon the land, the atmosphere or any watercourse or body of water.

10 Del.C. § 4012.

The exceptions are limited, however, by Section 4011(b), which states:

Notwithstanding § 4012 of this title, a governmental entity shall not be liable for any damage claim which results from:

(3) The performance or failure to exercise or perform a discretionary function or duty, whether or not the discretion be abused and whether or not the statute, charter, ordinance, order, resolution, regulation or resolve under which the discretionary function or duty is performed is valid or invalid.

10 Del.C. § 4011(b). The statutory scheme creates two hurdles for plaintiffs asserting claims against local government entities. The claim must (1) fit within a statutory exception to the general grant of immunity and (2) not result from a discretionary duty or function. Morris, 610 A.2d at 1362 (Veasey, C.J., concurring).

Plaintiffs rely on Walls v. Rees, Del.Supr., 569 A.2d 1161 (1990), for the proposition that the Act is also subject to non-enumerated exceptions. In Walls, this Court first stated: "To the extent that Walls's claim is for mere negligence or the improper exercise of discretion by the county or its employees, the Act bars recovery." Id. at 1165. Later in the opinion this Court held, in the alternative, that Walls' claim for the value of his...

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12 practice notes
  • Fox v. Fox, No. 441, 1998.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Delaware
    • May 20, 1999
    ...in severe injuries. II. We review de novo the Superior Court's grant of summary judgment. Heaney v. New Castle County, Del.Supr., 672 A.2d 11, 13 (1995). We must determine whether the record shows that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgm......
  • Jordan v. Town of Milton, Civil Action No. 11-00514-GMS
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Delaware)
    • January 3, 2013
    ..."operates as an express exception to the governmental immunity provided for in 10 Del. C. § 4011"), with Heaney v. New Castle Cnty., 672 A.2d 11,14 (Del. 1995) (finding that a general enabling statute allowing park district to acquire real estate and manage officers and property was not spe......
  • Dale v. Town of Elsmere, No. 115
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Delaware
    • October 15, 1997
    ...the Mayor's personal liability, exceptions to broad grants of immunity are to be construed narrowly. Heaney v. New Castle Co., Del.Supr., 672 A.2d 11, 14 (1995). The Dales have not cited any authority that supports their asserted position. Their reliance upon Dilucehio v. Shaw, Del.Super., ......
  • Bartley v. Norfolk Southern Corporation, C.A. No. 08C-08-017 (RBY) (Del. Super. 8/6/2009), C.A. No. 08C-08-017 (RBY).
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Delaware
    • August 6, 2009
    ...parts. Consequently, each part of the statute must be read in context to produce a harmonious whole."). 16. Heaney v. New Castle County, 672 A.2d 11 (Del. 1995); Triple C Railcar Service, Inc. v. City of Wilmington, 630 A.2d 629 (Del. 1993); Sussex County v. Morris, 610 A.2d 1354 (Del. 1992......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
12 cases
  • Fox v. Fox, No. 441, 1998.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Delaware
    • May 20, 1999
    ...in severe injuries. II. We review de novo the Superior Court's grant of summary judgment. Heaney v. New Castle County, Del.Supr., 672 A.2d 11, 13 (1995). We must determine whether the record shows that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgm......
  • Jordan v. Town of Milton, Civil Action No. 11-00514-GMS
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Delaware)
    • January 3, 2013
    ..."operates as an express exception to the governmental immunity provided for in 10 Del. C. § 4011"), with Heaney v. New Castle Cnty., 672 A.2d 11,14 (Del. 1995) (finding that a general enabling statute allowing park district to acquire real estate and manage officers and property was not spe......
  • Dale v. Town of Elsmere, No. 115
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Delaware
    • October 15, 1997
    ...the Mayor's personal liability, exceptions to broad grants of immunity are to be construed narrowly. Heaney v. New Castle Co., Del.Supr., 672 A.2d 11, 14 (1995). The Dales have not cited any authority that supports their asserted position. Their reliance upon Dilucehio v. Shaw, Del.Super., ......
  • Bartley v. Norfolk Southern Corporation, C.A. No. 08C-08-017 (RBY) (Del. Super. 8/6/2009), C.A. No. 08C-08-017 (RBY).
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Delaware
    • August 6, 2009
    ...parts. Consequently, each part of the statute must be read in context to produce a harmonious whole."). 16. Heaney v. New Castle County, 672 A.2d 11 (Del. 1995); Triple C Railcar Service, Inc. v. City of Wilmington, 630 A.2d 629 (Del. 1993); Sussex County v. Morris, 610 A.2d 1354 (Del. 1992......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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