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Contract Disputes and Property Disputes in Delaware

The civil courts that hear contract and property disputes in Delaware are the Justice of the Peace Court, Court of Common Pleas, Superior Court, and Court of Chancery. Usually, claims are filed by competent individuals or corporations against other like parties to seek monetary or equitable relief for property possession/damages and contractual breaches. Although the courts generally have jurisdiction over these cases, other alternative nonjudicial methods like mediation, arbitration, or negotiation can be used to resolve a dispute.

In Delaware, the court of filing or hearing depends on the type of claim or remedy sought. Monetary claims not exceeding $25,000 are heard by the Justice of the Peace Courts and those $75,000 or less are within the jurisdiction of the Court of Common Pleas. Whereas, the Superior Court has original jurisdiction over these civil cases and no monetary limit. Disputes between businesses for equitable remedies are heard solely by the Court of Chancery. The availability of court records resulting from proceedings of contract or property claims is directed by court policies rather than the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching simpler, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that person resides in or was accused in.

Third-party sites are independent from government sources, and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

What are Contract Disputes in Delaware?

Controversies over legally binding agreements between businesses or corporations, individuals, government, government subdivisions, and other commercial or legal entities, are referred to as contract disputes in Delaware. Mostly, these disputes occur when one party, bound to a contract with another party, goes against the written or oral terms of the agreement. As such the aggrieved party can legally request monetary or equitable remedies from a court of competent jurisdiction if unable to resolve the dispute out of court.

What are the Most Common Contract Disputes in Delaware

The most common contract disputes heard by the Delaware civil courts are contractual breaches and commercial disputes, including:

  • Business/corporate agreements
  • Breach of lease or rental agreements
  • Employment contracts, including non-compete, confidential, severance, and shareholder agreements
  • Service agreements
  • Construction contracts
  • Consumer contracts
  • Insurance contracts
  • Loan agreements

What is Delaware Contract Law?

Delaware contract law is established under separate titles and chapters of the Delaware Code. For instance, the law regarding commerce and trade contracts is codified as the Uniform Commercial Code, Title 6. While the laws relating to corporations and insurance contracts are under Title 8 and Title 18, respectively, and so forth. Each title has distinct provisions on legally enforceable contracts, remedies due to non-breaching parties, defenses, void/unenforceable contracts, and permissible terminations. However, all resulting court proceedings are conducted as provided in Title 10: Courts and Judicial Procedure and Rules of Civil Procedure.

What is a Breach of Contract in Delaware?

Delaware law defines a contract as a legally enforceable, oral or written agreement between two parties. These parties could be individuals, corporations, government entities, or the government. According to 39 Del. C. 1953, § 3901, only persons who are 18 years and older and not declared legally incompetent have the capacity to contract. When any signee fails to uphold the terms of an existing contract without a legitimate defense, the other party can file for a breach of contract in a Delaware Court fitting of the amount sought in damages. That is, if out-of-court negotiations and settlements are not possible. Legally, the elements of a breach of contract claim in Delaware are:

  • A contractual obligation
  • A failure to fulfill this obligation by a defendant, also known as a breach
  • A damage resulting from the breach, endured by the plaintiff

The statutory limit for filing these claims with the civil courts is 3 years (81 Del. C. 1953, § 8106),, except claims of $100,000 or above which can be filed within a period specified on the written contract, provided the period does not exceed 20 years.

What are the Remedies for a Breach of Contract in Delaware?

The primary objective of awarding remedies to non-breaching parties is to place those parties in positions that they would have been in if the breach of contract did not occur, or compensate them. In Delaware, an individual may receive monetary or equitable remedies, depending on the parties involved and the nature of the claim. Typically, business-business claims are eligible for equitable relief and are heard solely by the Court of Chancery; other cases for monetary relief are heard by the Justice of the Peace Court, Court of Common Pleas, or Superior Court. When an action is filed with the court, a breaching party may be ordered to pay a certain amount to the aggrieved party, which may be equal to the injury caused or more, and which is calculated according to provisions of the law. In equitable proceedings, such a party is subject to terms or injunctions deemed fair and reasonable by the court.

What Defenses Can Be Used Against a Breach of Contract Claim in Delaware?

In a breach of contract claim, breaching parties may use a defense to avoid culpability. The nature of a contract breach will determine the defense(s) that can be used in a claim. However, the most frequent is the “affirmative defense” or avoidance. Basically, the breaching party or defendant does not challenge the claim but gives reasons why remedies should not be awarded to the non-breaching party, and the claim, rescinded. These defenses include:

  • Impossibility/impracticability or illegality of the contract
  • The defendant is a minor
  • Fraudulent inducement
  • Estoppel
  • The defendant contracted under coercion/duress or undue influence
  • The Statute of Frauds (6 Del. C. §2714(a)) applies to the claim
  • Unconscionability: one party with a higher bargaining power used the contract to gain an unfair advantage over the other and the terms of contract are oppressively one-sided
  • Mutual mistake
  • Willful or negligent misrepresentation
  • Statute of limitations
  • Failure of consideration

What are Property Disputes in Delaware?

Delaware property and real estate laws are codified as Title 25 of the Delaware Code. Property disputes arise over real and personal properties. Under the law, real property disputes refer to land and land-related conflicts while personal property disputes involve movable possessions not categorized as real properties, such as furniture, vehicles, stocks, clothing, antiques, bank accounts, or jewelry. Usually, these disputes are resolved by litigation or negotiation.

What Are Some Common Types of Property Disputes in Delaware?

Property disputes that are common in Delaware include, but are not limited to:

  • Fence and boundary disputes
  • Purchase of land disputes
  • Mechanical liens
  • Trespass actions involving property damage
  • Mortgage foreclosures
  • Return of personal property (replevin)
  • Condemnation suits
  • Real estate title disputes
  • Landlord-tenant summary possession claims

How to Find Property Lines

Property lines indicate the beginning and ending of real properties. These lines are essential to home buyers and owners as they help determine if a person’s real property, including partition fences, trees, pools, and future home additions, intrudes on a neighbor’s land or real property. This is helpful in preventing legal disputes or insurance issues. Not all property lines are clearly indicated, therefore, an interested party may find these lines on the property deed, line map (plat), or survey, or through the city/county assessor’s office. Assessor offices, such as the one in Sussex County and City of Dover, also provide online searches to find property lines.

How do I Find a Property Dispute Lawyer Near me?

Property dispute lawyers in Delaware can be found through the Online Lawyer Referral Service offered by the Delaware State Bar Association. An interested individual may obtain a reference number of a lawyer and consultation for up to 30 minutes for a $35 fee.

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