In In the Matter of the Lost Will of Elizabeth R. Clark, C.A. No. 2022-0181-SEM (Del. Ct. Chancery December 30, 2022), the petitioner sought to admit a copy of a purported last will and testament of the decedent to probate. The movant filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings arguing that judgment should be granted in his favor because the petitioner’s claim was barred by the doctrine of laches.
The Delaware Court of Chancery explained that the equitable doctrine of laches prevents someone who delays unreasonably in filing suit from being permitted to prosecute their claims. The defense of laches is often fact-intensive and not susceptible to adjudication at the pleadings stage, but a Court will dismiss an action at the pleadings stage where it is clear from the face of the pleadings that laches exists and the pleader can prove no set of facts to avoid it.
The accrual date of the petitioner’s claim was unclear from the pleadings. The movant argued that the petitioner’s claim, which did not have an analogous statute of limitations, accrued in or around the date of the decedent’s death. The movant argued that this was when the petitioner received his copy of the purported will and that the movant failed to provide the purported will to the Register of Wills within the 10-day period under 12 Del. C. § 1301(a) or seek to administer the decedent’s estate after the 60-day period in 12 Del. C. § 1505(d). The Court disagreed and explained that knowledge of the purported will was not the same as knowledge of the instant claim to admit a copy of the purported will to probate. The face of the pleadings did not make clear that the petitioner knew or should have known that the decedent’s estate was not probated and that his interest in the property was unresolved. The Court found that this was a fact-intensive inquiry that could not be resolved on the pleadings.
The Court denied the motion and referred the matter to mandatory mediation.