|State v. Harry W. Brown, 14-194 (July 15, 2016)||14-194|
The defendant, Harry W. Brown, appeals from an adjudication by a justice of the Superior Court declaring him to be in violation of the terms and conditions of probation. On appeal, he contended that the hearing justice erred in adjudicating him to be a probation violator, executing eight years of his twenty-five-year suspended sentence, and imposing two new conditions of probation. He also raised an interpretive question concerning a rule promulgated pursuant to the Interstate Compact for Adult Offender Supervision (ICAOS).
The Supreme Court held that ICAOS Rule 4.103-1 imposes a duty on the probation or paroling authority of a sending state to take punitive action against an offender who violates an additional condition of supervision imposed by a receiving state, but it further held that the rule does not impose any duty on a Superior Court hearing justice. The Court also affirmed the adjudication of probation violation and the hearing justice’s execution of eight years of the defendant’s sentence. Finally, the Court vacated the hearing justice’s imposition of new conditions of probation.
|Raymond D. Tempest, Jr. v. State of Rhode Island, No. 15-257 (July 14, 2015)||15-257|
This notorious case came before the Supreme Court once again pursuant to a writ of certiorari filed by the state after the Superior Court granted Raymond “Beaver” Tempest Jr.’s application for postconviction relief and vacated his 1992 conviction for second-degree murder. On appeal, the state argued that the Superior Court erred in vacating Tempest’s conviction on three grounds: two Brady violations founded on the state’s suppression of favorable evidence and a due process violation based on improper witness coaching by various members of the Woonsocket Police Department throughout the murder investigation.
The Supreme Court held that the former prosecutor’s deliberate failure to disclose two new statements offered by a key witness just before trial automatically entitled Tempest to postconviction relief without requiring a showing that the statements were material. The Supreme Court nonetheless held that the statements were material because they could have been used by the defense to further impeach the witness’s already questionable credibility.
Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court vacating Tempest’s conviction and quashed the writ of certiorari.
|Patrizia Prew v. Employee Retirement System of the City of Providence, No. 14-270 (July 13, 2016)||14-270|
This case came before the Supreme Court pursuant to a writ of certiorari filed by the petitioner, Patrizia Prew, seeking review of a decision by the City of Providence Retirement Board (board) that denied her application for accidental-disability retirement. Before this Court, the petitioner contended that the board erred in concluding that, although the petitioner was otherwise permanently disabled, she did not qualify for an accidental-disability-retirement pension because she had refused to submit to medically recommended surgery. The Supreme Court held that the Providence Code of Ordinances does not require a permanently disabled employee to mitigate an injury in order to be eligible for an accidental-disability retirement. Accordingly, the Court quashed the decision of the board.
|State v. Juan Soler, No. 13-241 (July 12, 2016)||13-241|
The defendant, Juan Soler, appealed from a Superior Court judgment convicting him of assault with a dangerous weapon and vandalism. The defendant argued that the trial justice had erred by refusing to include a self-defense instruction in the jury charge because there was sufficient evidence introduced during the trial to support his self-defense theory. After carefully reviewing all of the testimony at trial, the Supreme Court held that the defendant had presented sufficient evidence, albeit slight and tenuous, to warrant a self-defense jury instruction. The Supreme Court concluded that the lack of a self-defense instruction within the jury charge entitled the defendant to a new trial on the charge of assault with a dangerous weapon. Accordingly, the Supreme Court vacated the defendant’s conviction for felony assault and remanded the case to the Superior Court for further proceedings.
|Pedro Reyes v. State of Rhode Island, No. 14-161 (July 11, 2016)||14-161|
The applicant, Pedro Reyes (applicant or Reyes), appealed from a judgment of the Superior Court denying his application for postconviction relief. On appeal, Reyes first contended that his 1994 nolo contendere plea to the offense of maintaining a narcotics nuisance should be vacated because it did not conform to Rule 11 of the Superior Court Rules of Criminal Procedure and was not a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary plea. He also argued that the hearing justice erroneously entered judgment for the state on his claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, and that the attorney appointed in connection with his application failed to fulfill his assigned role.
The Supreme Court held that there was nothing in the record to suggest that Reyes’s 1994 nolo contendere plea was not entered knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily. The Court further held that the hearing justice properly entered judgment in favor of the state on his claims of ineffective assistance of counsel because there were no genuine issues of material fact to preclude summary dismissal of his claims. Finally, the Supreme Court also held that Reyes’s postconviction counsel sufficiently fulfilled his assigned role (even though he ultimately concluded that Reyes’s claims were meritless), by (i) expending considerable effort to locate alleged exculpatory bail-hearing testimony to no avail, and (ii) determining that Reyes was unable to establish prejudice in his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel because of the favorable disposition that trial counsel secured for his client.
Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court.
|In re Izabella G., No. 15-162 (July 7, 2016)||15-162|
The respondent, Tony Gonzalez, appealed from a decree entered in Family Court terminating his parental rights with respect to his minor daughter. The decree rested, in large part, on a Family Court justice’s finding that the respondent’s criminal convictions and concomitant prison sentences rendered him unfit as a parent. While this appeal was pending, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in State v. Gonzalez, No. 2013-289-C.A. (R.I., filed March 29, 2016), and vacated the respondent’s criminal convictions based on an unlawful seizure of evidence. In light of these changed circumstances, this Court vacated the decree terminating his parental rights and remanded the case to the Family Court for further proceedings.
|State v. Armando Garcia, No. 13-189 (July 7, 2016)||13-189|
In appealing his judgment of conviction to the Supreme Court, the defendant, Armando Garcia, alleges error in the denial of his motion to suppress his confession to police, certain evidentiary rulings made by the trial justice, and the denial of his motion for a new trial.
After examining the record, the Court determined that, in light of the trial justice’s findings of historical fact, the trial justice did nor err in concluding that the defendant voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently waived his right to freedom from self-incrimination. The Court further rejected the defendant’s argument on appeal that delay in his presentment before a judicial officer warranted suppression of his confession. The Court concluded that the defendant had waived presentment, that such waiver was not the product of undue influence, and that the defendant’s confession was not the causative effect of any undue delay in presentment.
The Supreme Court further held that the evidentiary issues raised on appeal were without merit and that the trial justice did not overlook or misconceive evidence in denying the defendant’s motion for a new trial.
Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court.
|State v. Jonathan Martinez, No. 15-309 (July 7, 2016)||15-309|
A jury convicted the defendant, Jonathan Martinez, of one count of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, one count of possession of a firearm while in possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, and one count of conspiracy to possess a controlled substance with intent to deliver. Of the many arguments raised by the defendant on appeal, only one was preserved at trial for review by the Supreme Court: the defendant’s contention that the trial justice erred in not permitting him to present an opening statement to the jury. After reviewing the record, the Supreme Court concluded that, since defense counsel indicated that he intended to elicit evidence from the state’s witnesses on cross-examination, the trial justice erred by denying the defendant the opportunity to make an opening statement without probing further as to what affirmative evidence the defendant reasonably expected to elicit.
|Bennie Sisto, as the Trustee of Goat Island Realty Trust v. America Condominium Association, Inc., et al., No. 15-181 (June 29, 2016)||15-181|
The plaintiff, Bennie Sisto (Sisto or plaintiff), appealed an award of attorney’s fees in the amount of $8,924.60 in favor of the defendants, America Condominium Association and the members of its executive board (collectively, defendants). The fee award was in connection with a prior appeal before this Court pursuant to Rhode Island’s strategic lawsuit against public participation (anti-SLAPP) statute, G.L. 1956 chapter 33 of title 9. This time on appeal, the plaintiff argued that the Superior Court did not have subject matter jurisdiction over the defendants’ motion for assessment for attorney’s fees, and that the hearing justice acted arbitrarily in calculating the award, thereby abusing his discretion.
After holding that the defendants’ motion for assessment of attorney’s fees pursuant to the anti-SLAPP statute was properly before the Superior Court, the Supreme Court held that the hearing justice did not abuse his discretion when he reduced the award by 75 percent in light of the uncertain records submitted by the defendants and, likewise, that he did not abuse his discretion when he increased the already-reduced award by 5 percent based on the complexity of the anti-SLAPP claim. Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court.
|America Condominium Association, Inc. et al. v. Stefania M. Mardo, as Trustee of the Constellation Trust—2011 et al., Nos. 14-184, 14-185, 14-186 (June 28, 2016)||14-184, 185, 186|
The plaintiffs, America Condominium Association, Inc. and Capella South Condominium Association, Inc., appealed from a February 25, 2014 judgment following a bench trial in Newport County Superior Court; that judgment held that the defendants, Stefania M. Mardo, as Trustee of the Constellation Trust—2011 and Harbor Houses Condominium Association, Inc., were liable for breach of contract and for committing a common law trespass. The trial justice further concluded that Count Three of the plaintiffs’ complaint, which alleged that the defendants breached restrictive covenants contained in the Goat Island South Condominium Second Amended and Restated Declaration of Condominium (GIS SAR), was moot and that the plaintiffs were not entitled to an award of attorneys’ fees and costs. The plaintiffs contended on appeal that the trial justice made the following errors: (1) finding a continuing trespass but failing to issue a mandatory permanent injunction requiring the removal of the trespass; (2) finding Count Three of the plaintiffs’ complaint to be moot; and (3) failing to award attorneys’ fees and costs to the plaintiffs in accordance with the GIS SAR. The defendants filed a cross-appeal. In support of the cross-appeal, the Trust argues that it was error for the Superior Court to have found that the defendants had breached the GIS SAR and to have found that the defendants had committed a common law trespass.
