Wilson v. Delmarva Power & Light Co., Case No.: CPU4-19-004583

CourtCourt of Common Pleas of Delaware
Writing for the CourtManning, J.
PartiesRANDY DAVID WILSON, Defendant/Appellant, v. DELMARVA POWER AND LIGHT COMPANY, Plaintiff/Appellee
Decision Date30 November 2020
Docket NumberCase No.: CPU4-19-004583

RANDY DAVID WILSON, Defendant/Appellant,
v.
DELMARVA POWER AND LIGHT COMPANY, Plaintiff/Appellee

Case No.: CPU4-19-004583

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

Submitted: September 29, 2020
November 30, 2020


Paul G. Enterline, Esq.
Paul G. Enterline, P.A.
113 South Race Street
P.O. Box 826
Georgetown, DE 19947
Attorney for
Defendant-Below/Appellee

Lisa C. McLaughlin, Esq.
Paul S. Seward, Esq.
Phillips Goldman McLaughlin
& Hall, P.A.
1200 North Broom Street
Wilmington, DE 19806
Attorneys for
Plaintiff-Below Appellee

OPINION AND ORDER

Manning, J.

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FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On February 15, 2019, Plaintiff-Below/Appellee Delmarva Power & Light Co., ("Delmarva") filed a Complaint in the Justice of the Peace Court against Defendant-Below/Appellant, Randy David Wilson, ("Wilson") and Defendant-Below Robert John Daniels ("Daniels")1 to recover $10,813.17 in damages, plus costs and interest. Delmarva alleged that on or about May 27, 2017, a vehicle owned by Wilson and Daniels struck a utility pole owned by Delmarva.

On April 8, 2019, Wilson was served and, on advice from a family member, filed a form Answer on April 16, 2019, in which he demanded a trial. On April 29, 2019, a Trial was scheduled for July 17, 2019, in the Justice of the Peace Court, and notice was sent out to the parties. However, Wilson failed to appear for trial and, consequently, the court entered judgment against him in the amount of $10,813.17. Daniels also failed to appear for trial, and default judgment was likewise entered against him in the amount of $10,813.17.

On September 23, 2019, Delmarva filed a Request for a Certified Copy of Judgment, which was issued on September 27, 2019, with Transcript of Judgment and Execution for Transfer to Superior Court.

Wilson claimed he only became aware of the default judgment when he received a letter from counsel for Delmarva dated October 4, 2019, directed to the

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Department of Motor Vehicle, regarding the suspension of Wilson's driver's license. A few days later, Wilson contacted counsel for Delmarva to discuss the matter and received a follow-up letter from counsel dated October 18, 2019. Five days later, on October 23, 2019, Wilson retained counsel, and on October 25, 2019, Wilson's counsel mistakenly filed a Motion to Vacate the default judgment in Superior Court.2 On November 6, 2019, the filing error was corrected, and the Motion to Vacate was properly filed in the Justice of the Peace Court.

On November 15, 2019, the Justice of the Peace Court held a hearing on Wilson's motion to vacate. Ultimately, the court denied Wilson's motion due to a lack of excusable neglect or extraordinary circumstances, as well as filing of an extremely untimely motion.3

On November 27, 2019, Wilson timely filed an appeal of the decision of the Justice of the Peace Court's Order denying his Motion to Vacate to the Court of Common Pleas.

On February 19, 2020, a hearing was held in this Court on the Motion to Vacate, at the conclusion of which I reserved decision and scheduled the matter for an Evidentiary Hearing.

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EVIDENTIARY HEARING

After numerous delays due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, the Evidentiary Hearing took place on September 29, 2020. At the hearing, I heard testimony from two witnesses, Wilson's brother, David Wilson ("David"), and Wilson himself.4 First, David testified that in 2019 he owned the property Wilson lived on with his mother and another tenant, Robert Lusby ("Lusby"), in rural Harrington, Delaware. The property was relatively large and contained multiple buildings, including a repair shop, a live-in camper, and a separate dwelling. David testified that the property received all mail at the same address in one central mailbox. David explained that in March of 2019, Wilson lived in the back of the shop, Lusby lived in the separate dwelling out front, and that David's mother lived in the camper. Lusby had lived there for about five years, but due to on-going problems, he was evicted on March 21, 2019, and ultimately vacated the property in June. David elaborated that Lusby acted as the unofficial "keeper of the mail" and would usually deliver it to the various other tenants when he lived there. David stated that even after being evicted, he observed Lusby return to the property on numerous occasions over the next year to retrieve his mail. David noted that after the eviction his relationship with Lusby became strained and violent due to Lusby's

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continued drug use and money Lusby owed to David.

Further, David testified to a conversation he had with Daniels, a friend, and longtime employee. Daniels told him that he had been trying to get in touch with Wilson "about a lawsuit." Daniels told David that his vehicle had been stolen and "there was nothing [for Wilson] to worry about" because he would "take care of it." David testified that he informed Wilson what Daniels had told him.

Next, Wilson testified and explained the car "arrangement" he had with Daniels. According to Wilson, the vehicle in question was purchased by Daniels through Daniels' wife, who was a salesperson for Preston Ford, Inc. Wilson thought he was only co-signing to help Daniels secure financing for the vehicle. Wilson maintained that, despite his name being on the title, he never at any time possessed or operated the vehicle. After filing his Answer to Delmarva's lawsuit, Wilson attempted to reach out to Daniels multiple times with no luck, so when he heard from David that Daniels confirmed the matter had been taken care of, he said that he believed it was.

Wilson testified he never received notice of the trial in J.P. Court—presumably due to the falling out with a Lusby with whom he shared a mailbox. However, as soon as he found out about the entry of default judgment, he acted.

Finally, it is important to note that during the Evidentiary Hearing, Delmarva did not offer any evidence to rebut Wilson or David's testimony. Furthermore,

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Delmarva conceded that Wilson would have a meritorious defense at trial because Delmarva would not be able to prove that Wilson had custody or control of the vehicle at the time of the accident or would be in any way liable for the accident.

At the conclusion of the Evidentiary Hearing, I reserved decision. This is my decision after consideration of the arguments and evidence presented at the Hearing.

PARTIES POSITIONS

In its briefing to the Court and at oral argument, Delmarva argues that the appropriate standard of review to be applied to the Motion to Vacate the Default Judgment is an abuse of discretion standard. Moreover, Delmarva argues that even if the Court finds that the applicable review is de novo, under Rule 60(b)(1) Wilson's neglect was not excusable. Delmarva further argues if the Court finds that Wilson's conduct was excusable, under Rule 60(b)(6), the "extraordinary circumstances" test is not met and the Motion to Vacate the Default Judgment should be denied.

In contrast, Wilson asserts that the appropriate standard of review is de novo, and that relief from judgment under Rule 60(b)(1) is appropriate because Wilson's neglect was excusable,...

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