Justia Civil Rights Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court
Ovens v. Danberg
Robert Ovens appealed the Superior Court’s reversal of the Delaware Human Relations Commission’s award of damages, attorney’s fees, and costs to Ovens based on the Commission’s determination that a prison was a place of "public accommodation." The Commission found that the Department of Correction (“DOC”), through its operation of Sussex Correctional Institution (“SCI”), violated section 4504(a) of the Delaware Code (known as theEqual Accommodations Law), by not providing equal accommodations to Ovens, who was deaf, while he was incarcerated. After review of the issue, the Delaware Supreme Court concluded that a prison was not a place of "public accommodation" as contemplated by the law. "Ovens’ argument hinges on his assertion that a prison is a state agency, and therefore, it falls under the second sentence of section 4502(14), which includes state agencies, local government agencies, and state-funded agencies in the definition of a place of public accommodation. But, he ignores that the second sentence of section 4502(14) cannot be decoupled from the critical language in the first." View "Ovens v. Danberg" on Justia Law
Hunt v. Delaware
A vice principal of an elementary school asked a Delaware State Trooper to come to the school give a talk about bullying to four or five fifth grade students who were under “in-school suspension.” The next day, the principal was told that there had been a bullying incident involving an autistic student whose money had been taken from him on the school bus by "AB." The principal told AB’s mother about the incident, and asked her permission to have the officer talk to AB. AB’s mother consented. The officer arrived and was told what happened. The principal and officer went to a room where AB was waiting. The principal was called away, leaving the officer alone with AB. The officer got AB to admit that he had the money (one dollar), but AB claimed that another student had taken the money. AB said that he did not know that other student’s name, but that the student was seated with AB on the school bus. Without discussing the matter with the principal, the officer followed up on AB’s claim despite being virtually certain that AB was the perpetrator. The officer obtained the bus seating chart, found AB's seat-mate, brought the two students together and questioned that student in the same manner as AB. According to the other child, the officer used a mean voice and told him 11 or 12 times that he had the authority to arrest the children and place them in jail if they did not tell the truth. AB finally admitted to taking the money from the autistic student. When he got home from school, the seat-mate told his mother what had happened. The child withdrew from school and was home schooled for the rest of that school year. The mother filed suit on her son’s behalf, as well as individually, against the Cape Henlopen School District, the Board of Education of Cape Henlopen School District, the principal, the State, the Department of Safety and Homeland Security, the Division of the Delaware State Police, and the officer, Trooper Pritchett (collectively, Pritchett). Charges against all but the officer were eventually settled or dismissed; Pritchett successfully moved for summary judgment, and this appeal followed. Viewing the record in the light most favorable to the child, the Supreme Court held that there was sufficient evidence to raise issues of material fact on all claims against the officer except a battery claim. Accordingly, the Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. View "Hunt v. Delaware" on Justia Law
Smith v. Delaware State University
Plaintiff-Appellant Stephanie Smith appealed a Superior Court's award of summary judgment in favor of Defendant-Appellee Delaware State University ("DSU") on her claims of wrongful termination under the Delaware Whistleblowers' Protection Act, of breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and of common law defamation. Plaintiff raised three arguments on appeal: (1) that the Superior Court erred in finding that Plaintiff failed to present evidence that she was constructively discharged from DSU, sufficient to support a claim under the Act; (2) that the Superior Court erred in failing to consider whether a threat to worsen her working environment could give rise to a claim under the Act; (3) that the Superior Court erred by granting summary judgment on Plaintiff's defamation claim based on her failure to produce any evidence of damages. Upon review, the Supreme Court recognized that a constructive discharge could give rise to a Whistleblower Act claim, but concluded that the Superior Court properly granted summary judgment based on the facts alleged in this case. Because Plaintiff's defamation claim was governed by New York law, it was barred by New York's one-year statute of limitations. Thus, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court's grant of summary judgment in favor of DSU.
Johnson v. State
Appellant Roger Johnson was convicted of two counts of robbery in the first degree and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony and one count of conspiracy in the second degree. Johnson filed a petition for postconviction relief, alleging, in pertinent part, that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to request a jury instruction under Del. Code Ann. tit. 11, 274 (a 274 jury instruction). The superior court denied Johnson's petition in 2007. Johnson subsequently filed a second petition for postconviction relief, again arguing that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to request a 274 jury instruction and citing the Supreme Court's 2009 decision in Allen v. State. The superior court denied Johnson's motion as procedrually barred. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the superior court properly denied Johnson's second postconviction motion as procedurally barred, and (2) the issue of the 274 jury instruction did not warrant exceptional consideration.