The Supreme Court held as follows: (1) the trial justice did not abuse her discretion in failing to issue a mandatory permanent injunction requiring the removal of the expansion of Unit 18; (2) the trial justice did not err in failing to rule on Count Three of the plaintiffs’ complaint; and (3) the trial justice did commit an error in failing to award attorneys’ fees and costs to the plaintiffs based on the terms of the GIS SAR. With regard to the Trust’s cross-appeal, the Supreme Court further held that: (1) there was no error committed by the trial justice in determining that the Trust breached the GIS SAR; and (2) the trial justice also did not err in determining that the Trust had committed a trespass. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court in part and vacated that judgment in part.
|Anthony Lipscomb v. State of Rhode Island, No. 15-45 (June 24, 2016)||15-45|
The applicant, Anthony Lipscomb, appealed from the denial of his application for postconviction relief, asserting that his convictions in three separate drug-offense cases were the result of ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of the state and federal constitutions because he had pled nolo contendere in each case rather than either pursuing a motion to suppress physical evidence or going to trial. The Supreme Court reviewed the application de novo, but gave deference to the hearing justice’s findings of fact and determinations of credibility. The Supreme Court concluded that the applicant failed to establish that any of the three attorneys who had represented him in the convictions at issue rendered constitutionally deficient performances. The Supreme Court also concluded that, because the applicant had received favorable dispositions when the initial drug charges were compared with the final charges to which the applicant had entered his nolo contendere pleas, the applicant had not established that he had been prejudiced by the assistance from his attorneys. The Superior Court’s denial of the application for postconviction relief was, therefore, affirmed.
|Newstone Development, LLC v. East Pacific, LLC et al., No. 14-240 (June 24, 2016)||14-240|
This case arose from an incident involving a frozen water pipe and its diluvial aftermath, which caused extensive property damage to several Newport waterfront condominium units. The plaintiff, Newstone Development, LLC, appealed from a final judgment entered in favor of the defendants on their respective motions for summary judgment. The issue before the Supreme Court was whether the plaintiff could have recovered loss-of-use damages for the period of time that the condominium units were under repair. The Supreme Court held that, under the specific circumstances of this case—where the plaintiff had not alleged encroachment, wrongful possession, wrongful detention, or trespass upon the condominium units, and where the plaintiff conceded that it did not incur any economic loss—the law did not permit recovery for loss of use. The Supreme Court also held that the plaintiff had failed to present any evidence to prove an essential element of their negligence claim against defendants—specifically, that the plaintiff suffered an actual loss or damage as a result of the defendants’ conduct. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court’s judgment.
|Kathryn Manning et al. v. Peter J. Bellafiore, M.D., et al., Nos. 13-14, 13-16 (June 24, 2016||13-14, 16|
This case originated as a negligence and wrongful death action brought by the plaintiff Kathryn Manning, individually and as administratrix of the estate of Michael Manning and on behalf of her four minor children, against Peter J. Bellafiore, M.D., but has since evolved into extensive litigation regarding sanctions. The issue in this case as it related to sanctions was whether Dr. Bellafiore’s trial testimony differed from his pretrial discovery disclosures and, if so, who was at fault for the inconsistencies. The Superior Court sanctioned both Dr. Bellafiore and the law firm that represented him at trial, White & Kelly, P.C., for their failure to have made certain pretrial disclosures. Both parties appealed their sanctions to the Supreme Court. On appeal, Dr. Bellafiore argued that any failure during discovery to disclose certain conversations which he had with the decedent was attributable to his attorney, as he had informed his attorney that such conversations occurred. Meanwhile, the White & Kelly defendants maintained that Dr. Bellafiore had not disclosed any conversations that he claimed to have had with the decedent to them prior to trial, and that, accordingly, they should not be held responsible for failing to disclose statements of which they had no prior knowledge.
After extensive review of the voluminous record, which included all pretrial discovery materials, trial transcripts and exhibits, as well as materials related to the sanction proceedings, the Supreme Court held that: (1) Rule 11 sanctions were not appropriate for discovery violations, but instead, the Superior Court could rely on its inherent power to fashion an appropriate sanction when a party acted in bad faith, vexatiously, wantonly, or for oppressive reasons; (2) the Superior Court did not overlook or misconceive material evidence in finding that Dr. Bellafiore engaged in sanctionable conduct based upon his failure to disclose certain conversations he had had with the decedent during discovery and that a finding of bad faith could be inferred from the Superior Court’s decision, but the trial justice abused his discretion in sanctioning Dr. Bellafiore a sum of $122,398.86 for this conduct and, therefore, lowered the amount to $38,398.53; and (3) a sanction against trial counsel was not appropriate where the trial justice did not make any finding that counsel acted in bad faith, vexatiously, wantonly, or for oppressive reasons, nor could such a finding be inferred. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part the judgment of the Superior Court, and instructed the Superior Court to enter an order sanctioning Dr. Bellafiore in the amount of $38,398.53.
