Richards Layton & Finger
 

Judge Jurden Vacates Order to Ensure Proper Administration of Justice

April 11, 2017

In Alltrista Plastics, LLC d/b/a Jarden Plastic Solutions v. Rockline Industries, Inc., C.A. No. N12C-09-094 (Del. Super. January 18, 2017), President Judge Jurden relieved a defendant in a breach-of-contract action from an adverse judgment after invoking her “plenary power to vacate, modify, or set aside judgments or orders where reasonably necessary to ensure the proper administration of justice.” ;

The defendant had filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that the termination fee in the underlying agreement was a liquidated damages provision applicable to the plaintiff’s breach of contract claim. In considering that previous motion, President Judge Jurden ruled that the termination fee had not been triggered and was not applicable. That ruling sat for over five months while the parties engaged in settlement discussions.

Thereafter, the defendant filed a motion to vacate under Superior Court Rule 60 asking that President Judge Jurden reconsider her ruling about the termination fee. In its motion, the defendant pointed out that there was explicit language in the underlying agreement stating that the termination fee “shall serve as and for liquidated damages for [the defendant’s] breach of the Agreement.” It also cited—for the first time—the Delaware Supreme Court’s decision in Brazen v. Bell Atlantic Corp., which explicitly held that similar provisions should be considered as liquidated damages provisions. Presented with binding authority contrary to her decision, President Judge Jurden used her “plenary power to vacate, modify, or set aside [her] judgments [as] necessary to ensure the proper administration of justice in this case.”

Analysis: This case presents an atypical instance where the Superior Court was compelled to vacate, modify, or set aside its judgment in light of binding but previously uncited authority. Although Judge Jurden did note that the binding precedent was cited for the first time in the defendant’s motion to vacate, Judge Jurden considered the new authority and ultimately concluded that her previous ruling should be vacated. This case demonstrates that the CCLD will carefully consider each issue presented and even reconsider past rulings if necessary for the proper administration of justice.

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