Hudson v. Hudson

Citation532 A.2d 620
PartiesRachel P. HUDSON, Plaintiff, v. Louis C. HUDSON, Defendant. . Submitted:
Decision Date30 January 1987
CourtSuperior Court of Delaware

Page 620

532 A.2d 620
Rachel P. HUDSON, Plaintiff,
Louis C. HUDSON, Defendant.
Superior Court of Delaware,
Sussex County.
Submitted: Jan. 30, 1987.
Decided: April 28, 1987.

Page 621

Upon Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment on Grounds of Inter-Spousal Tort Immunity. DENIED.

Robert C. Wolhar, Jr. of Wolhar & Gill, Georgetown, for plaintiff.

Robert B. Young of Young & Sherlock, Dover, for defendant.



This is the Court's decision on defendant Louis C. Hudson's motion for summary judgment. The underlying suit is a personal injury action, filed by the plaintiff Rachel P. Hudson on May 27, 1986, in which she alleges that the defendant, inter alia, intentionally drove the vehicle in which she was a passenger into a railroad sign in order to harm her and that, realizing she was injured, defendant intentionally caused further serious harm by moving her, thereafter refusing to summon medical help because he wanted to watch her die. In his answer defendant generally denies the allegations of the complaint and asserts the affirmative defense of inter-spousal tort immunity. In support of his motion for summary judgment, defendant has filed an affidavit stating that at the time of the alleged incident plaintiff and defendant were married. Defendant's motion is premised solely on his argument that plaintiff's tort claim must fail as it is barred by the doctrine of inter-spousal tort immunity.

Plaintiff and defendant were married in 1975. On April 12, 1986, while defendant was driving a pick-up truck, the parties became involved in a dispute and the alleged incident occurred. Thereafter the plaintiff was hospitalized for two weeks with a broken back which required the insertion of steel rods for stabilization. On May 16, 1986, plaintiff filed a petition for divorce in the Family Court in and for Sussex County. Her petition alleged, inter alia, that the parties had separated on April 12, 1986 and that the grounds for the divorce were that the defendant had attempted to kill and/or seriously injure her. On August 11, 1986, a Sussex County grand jury indicted the defendant for assault in the first degree as a result of the April 12 incident. On October 28, 1986, defendant was tried in Superior Court in and for Sussex County by a jury of twelve and found guilty as charged. While defendant's motion was pending, this Court was notified that the plaintiff had been granted a divorce from the defendant on December 29, 1986.

On a motion for summary judgment under Superior Court Civil Rule 56 the moving party has the burden of showing that there are no material issues of fact present. Moore v. Sizemore, Del.Supr., 405 A.2d 679 (1979). Furthermore, the facts must be viewed in a light favorable to the nonmoving party. Oliver B. Cannon Sons v. Dorr-Oliver, Inc., Del.Super., 312 A.2d 322 (1973). Accordingly, the moving party must show that, on unquestioned facts, he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id. at 325.

Conceding for the purpose of his motion the truth of the plaintiff's allegations, the defendant has nonetheless argued that as a matter of law he is entitled to summary judgment. He argues that since the parties were husband and wife on the date of the alleged incident and at the time the complaint was filed, the doctrine of interspousal immunity, most recently affirmed by the Delaware Supreme Court in Alfree v. Alfree, Del.Supr., 410 A.2d 161 (1979), appeal dismissed, 446 U.S. 931, 100 S.Ct. 2145, 64 L.Ed.2d 783 (1980), must apply to this case.

Plaintiff has argued in opposition to the motion that two factors distinguish the present case from Alfree. First, unlike the parties in Alfree who were still married, although separated, the plaintiff has filed

Page 622

for divorce and upon the divorce of the litigants the doctrine of spousal immunity should no longer bar her suit. Second, she contends that the doctrine of immunity does not apply in a case of intentional tort as is alleged here.

In Alfree the Supreme Court held en banc that one spouse may not sue the other at law, thus reaffirming the common law rule recognized by the Superior Court in Plotkin v. Plotkin, Del.Super., 125 A. 455 (1924) and by other courts of this State since 1924. Alfree, 410 A.2d at 162. The common law rule arose from the concept of the legal unity of husband and wife, i.e., that upon marriage a wife's legal identity merged into that of her husband. See Plotkin, 125 A. at 456. Accordingly, the wife could not contract in her own name, own property, sue or be sued. Id. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, however, the tendency of modern legislation has been to remove the disabilities of a married woman through various Married Women's Acts. W. Keeton, D. Dobbs, R. Keeton & D. Owen, Prosser and Keeton on Torts § 122 (5th ed. 1984). These acts were designed to secure to a married woman a separate legal identity with her own rights in property and her own capacity to sue and be sued. Id. However, these acts were generally held not to destroy the...

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