|Laurence F. Whittemore, III v. Westerly Tax Assessor, Nos. 14-157, 14-158, 14-160 (June 24, 2016)||14-157, 14-158, 14-160|
The defendant, David B. Thompson, tax assessor for the town of Westerly, appealed from a decision of the Superior Court in favor of plaintiffs, Laurence F. Whittemore, III and Kathleen M. Whittemore. The decision granted the plaintiffs’ three petitions for relief from property tax assessments on their home at 5 Manatuck Avenue for the years 2009, 2010, and 2011. The petitions were consolidated for a non-jury trial and the appeals were also consolidated. The defendant asserted that the trial justice erred on several grounds: (1) in failing to dismiss the Whittemores’ petitions after finding that the Whittemores failed to prove fair market value for their property; (2) when she rejected the opinions of both parties’ experts and devised her own method for determining the fair market value of the property; (3) when she rejected the 2008 appraisals of the property based on a flawed generalization; and (4) in failing to dismiss the third petition challenging the town’s 2011 assessment because she erroneously found that the town’s appeals forms did not include mandated statutory language.
The Supreme Court held that the trial justice did not err when she rejected the valuation of each of the expert witnesses and came to her own valuation because the plaintiffs met their burden of presenting sufficient evidence from which the fair market value could be determined. The trial justice’s decision to reject the opinion on valuation of each of the experts was supported by sufficient competent evidence because each of the experts testified that the subject property was in a unique and exclusive neighborhood, Watch Hill, and that a paucity of comparable sales data between 2008 and 2009, after the collapse of the housing market in late 2007, made it very difficult to evaluate fair market value, and that there was a general decline of 6 percent in values in the neighborhood. The trial justice’s findings that the tax assessor assessed the plaintiffs’ property above the fair market value and that he should have reduced the previous assessment value by 6 percent, as he did three of the subject property’s neighbors, was sufficiently supported by the record.
However, the Supreme Court held that the trial justice erred in not dismissing the plaintiffs’ third petition, for the 2011 assessment, because the statutory language was directory, rather than mandatory, because the statute contained no penalty for failure to provide the specific language on the Town’s appeals form. Therefore, the Court held that the Town was not estopped from raising the affirmative defense that the plaintiffs failed to timely file a sworn accounting in regard to the 2011 assessment.
Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial justice’s decision that the plaintiffs were entitled to recover overassessed taxes based on the 2009 and 2010 tax assessments, and vacated the judgment of the Superior Court as it related to the 2011 tax assessment.
|Dawn K. Roy, in her capacity as the administratrix of the estate of Brett A. Roy, et al. v. The State of Rhode Island et al., Nos. 13-213, 14-39 (June 23, 2016)||13-213, 14-39|
Tragically, on July 10, 2008, twenty-nine-year-old Brett A. Roy broke his neck when diving into the pond at World War II Memorial Park in Woonsocket. Roy and his wife, Dawn K. Roy (plaintiffs), individually and as the parents of their two children, filed this action against the State of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), and two individuals in their official capacities as DEM employees (collectively, the state), alleging theories of negligence and premises liability. After a multi-week trial, the jury returned a verdict for the state, finding that the state did not “fail to warn or guard against a dangerous condition, use, structure or activity” or against a “non-obvious, latent dangerous condition” at the pond. Subsequently, both parties filed renewed motions for judgment as a matter of law, which the trial justice denied. However, the plaintiffs also filed a motion for a new trial, which the trial justice granted. Thereafter, the state brought the instant appeal arguing that the trial justice erred in granting the plaintiffs’ motion for a new trial and in denying its motion for judgment as a matter of law. The plaintiffs filed a cross-appeal arguing that their motion for judgment as a matter of law should have been granted.
The Supreme Court concluded that that the state bore no liability for Roy’s injuries—either because diving is an open and obvious danger or because the state was protected under the Recreational Use Statute. Consequently, the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the trial justice denying the state’s motion for judgment as a matter of law.
|Kenlin Properties, LLC et al. v. City of East Providence et al., No. 13-321 (June 23, 2016)||13-321|
The Supreme Court granted a petition for writ of certiorari filed by the City of East Providence and the East Providence Zoning Board of Review (zoning board) (collectively, the city) seeking review of a judgment of the Superior Court. The zoning board had affirmed a notice of violation issued by the East Providence zoning officer finding several violations of a use variance that had been granted in 1998 to the owner and operator of a facility known as Pond View Recycling (Pond View). Kenlin Properties, LLC and TLA-Providence, LLC, as the owner and operator of Pond View, had appealed to the Superior Court from the zoning board’s decision upholding the notice of violation. A trial justice of the Superior Court reversed the zoning board’s decision after concluding that the zoning board’s decision was clearly erroneous and made upon unlawful procedure because the zoning board erred as a matter of law by reviewing material outside of the decision granting the variance.
