In Advanced Litigation, LLC v. Herzka, read opinion here, the Chancery Court decided a motion for summary judgment involving claims for misappropriation of trade secrets and conversion, as well as a counterclaim and third-party complaint for unjust enrichment and violation of the Delaware Wage Payment and Collection Act, 19 Del. C. Sections 1101 through 1115 (“DWPCA”). The court previously had granted a motion for dismissal of claims against the defendants based on a Rule 41(b) determination of failure to prosecute, as well as an entry of judgment against the plaintiff on one of the counterclaims. Subsequently the defendants amended their counterclaims to add an additional party and to pursue their claims for wages earned under the DWPCA.
The court determined that there were genuine issues of material fact that barred summary judgment on the following key issues: (1) Whether the claimant was an employee or an independent contractor; (2) Whether under Section 1103(b) of the DWPCA, the employer had “reasonable grounds” to dispute claims such that statutory penalties of attorneys’ fees and liquidated damages would apply; and, (3) Whether the spouse of the named counterclaim defendant was a “manager” as that term is used in the DWPCA. Thus, the motion for summary judgment against the spouse as a defendant liable under the Delaware Wage Payment and Collection Act was denied. This case also includes a good discussion of the applicable standards for satisfying the prerequisites for a motion for summary judgment. For example, the court emphasized that a party opposing summary judgment “may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [their] pleading, but . . . must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. If [the party] does not so respond, summary judgment, if appropriate, shall be entered against [them]. “ (citing Chancery Court Rule 56(e)). The court also emphasized that it “maintains the discretion to deny summary judgment if it decides that a more thorough development of the record would clarify the law or its application.”
Lastly, the court discussed the concept of “the law of the case” as being established when a specific legal principle is applied to an issue presented by facts which remain constant throughout the subsequent course of the litigation and once addressed in a procedurally appropriate way by a court, it is generally held to be the “law of that case” and will not be disturbed by the court unless compelling reasons to do so appear. However, the “law of the case doctrine” is neither inflexible nor an absolute bar to reconsideration of a prior decision that is “clearly wrong, produces an injustice, or should be revisited because of changed circumstances. “ Moreover, the doctrine does not have the same finality of res judicata as it only applies to litigated issues and does not reach issues which could have been but were not litigated.