Delaware Court of Chancery

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The Delaware Court of Chancery is a court of equity in the American state of Delaware. It is one of Delaware's three constitutional courts, along with the Supreme Court and Superior Court.

Jurisdiction[edit]

The Court's jurisdiction is a hybrid of constitutional provisions, statutes, and case law.

According to the Delaware Judicial Information center

“The Court of Chancery has jurisdiction to hear and determine all matters and causes in equity. The general equity jurisdiction of the Court is measured in terms of the general equity jurisdiction of the High Court of Chancery of Great Britain as it existed prior to the separation of the American colonies. The General Assembly may confer upon the Court of Chancery additional statutory jurisdiction. In today's practice, the litigation in the Court of Chancery consists largely of corporate matters, trusts, estates, and other fiduciary matters, disputes involving the purchase and sale of land, questions of title to real estate, and commercial and contractual matters in general. When issues of fact to be tried by a jury arise, the Court of Chancery may order such facts to trial by issues at the Bar of the Superior Court of Delaware. (10 Del. C., 369).”[1]

Article IV, Section 10 of the Delaware Constitution establishes the Court and provides that it "shall have all the jurisdiction and powers vested by the laws of this State in the Court of Chancery."[2] The Court has one Chancellor, who is the chief judicial officer of the Court, and four Vice Chancellors. It also has two Masters in Chancery, who are assigned by the Chancellor and Vice Chancellors to assist in matters as needed.

Equitable jurisdiction[edit]

Title 10, Section 341 of the Delaware Code states that the Court "shall have jurisdiction to hear and determine all matters and causes in equity."[3] Subsequent decisions have held that the Court's equitable jurisdiction is the same as that held by the English High Court of Chancery at the time of American independence in 1776.[citation needed]

The Court's most significant power is its ability to issue preliminary and permanent injunctions and temporary restraining orders. This is frequently exercised in the context of disputes involving mergers and acquisitions or sales of corporations, wherein a corporate suitor or a shareholder will attempt to enjoin—that is, prevent—the sale or merger of a corporation, claiming that their stock value has been diluted or that they have superior rights to purchase the corporation. In a typical sale or merger dispute, a plaintiff will seek a temporary restraining order, sometimes on an ex parte basis, to prevent the transaction from taking place and preserve the status quo. If the Court grants that relief, the plaintiff will then seek a preliminary injunction to maintain the current state of affairs until a trial can take place.

Title 10, Section 342 of the Delaware Code provides that the Court shall not hear any matters for which an adequate remedy exists at law or which can be heard by any other Delaware court.[3] As a practical matter, this means that the Court cannot grant relief in the form of money damages to compensate a party for a loss or where another court has coterminous jurisdiction. However, under the rules of equity, the court can grant monetary relief in the form of restitution by ruling that another party has unjustly gained money that belongs to the plaintiff.

Apart from its general equitable jurisdiction, the Court has jurisdiction over a number of other matters. First, the Court has sole power to appoint guardians of the property and person for mentally or physically disabled Delaware residents. Similarly, the Court may also appoint guardians for minors, although the Family Court has coterminous jurisdiction over such matters. Will contests and disputes over interpretations of trusts are also heard by the Court.

In 1952, the court of Chancery held in Gebhart v. Belton that the operation of segregated school systems in Delaware was unlawful, fully two years before the U.S. Supreme Court would do so in Brown v. Board of Education.

Procedure[edit]

The Court sits without a jury. All issues of fact are determined by the presiding Chancellor or Vice Chancellor. The Court has the discretion to appoint an advisory jury if it so desires, but this power is practically never exercised.

History[edit]

The history of the Court of Chancery stems back to the English common law system, in which separate courts were established to hear law and equity matters. English law courts included the Court of King's Bench (or Queen's Bench when the monarch was female), the Court of Common Pleas, and the Court of the Exchequer. The sole English court of equity was the High Court of Chancery.

Along with the remainder of the original Thirteen Colonies, Delaware imported the English concept of common law. This included establishing a separate Court of Chancery. As the legal system evolved in England, the English High Court of Chancery was eventually abolished and its powers merged into the law courts. Most American jurisdictions followed suit.

In its first Constitution, the Delaware Constitution of 1776, there was no special provision for a court of equity. However, when the constitution was revised in the Delaware Constitution of 1792 a separate Court of Chancery was established. This constitution was heavily influenced by thinking of John Dickinson and George Read. William T. Quillen and Michael Hanrahan in their Short History of the Delaware Court of Chancery repeat the “folklore of the Delaware bench and bar, saying that the impetus for creating a Court of Chancery was to provide a new judicial seat for Delaware's first Chancellor, William Killen.” Killen was the elderly and highly respected incumbent Chief Justice of Delaware, and when George Read was considered to be the new Chief Justice of Delaware, he refused unless adequate provisions were made for Killen. A separate Court of Chancery under Killen was the solution.[1]

Constitution of 1792[edit]

There was one Chancellor, appointed by the Governor for life.