The Supreme Court held that the determination of the scope of a use variance is a question of fact entrusted in the first instance to the zoning board and that in determining the scope of a variance, the zoning board may refer to the entire public record. The Supreme Court concluded that the record supported the zoning board’s decision that Pond View was in violation of the 1998 use variance by exceeding the scope of the variance. Thus, the Supreme Court quashed the judgment of the Superior Court and remanded the case to the Superior Court with instructions to enter judgment for the city.
|Tri-Town Construction Company, Inc. v. Commerce Park Associates 12, LLC et al., Nos. 15-22, 15-146 (June 22, 2016)||15-22,146|
The defendants, Commerce Park Associates 12, LLC (CPA) and Nicholas Cambio, appealed to the Supreme Court, assigning four errors to the trial justice. The defendants argued that the trial justice erred when he granted summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff’s claims for (1) breach of a promissory note and (2) breach of a guaranty of the note. CPA also challenged (3) the trial justice’s dismissal of its counterclaim for unjust enrichment pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure. Finally, the defendants contend that the trial justice erred by (4) granting Tri-Town’s motion for attorney’s fees. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part the Superior Court’s judgments.
Regarding the grant of summary judgment in favor of Tri-Town on its breach of promissory note claim, the Supreme Court rejected CPA’s argument that the purpose for which the parties contracted was frustrated when the national economy collapsed. Likewise, the Supreme Court rejected Cambio’s argument that the guaranty that he signed was not enforceable because it was not contained in a separate writing, that there were no specific terms for the guaranty, that the guaranty did not provide the guarantor’s identity, and that the consideration was not recited in the instrument. The Supreme Court ultimately held that the trial justice correctly granted Tri-Town’s motion for summary judgment.
CPA also argued that the trial justice erred when he dismissed its counterclaim for unjust enrichment. CPA contended that it was entitled to the return of the payments that it made to Tri-Town and for the value of investments made to the property under what it believed was the “frustrated contract.” The Supreme Court also rejected this argument. The Supreme Court reasoned that, even accepting its allegations as true, CPA was left with the inescapable fact that frustration of purpose—an affirmative defense against a breach of contract claim—was not an appropriate means to bring an affirmative cause of action. For that reason, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial justice’s dismissal of CPA’s counterclaim.
Finally, the Supreme Court addressed the defendants’ arguments that the trial justice erred when he granted Tri-Town’s motion for legal fees. First, the Supreme Court rejected the argument that, since the trial justice denied Tri-Town’s motion for prejudgment attachment, the fees incurred in bringing that motion were neither reasonable nor necessary. The Supreme Court held that the fact that a motion has been denied, standing alone, was not enough to invalidate an award of legal fees. Second, the defendants argued that the affidavits Tri-Town submitted, by its own attorneys, were insufficient because an affidavit from a different, independent attorney indicating the necessity and reasonableness of the fees was required before the court could award the fees. The Supreme Court agreed, and held that an independent lawyer who is not representing the parties to the action in which legal fees are sought must submit affidavits or testimony about the reasonableness and necessity of the fees. As a result, the Supreme Court vacated the award of attorney’s fees and remanded the case to the Superior Court for it to consider the testimony or affidavit of an independent expert regarding the reasonableness and necessity of Tri-Town’s fees.
|Helen L. Hyde v. The Roman Catholic Bishop of Providence; Jeffrey Thomas v. The Roman Catholic Bishop of Providence, Nos. 14-174, 14-175 (June 22, 2016) ||14-174, 14-175|
The plaintiffs, Helen Hyde and Jeffrey Thomas, sued the Roman Catholic Bishop of Providence, seeking damages arising from their alleged sexual abuse at the hands of Father Brendan Smyth more than four decades ago. The Superior Court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant. The plaintiffs appealed, arguing that the hearing justice erred when she decided that the statute of limitations barred their claims. Specifically, the plaintiffs argued that their repressed recollection of the abuse tolled the statute of limitations until they became aware of their claims against the defendant. Moreover, the plaintiffs argued that the trial justice erred when she denied their request to seek discovery on the alternate tolling theory that the defendant fraudulently concealed their causes of action from them.
On appeal, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that G.L. § 9-1-51 sets forth the exclusive means by which the statute of limitations can be tolled based on the repressed recollection of childhood sexual abuse and that repressed recollection, in and of itself, is not a viable tolling mechanism against nonperpetrator defendants in childhood sexual abuse cases. Regarding the plaintiffs’ alternate theory that the statute of limitations was tolled because the defendant fraudulently concealed their causes of action, the Supreme Court held that none of the alleged conduct by the defendant could have misled these plaintiffs into believing the alleged sexual abuse did not occur. Therefore, the Supreme Court held that the Superior Court did not err when it denied the plaintiffs’ request to seek discovery on that alternate tolling theory.
|State v. Gary Gaudreau, No. 14-78 (June 17, 2016)||14-78|
The defendant, Gary Gaudreau, appealed from a judgment of conviction on one count of first-degree arson in violation of G.L. 1956 § 11-4-2. The state alleged that the defendant was responsible for intentionally setting fire to his place of business, Physique Gym, during a severe snow storm in the middle of the night on March 2, 2009. On the night of the fire, the defendant called the police to report a breaking and entering at his home, claiming that someone had stolen a fanny pack containing his keys, wallet and handgun, while he was driving in Massachusetts due to sleeplessness. Unsurprisingly, the defendant quickly became the primary suspect of the arson. At trial, the state had no direct evidence linking the defendant to any accelerants used to set the fire, but it had an eyewitness, a snow plow driver, who claimed to have seen the defendant at the gym around 2 a.m. with his car pulled up to the building and the trunk open. The eyewitness contacted police later that morning, after learning that the gym had burned down, and police used his signed statement in an interrogation with the defendant, in an attempt to get the defendant to confess. However, the defendant did not confess and he objected to the admission of the videotaped interrogation at trial.
