University of Vermont AAHS

Wheeler v. Clerkin

Delaware Superior Court
2004 WL 2419175
September 10, 2004

Summary of Opinion

Plaintiff Cerkin, a veterinarian, sued defendant Wheeler, a thoroughbred horse owner, for payment for veterinary services.  The trial court found there was an oral contract for veterinary services between the two.  In this opinion, the Superior Court agrees with that decision and orders Wheeler to pay the veterinary bill.

Text of Opinion

 Upon review of an appeal by defendant-appellant, Al Wheeler ("Wheeler"), from the Court of Common Pleas' award to plaintiff-appellee, Liam Clerkin ("Clerkin"), a judgment in the amount of $1,426.00 plus costs, and the record, it appears to the Court that:

 1. The action stems from an alleged oral contract entered into on or about April 30, 2001 between Wheeler, a thoroughbred racehorse owner engaged in racing thoroughbred horses at various racetracks in the Delaware region, and Clerkin, a racetrack veterinarian who administers medication to racehorses on the grounds of Delaware Park race track.

 2. Wheeler alleges that during the month of May in 2001, Clerkin administered expressly unauthorized medication to two horses against the will of Wheeler. Wheeler refused to pay for the medications and Clerkin initiated a collection action in Justice of the Peace Court.

 3. Wheeler asserts that a discovery request for evidence proving a contract was denied to Wheeler. Thus, the Justice of the Peace Court found a contract based upon the "bald assertion" of Clerkin that he was employed by Wheeler's agent, Julie King, the trainer of the horses. King did not testify and no other evidence of agency was proffered by Clerkin. Wheeler appealed to the Court of Common Pleas ("CCP").

 4. Wheeler claims that the CCP improperly allowed Clerkin to attempt to prove a contract for veterinary care by the introduction into evidence of a handwritten address on a racing publication. Wheeler claims that the document contained no material terms and simply was a means for the trainer, Julie King, to contact the owner of the horses.

 5. Additionally, Wheeler argues that the CCP improperly based its opinion upon testimony elicited from questions promulgated by the judge. While Wheeler acknowledges that the judge may inject interrogatories into a proceeding in order to clarify testimony and expedite the trial, the judge may not, in a civil matter, assume the role of the plaintiff.

 6. Clerkin alleges that an oral contract was entered into by the parties on or about April 30, 2001 when Wheeler "claimed" the horse, Heroic Peace, out of the first race at Delaware park. At that time, Wheeler requested that Clerkin perform veterinary services on two horses owned by him whenever necessary and requested by Wheeler's licensed thoroughbred trainer, Julie King.

 7. Clerkin contends that Wheeler knowingly and voluntarily wrote down his name and address and gave it to Clerkin for billing purposes at the time veterinary services were first requested on April 30, 2001. Clerkin asserts that, on the basis of the oral agreement and Wheeler's promise to pay, Clerkin agreed to perform veterinary services. Clerkin did, in fact, perform all veterinary services as requested by Wheeler and his trainer Julie King. Clerkin later submitted a veterinary bill to Wheeler in the amount of $1,426 .00 for various veterinary services performed on behalf of Wheeler for the period of April 30, 2001 through June 6, 2001.

 8. Clerkin asserts that during the period of time in question, Wheeler's horses earned $7,900.00 while continuing to race at Delaware Park and while under Clerkin's veterinary care. Wheeler received the benefit of Clerkin's veterinary services.

 9. The facts of this case were heard by Justice of the Peace Court No. 12 on January 22, 2003. Judgment was awarded Clerkin in the amount of $1,426.00 plus costs. Wheeler appealed. The matter then was heard in the Court of Common Pleas of New Castle County on October 3, 2003. Judgment again was entered in favor of Clerkin and against Wheeler. Wheeler again appealed.

 10. On an appeal from the Court of Common Pleas to the Superior Court, the standard of review "in addition to correcting errors of law, is 'whether the factual findings made by the trial judge are sufficiently supported by the record and are the product of an orderly and logically deductive process." 'Findings of the trial Court that are supported by the record should be accepted even if the reviewing court, acting independently, would have reached a contrary conclusion. This is the same standard of review for appeals from the Superior Court to the Supreme Court.

 11. At the close of the trial held in CCP on October 3, 3003, the judge stated that the cause of action was based on the premise that there was an oral contract. Prior to the time Clerkin rendered the veterinary services, he had a meeting, or came in contact with Wheeler, and informed Wheeler that he would provide service on the basis that services would be timely paid. During the course of that meeting, Wheeler placed his address on a racing form. [FN4]

FN4. The CCP found that there is credible evidence in the record that there was no agency between Appellee and the trainer. The address on the racing form may have been provided to the trainer, and the trainer may have then passed it on to Clerkin. This finding was not determinative of the CCP's ruling.

 12. CCP reasoned that as a result of the transaction between Wheeler and Clerkin, where Clerkin retained or obtained the name and address from Wheeler for future billing, Clerkin proved by a preponderance of the evidence an oral contract was formed.

 13. Wheeler testified that he informed Clerkin throughout the time from April 30, 2001 to June 30, 2001 not to touch his horse. However, Wheeler also testified that an injection of Lasix was required before the horses could run at the Delaware Park Racetrack. It is undisputed that Clerkin was the veterinarian who gave the mandatory injections. Therefore, Wheeler's assertion that he may have told his trainer, or told Clerkin, not to come near his horses is not supported by the record. The CCP found Appellant's testimony not credible.


 This Court finds that the record evidence supports CCP's assessment that an oral contract was formed between Wheeler and Clerkin. Clerkin provided services in good faith. Clerkin remitted detailed invoices for services rendered between April 30, 2001 to June 30, 2001. Clerkin is entitled to be paid for the services provided.

 There is sufficient record support for the CCP's ruling that Clerkin is entitled to $1,426 for the services he provided, plus pre-judgment interest, post-judgment interest, and costs. The CCP's factual findings are the product of an orderly and logical deductive process. It is irrelevant whether the testimony was in response to questions by the parties or the judge.

 THEREFORE, the decision by the Court of Common Pleas is hereby AFFIRMED.

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