Morris v. Blake

CourtSuperior Court of Delaware
Writing for the CourtRIDGELY
Citation552 A.2d 844
PartiesE. Stanley MORRIS, Plaintiff, v. Frank BLAKE, Jr., and Sussex County, Delaware, a political subdivision of the State of Delaware, and the City of Milford, Delaware, a municipal corporation, Defendant. . Submitted:
Decision Date06 May 1988

Page 844

552 A.2d 844
E. Stanley MORRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
Frank BLAKE, Jr., and Sussex County, Delaware, a political
subdivision of the State of Delaware, and the City
of Milford, Delaware, a municipal
corporation, Defendant.
Superior Court of Delaware,
Kent County.
Submitted: May 6, 1988.
Decided: July 1, 1988.

Page 845

I. Barry Guerke, and John C. Andrade, of Parkowski, Noble & Guerke, P.A., Dover, for plaintiff.

John C. Phillips, and R. Stokes Nolte, of Phillips & Snyder, Wilmington, for defendant Blake.

B. Wilson Redfearn, and Nancy E. Chrissinger, of Tybout, Redfearn, Casarino & Pell, Wilmington, for defendants Sussex County and the City of Milford.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

RIDGELY, Judge.

This is a personal injury action arising from an incident involving the transportation of plaintiff, E. Stanley Morris, from Milford Memorial Hospital to the Delaware State Hospital by defendant Frank Blake, Jr. ("Blake"), a Sussex County Constable. It is alleged that, while enroute, plaintiff suffered serious and permanent injuries when he jumped or fell from Blake's car. The amended complaint alleges that the plaintiff's injuries were caused by Blake's negligent and/or willful and/or wanton conduct. Plaintiff further maintains that, at the time of his injury, Blake was acting within the scope of his employment as an agent or employee of Sussex County and/or the City of Milford. 1 Both Sussex County and the City of Milford have denied agency by affidavits. The amended complaint also alleges negligence on the part of Sussex County and/or the City of Milford for failure to provide Blake training as a constable, personnel, and proper equipment to transport patients, such as a vehicle equipped with rear doors that are unable to be opened from the inside. Lastly, the plaintiff contends the Tort Claims Act violates the remedy-for-injury clause of Article I, Section 9 of the Delaware Constitution.

Blake has moved for summary judgment upon the ground that, as a constable in performance of his duties, he can only be held liable if the harm to plaintiff was intentional or if his behavior constituted "willful or wanton misconduct." 16 Del.C. § 5122(f). Blake further asserts that the facts, when viewed in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, fail to create an inference of such misconduct.

Sussex County and the City of Milford have moved for summary judgment upon the grounds that Blake was neither their agent nor their employee. Alternatively, the County and the City maintain that plaintiff's claim against them is barred by the County and Municipal Tort Claims Act, 10 Del.C. §§ 4010 through 4013.

I. FACTS

On summary judgment, the material facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and the movant must demonstrate by uncontested facts that he or it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Vanaman v. Milford Memorial Hospital, Del.Supr., 272 A.2d 718 (1970).

On July 1, 1973, Sussex County adopted requirements for employment of constables that included bonding, criminal and reference checks, training, and an oath of office. The system included a procedure for approval by Sussex County Council before a constable could receive remuneration for his services. The Sussex County Administrator was designated as the Chief Constable with two functions: (1) to be responsible for the background checks of the applicants

Page 846

for the purpose of recommending for or against their commission as constables; and (2) to review monthly reports which the constables were required to make.

In 1978, Blake applied for the position of Sussex County Constable in order to transport patients to the Delaware State Hospital. In response to his application, the Chief Constable checked Blake's references and otherwise determined Blake's fitness to be a constable. Blake was also interviewed by two County councilmen.

Subsequently, the Sussex County Council approved Blake's appointment and bond, and he took his oath of office on February 27, 1979--with his employment as a constable being continued at the pleasure of the council. There was no written contract between Sussex County and Blake regarding either the job or the pay to be received. Initially, Blake was paid by the County for transporting patients. However, by the date of the plaintiff's injuries, Blake was being paid directly by the State of Delaware.

Blake distributed his business card, which identified him as a Sussex County Constable, to various hospitals so that they could call him to transport mental patients. He used his private vehicle, rather than a County vehicle, to provide this transportation. Although Blake was aware that many police vehicles have the rear-seat, inside-door handle removed or rendered inoperable, no one informed Blake that he should implement this precaution to prevent mental patients from exiting his vehicle while enroute.

On the afternoon of July 17, 1984, Blake received a call from Milford Memorial Hospital requesting that he transport plaintiff to the Delaware State Hospital for a 72-hour commitment. When he arrived at Milford Memorial Hospital, plaintiff was being held inside the complex with his hands handcuffed behind his back. Blake was informed that, while inside the hospital, the plaintiff had attempted to grab a gun from the holster of a policeman in an attempt to "shoot up things around the hospital." Blake did not review the plaintiff's commitment papers when they were given to him. After the plaintiff was put in Blake's car, a seatbelt was fastened around the plaintiff's waist, and shackles were placed on his legs. At the plaintiff's request, Blake forewent his normal practice of transporting the patient with his hands cuffed behind his back, and cuffed the patient in front so that he would be able to smoke.

When inside the car with the plaintiff, Blake rolled down his window because the plaintiff smelled of alcohol. Blake had transported the plaintiff for alcohol-related problems approximately two months earlier without incident. Accompanying Blake in the car was his father-in-law, who was seated in the front passenger seat, and his brother, who was seated in the right rear seat. The plaintiff was seated directly behind Blake, who was driving the car. Although the door next to the plaintiff was locked, it could be unlocked from the inside.