The defendant raised two issues on appeal: (1) he challenged the admission into evidence of a video recording of his custodial police interrogation; and (2) he challenged the denial of his motion for new trial on the basis that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence.
The Court had never before addressed the issue of admitting an interrogation, where the defendant neither confessed nor made inculpatory statements, that was objected to on relevance and prejudicial grounds, rather than challenging the statements as being involuntary. The Court determined that when a defendant objects to the admissibility of an interrogation that does not contain a confession, the Superior Court should review the admissibility as it would for any other evidence. The Court held that the trial justice committed error when he failed to conduct the balancing test under Rule 403 of the Superior Court Rules of Evidence. However, to the extent that he committed error in denying defendant’s motion to suppress, it was harmless. Although there was very little probative value to the entire video, and the statements by the police officers challenging the defendant’s veracity were prejudicial, the interrogation was short, with minimal threatening or coercive conduct by the police, and the tape was far more prejudicial to the defendant because of the eyewitness statement of the snow plow driver, and the defendant’s own explanation of his activities during a snow storm.
The Court expounded that trial justices in the future should be very cautious in permitting the jury to hear comments from police officers in videotaped interrogations that would not be permitted from the witness stand, and should consider redacting those police statements that are particularly prejudicial and do not produce relevant responses from the defendant. Furthermore, the Court held that where the trial justice determines that the videotaped interrogation is relevant, a defendant challenging such evidence is entitled to a cautionary instruction to the jury.
The Court affirmed the trial justice’s denial of the defendant’s motion for a new trial because the trial justice properly reviewed the evidence, weighed the credibility of the witnesses, and made plain that she did not disagree with the jury’s verdict. Specifically, the trial justice acted well within her discretion when she determined that the defendant’s testimony on his behalf was unbelievable and perjurious.
Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of conviction.
|Robert Dominick v. State of Rhode Island., No. 15-120 (June 16, 2016)||15-120|
The applicant, Robert Dominick, appealed from the denial of his application for postconviction relief. The applicant, who had been convicted of assault and battery upon Glennis Beltram, a person over sixty years of age, maintained that the hearing justice erred in finding that he had failed to present newly discovered evidence that would have entitled him to a new trial. The applicant relied on two items that he described as “newly discovered”—(1) a picture of the lawn mower involved in the physical altercation, coupled with the information that Beltram had disposed of the lawn mower before his criminal trial and (2) the testimony of an eyewitness, David Lohr, who was not asked to testify in the criminal trial despite having given a statement to the police after the altercation. When Beltram sued the applicant for civil battery after the applicant’s conviction, Lohr had provided somewhat different testimony during his deposition and at the civil trial. The Supreme Court noted that the evidence the applicant sought to label as “new” had been available to him at the time of his criminal trial and that it would have had no other effect than to impeach Beltram’s testimony regarding her account of their altercation. Accordingly, the Supreme Court held that the hearing justice was not clearly wrong, and had not overlooked or misconceived material evidence in finding that the applicant had failed to present newly discovered evidence.
|State v. Christian Rosado, No. 15-92 (June 16, 2016)||15-92|
The defendant, Christian Rosado, appealed from a judgment of conviction on two separate counts of assault with a dangerous weapon, to wit, a firearm. The defendant maintained that the hearing justice erred in denying his motion for a mistrial based on what the defendant perceived to have been the state’s discovery violation. The state’s complaining witness, Ikey Wilson, testified at trial that the defendant was accompanied by two individuals known as Smoke and City during the shooting. Wilson testified for the first time at trial that during a prior altercation with the defendant months prior to the shooting, Smoke and City were also present. The defendant argued that had this testimony been provided to him prior to trial, he would have investigated the prior incident. The Supreme Court held that the defendant failed to establish that the trial justice abused his discretion in denying the defendant’s motion for a mistrial. The Supreme Court agreed with the trial justice that, because Smoke and City had been previously identified by Wilson as being present and participants to the shooting, testimony that they were present during the prior altercation was not prejudicial. Additionally, the Supreme Court highlighted that the defendant had not sought any other remedy in the form of a continuance or cautionary instruction, nor had the defendant articulated why these alternatives to a mistrial would have been insufficient. Accordingly, the Supreme Court denied the defendant’s appeal and affirmed his conviction.
