A declaratory judgment is a court judgment which sets out the rights of parties but without ordering any action or awarding damages. Courts will entertain this motion to stop controversies with a clarification of the law at the initiation of a lawsuit instead of waiting until both parties have presented their arguments. For instance, a corporation may request a court to decide if a new tax is applicable to their business before the company pays it.
Chief Judge Wilma Lewis of the District Court of the Virgin Islands, Division of St. Croix, entertained this type of motion recently in the case of Bacon v. Grapetree Shores, Inc.
The Chief Judge was asked to grant Defendant’s “Motion for Declaratory Judgment that Plaintiff’s Demand for Arbitration was Filed Beyond the Statute of Limitations.”
Mark Bacon filed an action against Grapetree Shores, Inc. in Christiansted, Saint Croix on August 4, 2010. He alleged that he suffered from an “eruption” of welts and blisters on his body after staying in Grapetree Shores’s hotel because of their negligent maintenance of the guestrooms and bathrooms when he stayed in the hotel from January 10, 2010 through February 28, 2010.
On April 28, 2011, the trial court issued an order granting Grapetree Shores’s “Motion to Compel Arbitration and for Stay of Proceedings.” Bacon filed a “Demand for Arbitration” with the American Arbitration Association on February 26, 2013.
A month later, Grapetree Shores filed its “Motion for Declaratory Judgment that Plaintiff’s Demand for Arbitration was Filed Beyond the Statute of Limitations.” Bacon responded, and Grapetree Shores filed a Reply in April 2013.
On November 13, 2013, Bacon filed a Notice with the Court that the arbitrator denied Grapetree Shores’s “Motion to Dismiss Demand for Arbitration as Untimely.”
Before reaching the merits of Grapetree Shores’s Motion, Chief Judge Lewis was required to determine if this matter was properly before the Court. The judge concluded that this matter was not properly before it. She held that it was well established that “procedural questions, such as those concerning waiver, delay, or the procedural prerequisites to arbitration, are for the arbitrator to decide.”
Since Chief Judge Lewis was aware by Bacon’s “Notice to Court” filed on November 13, 2013, that the arbitrator already ruled on Grapetree Shores’s timeliness challenge, she did not have jurisdiction. A ruling by the arbitrator, the Chief Judge wrote, was in accord with the applicable law because issues such as whether Bacon’s claim was filed too late and time-barred were for the arbitrator to decide.
Consequently, Grapetree Shores’s “Motion for Declaratory Judgment that Plaintiff’s Demand for Arbitration was Filed Beyond the Statute of Limitations” was denied, and its “Request for Ruling and/or Oral Argument” was denied as moot.
Bacon v. Grapetree Shores, Inc., Slip Copy, 2013 WL 6332739 (D.Virgin Islands December 5, 2013).
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