During the ensuing ride to Delaware State Hospital, the plaintiff stated that he wished to kill himself. After an exchange of conversation between the plaintiff and Blake during which Blake tried to console the plaintiff, the plaintiff smoked a cigarette and stated he was going to take a nap. He then put his head back as if to take a nap. At some point thereafter, the plaintiff unfastened his seatbelt, unlocked the door, and jumped out of the vehicle while it was in motion.

II. DEFENDANT BLAKE'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

The procedure for involuntary commitment of an alleged dangerously mentally ill person for up to 72 hours is contained within 16 Del.C. § 5122. The statute provides that persons certified by a licensed medical doctor to be dangerously mentally ill "shall be transported by the peace officer to Delaware State Hospital." 16 Del.C. § 5122(c). Section 5122(a)(2) defines "peace officer" as "any public officer authorized by law to make arrests in a criminal case." Because 10 Del.C. § 2723 gives constables the power to make arrests in criminal cases, Blake was within the definition

Page 847

of "peace officer" in 16 Del.C. § 5122. Subsection (f) of section 5122 provides:

(f) No peace officer or medical doctor shall be subject to civil damages or criminal penalties for any harm resulting from the performance of his functions under this section unless such harm was intentional or the result of willful or wanton misconduct on his part.

In his motion for summary judgment, Blake contends that, pursuant to 16 Del.C. § 5122(f), he is immune from liability since the facts fall short of showing any inference of "intentional" or "willful or wanton" misconduct on his part.

The plaintiff opposes Blake's motion on two grounds. First, he argues that the immunity cited is inapplicable because Blake has failed to establish that he was performing his duties under section 5122. Alternatively, he argues that the facts, when viewed in a light most favorable to him, have created a jury question as to whether Blake's conduct was wanton.

Plaintiff asserts that the immunity provided to "peace officers" by subsection (f) is not available to Blake because Blake has failed to cite in the existing record documentation showing the existence of the complaint and the doctor's...

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16 practice notes
  • Fisher v. Townsends, Inc., No. 308
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Delaware
    • April 15, 1997
    ...Del.Supr., 610 A.2d 1354, 1360 (1992); Mechell v. Palmer, Del.Supr., 343 A.2d 620, 621 (1975); see also Morris v. Blake, Del.Super., 552 A.2d 844, 849 (1988), aff'd sub nom. Sussex County v. Morris, Del.Supr., 610 A.2d 1354 (1992). That determination is ordinarily made by the factfinder. Se......
  • Carrigan v. State of Del., Civil Action No. 96-8-JJF.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Delaware)
    • February 18, 1997
    ...law, the definition of wanton is best stated as a "conscious indifference evidencing an `I-don't-care attitude.'" Morris v. Blake, 552 A.2d 844, 847-48 (Del.Super.Ct.1988), aff'd, 610 A.2d 1354 (Del.1992). Though not identical, given these definitions, it is clear that the terms "gross negl......
  • Sussex County, Del. v. Morris
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Delaware
    • May 19, 1992
    ...equip Blake. The trial court denied summary judgment on the issues of governmental immunity and agency. See Morris v. Blake, Del.Super., 552 A.2d 844, 849-50 (1988). Sussex again moved for summary judgment after this Court's decision in Sadler v. New Castle County, Del.Supr., 565 A.2d 917 (......
  • Heaney v. New Castle County, No. 42
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Delaware
    • September 19, 1995
    ...arguments. First, citing Rainey v. Wilmington Parking Auth., Del.Super., 488 A.2d 906, 909 (1984), and Morris v. Blake, Del.Super., 552 A.2d 844, 849 (1988), plaintiffs claim that the County did not enjoy immunity for its maintenance of the Park. These cases, which are clearly distinguishab......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
16 cases
  • Fisher v. Townsends, Inc., No. 308
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Delaware
    • April 15, 1997
    ...Del.Supr., 610 A.2d 1354, 1360 (1992); Mechell v. Palmer, Del.Supr., 343 A.2d 620, 621 (1975); see also Morris v. Blake, Del.Super., 552 A.2d 844, 849 (1988), aff'd sub nom. Sussex County v. Morris, Del.Supr., 610 A.2d 1354 (1992). That determination is ordinarily made by the factfinder. Se......
  • Carrigan v. State of Del., Civil Action No. 96-8-JJF.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Delaware)
    • February 18, 1997
    ...law, the definition of wanton is best stated as a "conscious indifference evidencing an `I-don't-care attitude.'" Morris v. Blake, 552 A.2d 844, 847-48 (Del.Super.Ct.1988), aff'd, 610 A.2d 1354 (Del.1992). Though not identical, given these definitions, it is clear that the terms "gross negl......
  • Sussex County, Del. v. Morris
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Delaware
    • May 19, 1992
    ...equip Blake. The trial court denied summary judgment on the issues of governmental immunity and agency. See Morris v. Blake, Del.Super., 552 A.2d 844, 849-50 (1988). Sussex again moved for summary judgment after this Court's decision in Sadler v. New Castle County, Del.Supr., 565 A.2d 917 (......
  • Heaney v. New Castle County, No. 42
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Delaware
    • September 19, 1995
    ...arguments. First, citing Rainey v. Wilmington Parking Auth., Del.Super., 488 A.2d 906, 909 (1984), and Morris v. Blake, Del.Super., 552 A.2d 844, 849 (1988), plaintiffs claim that the County did not enjoy immunity for its maintenance of the Park. These cases, which are clearly distinguishab......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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