|Barbara A. Voccola and Edward R. Voccola, in their capacities as Co-Executors of the Estate of Edward E. Voccola v. Patricia A. Forte et al., Nos. 13-216, 13-217, 13-220 (June 13, 2016)||13-216, 217, 220|
Patricia Forte and Red Fox Realty, LLC (the defendants) appealed from a Providence County Superior Court, March 12, 2013 final judgment in favor of Barbara Voccola and Edward R. Voccola, in their capacities as co-executors of the Estate of Edward E. Voccola (the plaintiffs), holding that Edward E. Voccola’s signature on certain documents was not genuine and finding three warranty deeds at issue in the case to be null and void. The defendants’ primary contentions on appeal were as follows: (1) the trial justice erred when she held that Edward E. Voccola’s signatures authorizing the transfer of the properties at issue were not genuine; and (2) the trial justice erred in holding in the plaintiffs’ favor on the defendants’ claim that Edward E. Voccola gifted the properties at issue to Patricia Forte. The plaintiffs filed a cross-appeal from the decision of the trial justice awarding Patricia Forte $82,000 for her counterclaim. They contended on appeal that the trial justice erred in making that award because: (1) in her counterclaim, Patricia Forte did not seek reimbursement for paying Edward E. Voccola’s criminal fines, which act was the basis of the trial justice’s $82,000 award; and (2) any “claim of damages as to the criminal fines” was settled in a 2007 Settlement Agreement between various parties, including Edward E. Voccola and Patricia Forte.
|State v. Karen A. Connery, Nos. 15-155, 156 (June 8, 2016)||15-155, 156|
he defendant, Karen A. Connery, appealed from two judgments of conviction rendered after a jury-waived trial held in Providence County Superior Court. She was found guilty of simple assault and willful trespass. On appeal, the defendant contended that, with respect to the conviction of simple assault, her constitutional right to a speedy trial was violated. She also contended that, with respect to the conviction of willful trespass, that offense is not a lesser-included offense of breaking and entering.
Ultimately, the Supreme Court held that her contention to the effect that her constitutional right to a speedy trial had been violated had been waived. The Supreme Court also held that her contention concerning willful trespass had been waived.
Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgments of the Superior Court.
|Yendelby Santos v. D. Laikos, Inc., d/b/a Monet Lounge and John Doe, No. 15-300 (June 7, 2016)||15-300|
The plaintiff, Yendelby Santos (plaintiff or Santos), appealed from the Superior Court’s denial of his motion to vacate final judgment in favor of the defendants, D. Laikos, Inc., d/b/a Monet Lounge and John Doe (defendants), on his personal injury claim. On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the trial justice erred in not granting his motion to vacate on the grounds of excusable neglect and erred in denying his request for an evidentiary hearing. Specifically, he asserted that he did not receive notice of the defendants’ motion to dismiss his complaint on statute of limitations grounds, and thus did not attend the hearing on said motion. The plaintiff also averred that his complaint erroneously included an incident date that was beyond the three-year statute of limitations.
The Supreme Court held that the trial justice did not abuse his discretion in denying the plaintiff’s motion to vacate because there were no extraordinary circumstances surrounding his failure to attend the motion to dismiss hearing that amounted to excusable neglect. The Supreme Court also held that the hearing justice properly denied the plaintiff’s request for an evidentiary hearing. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court.
|Michael Morse v. Employees Retirement System of the City of Providence, No. 13-252 (June 6, 2016)||13-252|
The petitioner, Michael Morse, sought review, pursuant to a writ of certiorari, of a decision of the Retirement Board of the Employees Retirement System of the City of Providence (the board), dated July 24, 2013. In its decision, the board denied Morse’s application for accidental disability retirement. The petitioner argued that the decision should have been quashed because it was based solely on the fact that he did not satisfy the board’s self-imposed “unanimity rule,” requiring that all three physicians who examined Morse agree that the applicant was permanently disabled as a result of a work-related injury. The petitioner argued that the unanimity rule was contrary to the plain language of the city’s ordinance on accidental disability retirement and that the board’s adoption of the rule effectively abdicated its discretion to review applications to a single disagreeing physician. The board argued that the Supreme Court should affirm its decision because the unanimity rule is required by the plain language of the ordinance and by legislative history.
|Cashman Equipment Corporation, Inc. v. Cardi Corporation, Inc. et al., No. 14-284 (June 3, 2016)||14-284|
Cashman Equipment Corporation, Inc. (Cashman) filed a petition for issuance of a writ of certiorari, in which it stated that it was seeking review of the May 13, 2014 denial in Providence County Superior Court of its motion to compel the production from Cardi Corporation, Inc. (Cardi) of the following: “all materials and documents, less core attorney work product, including all computer models and drafts of materials and documents, developed and considered by [Cardi’s] testifying expert * * * in the process of formulating his written expert opinions * * *.” In a November 20, 2014 order, the Supreme Court granted Cashman’s petition. Cashman contended before the Supreme Court that the hearing justice erred in denying its motion because, in Cashman’s view, materials which are considered by a testifying expert in formulating his or her opinion are discoverable, with the exception of “core attorney work product.” According to Cashman, it was, therefore, error for the hearing justice to refuse to compel Cardi to produce the requested documents.