Chancellors of Delaware
Name Took Office Left Office Residence Party notes
William Killen October 6, 1793 December 6, 1801 Kent County Democratic-Republican
Nicholas Ridgely December 6, 1801 April 1, 1830 Kent County Democratic-Republican
Kensey Johns, Sr. June 21, 1830 January 18, 1832 New Castle County Whig

Constitution of 1831[edit]

There was one Chancellor, appointed by the Governor for life.

Chancellors of Delaware
Name Took Office Left Office Residence Party notes
Kensey Johns, Jr. January 18, 1832 March 28, 1857 New Castle County Whig
Samuel M. Harrington May 4, 1857 November 28, 1865 Kent County Democratic
Daniel M. Bates December 12, 1865 October 1873 New Castle County Democratic
Willard Saulsbury, Sr. November 14, 1873 April 6, 1892 Sussex County Democratic
James L. Wolcott May 5, 1892 September 5, 1895 Kent County Democratic
John R. Nicholson September 5, 1895 June 10, 1897 Kent County Democratic

Constitution of 1897[edit]

There was one Chancellor, appointed by the Governor for a 12-year term. There were also created over the years, additional Vice Chancellors, the first in 1939, a second in 1961, a third in 1984, and a fourth in 1989. They were also appointed by the Governor for a 12-year term, but are required to be equally divided between the major political parties, so that among all the Chancellors no party has a majority of more than one person.

Chancellors of Delaware
Name Took Office Left Office Residence Party notes
John R. Nicholson June 10, 1897 June 10, 1909 Kent County Democratic
Charles M. Curtis June 10, 1909 July 2, 1921 Republican
Josiah O. Wolcott July 2, 1921 November 11, 1938 Kent County Democratic
William W. Harrington December 7, 1938 1950
Daniel F. Wolcott 1950 1951 Democratic
Collins J. Seitz 1951 July 17, 1966
William Duffy July 17, 1966 1973
William T. Quillen 1973 1976
William Marvel September 1976 May 1, 1982
Grover C. Brown 1982 1985
William T. Allen 1985 1997
William B. Chandler, III 1997 2011 Sussex County Republican
Leo E. Strine, Jr. 2011 New Castle County Democratic


Vice Chancellors of Delaware
Name Took Office Left Office Residence Party notes
George B. Pearson, Jr. 1939 1946 1st
Collins J. Seitz February 1, 1946 1951 1st
Howard W. Bramhall 1951 1954 1st
William Marvel September 8, 1954 September 1976 1st
Maurice A. Hartnett 1976 1994 1st
Myron T. Steele 1994 2000 1st
John W. Noble November 2000 present Kent County Democratic 1st
Isaac D. Short 1961 1973 2nd
Grover C. Brown 1973 1982 2nd
Joseph J. Longobardi 1982 1984 2nd
Joseph T. Walsh 1984 1985 2nd
Jack B. Jacobs 1985 2003 2nd
Donald F. Parsons October 22, 2003 present Democratic 2nd
Carolyn Berger 1984 1994 3rd
Bernard S. Balick 1994 1998 3rd
Leo E. Strine, Jr. 1998 2011 New Castle County Democratic 3rd
Sam Glasscock III 2011 present Sussex County Republican 3rd
William B. Chandler, III 1989 1997 Sussex County Republican 4th
Stephen P. Lamb 1997 2009 New Castle County 4th
J. Travis Laster 2009 present New Castle County Republican 4th

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Welcome to the Delaware Court of Chancery". Delaware State Courts. Retrieved 2011-11-30. 
  2. ^ "§ 10. Composition and jurisdiction of Court of Chancery; initiation and decisions in causes and proceedings.". State of Delaware Constitution: Article IV Judiciary. Online Delaware Code. Retrieved 2011-11-30. 
  3. ^ a b "CHAPTER 3. COURT OF CHANCERY Subchapter III. General Jurisdiction and Powers". Title 10 Courts and Judicial Procedure. Online Delaware Code. Retrieved 2011-09-19. 

References[edit]

  • Munroe, John A (1993). History of Delaware. Newark, Delaware: University of Delaware Press. ISBN 0-87413-493-5. 
  • Conrad, Henry C (1908). History of the State of Delaware, 3 vols. Lancaster, Pennsylvania: Wickersham Company. 

External links[edit]