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Delaware Supreme Court Reverses Lawyer "Fast One"

Delaware Supreme Court Reverses Lawyer "Fast One"

The Supreme Court of Delaware reversed and remanded in July 2012 the lower court’s order denying motion to vacate judgment in a case involving one lawyer’s “manipulation of court processes” to prevail over another lawyer. The case arose out of an auto insurance claim in which Defendant State Farm Mutual Auto Insurance Company paid $5,000 to Plaintiff Christian M. Ceccola, with a letter explaining that was a minimum payment, further negotiation to determine amount of final payment. The issues at bar resulted from the actions of the attorneys involved: Susan Hauske, for State Farm and Robert Landon for Ceccola.

After negotiation, State Farm sent a $15,001 check to Ceccola, considering the matter closed. When Landon saw the check, he took actions to revoke his client’s acceptance of the offer, emailing Hauske his intent to revoke, explaining his understanding that the $5,000 initial payment did not affect future negotiations, and that the further agreed upon figure was “new money,” that is, money in addition to the initial payment. Hauske filed the agreement reflecting State Farm’s understanding of the terms without mentioning Landon’s intent to revoke.

Hauske’s action by Super. Ct. R. Civ. P. (68) compelled the Prothonotary, who was unaware of a controversy, to enter final judgment. Landon filed a motion to vacate the judgment. Superior court, focusing narrowly on whether the $5,000 should count as credit against the $20,001 agreed upon, ruled in favor of State Farm.

On appeal, the Delaware Supreme Court considered the justice side of the issue: “when the court participates in a contractual process to a greater degree than usual, its participation means that the process must be conducted with a higher degree of scrupulousness than usual.” The court noted Hauske’s attempt to manipulate the system as being sufficient to nullify all transactions from the point of infraction forward, and did not consider the monetary issue, instead reversed the superior court and remanded – not only in place, but also in time – to the point where State Farm made its initial offer to Ceccola, to start over. See: Ceccola v. State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co., 58 A.3d 982 (Delaware 2012) (Table).

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Related legal case

Ceccola v. State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co.