The Supreme Court held that the case was controlled by the clear and unambiguous language of Rule 26(b)(4)(A) of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure, which does not provide for any document discovery with respect to testifying experts. Therefore, it was the judgment of the Supreme Court that, under the language of the rule, Cashman was not entitled to the discovery it sought. As such, the Supreme Court quashed the writ and affirmed the decision of the hearing justice.
|State v. Sharif K. Fairweather, No. 15-123 (June 3, 2016)||15-123|
The defendant, Sharif K. Fairweather, sought review of a Superior Court judgment that declared him to be in violation of the terms and conditions of his probation. That judgment revoked the suspension of seventy-two months of a longer suspended sentence.
On appeal, the defendant contended that the hearing justice erred in finding that he had violated the terms and conditions of his probation; he also contended that the seventy-two-month sentence imposed by the hearing justice was “excessive.”
Ultimately, the Supreme Court held that the hearing justice did not act arbitrarily or capriciously in adjudicating the defendant to be a probation violator. The Supreme Court also held that the hearing justice’s execution of seventy-two months of the defendant’s suspended sentence was not “excessive” and did not constitute an abuse of discretion.
Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court.
|Joseph Hall et al. v. City of Newport et al., No. 15-259 (June 2, 2016)||15-259|
The plaintiffs, Joseph Hall, his wife, Marilyn Hall, and their children, Jacob and Philomena Hall (the Halls), appealed from the April 9, 2015 entry of partial final judgment (pursuant to Rule 54(b) of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure) in favor of the defendant, Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA), in Newport County Superior Court. The partial final judgment was entered as a result of the Superior Court’s granting of the defendant’s motion for summary judgment. The Halls contended on appeal that the hearing justice erred in granting RIPTA’s motion for summary judgment because issues of material fact remained in the case.
The Supreme Court held that RIPTA owed a duty of care to the Halls. It further held that there were issues of fact present in the case that required determination by a fact-finder. Accordingly, the Supreme Court vacated the hearing justice’s grant of RIPTA’s motion for summary judgment.
|State v. John Benoit, No. 14-354 (June 1, 2016)||14-354|
This case is before the Court on appeal by the defendant, John Benoit, from judgment after a jury convicted him on one count of entering an apartment with the intent to commit larceny. The defendant received a four-year sentence, with eighteen months to serve and thirty months suspended, with thirty months of probation. On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial justice erred by: (1) denying his motion for judgment of acquittal, based on his assertion that the state failed to produce sufficient evidence of his intent to commit larceny at the time he entered the apartment; and (2) denying his motion for mistrial and for a cautionary instruction.
The Supreme Court held that the trial justice did not err in denying both motions. First, the Court held that viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the state, while giving full credibility to its witnesses, and drawing all reasonable inferences consistent with guilt, there was sufficient evidence to establish that the defendant entered the apartment with the requisite intent to commit larceny. Second, the Court held that a responding officer’s testimony that he was responding to a “possible burglary in progress” was not so prejudicial that it required granting the defendant’s motion for a mistrial or his request for a cautionary instruction. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of conviction.
|State v. Ricardo Florez, No. 14-280 (May 27, 2016)||14-280|
The defendant, Ricardo Florez, appealed from a judgment of conviction after having been found guilty by a jury of one count of second-degree child molestation sexual assault (sexual contact with a person fourteen years of age or under) in violation of G.L. 1956 §§ 11-37-8.3 and 11-37-8.4. The defendant asserted a variety of issues on appeal. First, he contended that the trial justice erred in denying his motion for a new trial. Next, he asserted that the trial justice’s jury charge and verdict sheet were flawed in that they permitted the jury to return a non-unanimous guilty verdict. Third, the defendant argued that the trial justice erred by allowing the state to improperly refresh the complainant’s recollection. Finally, he contended that the trial justice committed reversible error by declining to admit parts of the witness statement of the complainant’s father into evidence.
The Supreme Court held that the trial justice did not have jurisdiction to consider the motion for a new trial because it was filed beyond the ten-day deadline following the jury verdict. The Court also held that the defendant waived any claim regarding the jury instructions and verdict form by failing to object in the Superior Court. Next, the Supreme Court concluded that the state did not attempt to refresh the complainant’s recollection as the defendant suggested; instead, the Court held that the record showed that the trial justice properly allowed the state to impeach the complainant using a prior inconsistent statement. Finally, the Supreme Court concluded that the record showed that the defendant abandoned his attempt at introducing parts of the witness statement of the complainant’s father into evidence; thus, the trial justice did not improperly exclude the use of that statement.
Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Superior Court’s judgment of conviction.