|Stephen L. Key et al. v. Brown University et al., Nos. 15-4, 15-110 (June 27, 2017)||15-4, 110|
The plaintiffs, Stephen L. Key, as Trustee of the Stephen L. Key Trust – 2008, and individually, and Melanie D. Mitchell, appealed from a judgment entered in Superior Court in favor of the defendants, Brown University and the City of Providence. The first count of the plaintiffs’ second-amended complaint sought a declaration pursuant to the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act (G.L. 1956 chapter 30 of title 9) that Brown University’s construction of an artificial turf field hockey field with attendant bleachers, press box, electronic scoreboard, and public-address system was an unlawful use under the Providence zoning ordinances. Ruling that the plaintiffs lacked standing to seek such a declaration, a Superior Court justice granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment as to count 1 and entered judgment pursuant to Rule 54(b) of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure.
After reviewing the record, the Supreme Court concluded that the hearing justice erred in finding that the plaintiffs had no standing with respect to count 1 of the second-amended complaint because the plaintiffs did indeed allege an injury in fact related to their home—allegations which referenced measurable economic injuries that they had suffered as a result of Brown University’s project. The Supreme Court, therefore, vacated the order of the Superior Court and remanded the matter for further proceedings.
|State v. Boghos Terzian, No. 09-46 (June 23, 2017)||09-46|
The defendant, Boghos Terzian (the defendant), appeals from judgments of conviction entered in the Superior Court following a jury trial. The defendant was convicted on three counts of felony assault with a dangerous weapon and one count of carrying a pistol without a license. Before the Supreme Court, the defendant contended that the Superior Court justice erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence seized by police during a warrantless entry and search of his home.
The state asserted that consent and exigent circumstances justified the officers’ warrantless entry and search of the defendant’s home. The Supreme Court rejected the state’s argument and held that the warrantless search was in violation of the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights. Additionally, the Supreme Court held that the admission of the firearm did not amount to harmless error. Accordingly, the Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the Superior Court and remanded the case for a new trial.
|Charles E. Fogarty v. Ralph Palumbo et al.; James Ottenbacher v. Ralph Palumbo et al., Nos. 15-271, 15-291; Nos. 15-273, 15-292 (June 23, 2017)||15-271, 291; 15-273, 292|
This case arose from the August 15, 2005, sale of an approximately 360-acre tract of undeveloped land located on Dye Hill Road in Hopkinton (the property). The plaintiffs, Charles E. Fogarty and James Ottenbacher, averred that the sale of the property to an entity of which the defendants, Ralph Palumbo and Jonathan Savage, were principals, without their consent, was fraudulent; they each consequently filed an eight-count complaint in Superior Court. The plaintiffs also named Pilgrim Title Insurance Company (Pilgrim), which was the title insurance and escrow agent in connection with the sale of the property, as a defendant in this case. Following discovery, all three named defendants, Palumbo, Savage, and Pilgrim, filed a total of five motions for summary judgment, all of which were granted by a justice of the Superior Court. The Supreme Court affirmed summary judgment as to Pilgrim on the plaintiffs’ negligence counts against it, as it held such claims were barred by the applicable statute of limitations and that the plaintiffs failed to meet the requirements of the discovery-rule exception. The Supreme Court vacated the hearing justice’s decision to grant summary judgment on all counts against Palumbo and Savage based on the plaintiffs’ purported failure to present evidence of lost profits, as it deemed that the evidence presented by the plaintiffs was sufficient to raise a genuine issue of material fact. However, the Supreme Court affirmed summary judgment on counts 6 (fraud), as it deemed such counts to be derivative. Moreover, the Supreme Court affirmed summary judgment on counts 4 (tortious interference with contractual relations), counts 5 (tortious interference with prospective contractual relationship) and counts 8 (civil conspiracy) as to both Palumbo and Savage, and on counts 3 (breach of contract) against Savage. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court in part, vacated the judgment in part, and remanded the record to the Superior Court for further proceedings with respect to the plaintiffs’ two remaining counts against Palumbo.
|Matthieu W. Yangambi v. Providence School Board et al., Nos. 14-281, 282 (June 23, 2017)||14-281, 282|
The parties in this case are before the Supreme Court on cross-appeals from a Superior Court judgment following a jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff, Matthieu W. Yangambi (plaintiff), on a single claim of employment discrimination based on national origin. The defendants, the Providence School Board and the City of Providence (defendants), have challenged the Superior Court justice’s jury instructions on several grounds, and argue that the Superior Court justice: (1) applied an incorrect law concerning evidentiary presumptions in an employment discrimination case; (2) improperly weighed the evidence; and (3) invaded the province of the jury. The defendants also contend that the Superior Court justice erred when she vacated the jury’s finding that the plaintiff failed to mitigate his damages.
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment in full. The Court declared that, although defendants did not articulate a nondiscriminatory reason for their adverse employment decision, they presented some evidence sufficient to overcome judgment as a matter of law. In regard to the jury instructions, the Court held that Superior Court justice did not err in applying the law of evidentiary presumptions or invade the province of the jury, because the defendants did not satisfy their burden of production. Finally, the Court was of the opinion that the trial justice did not erroneously vacate the jury’s finding on mitigation of damages, as the plaintiff applied for many administrative positions within Providence and was not required to seek employment outside of that municipality.
|Roadepot, LLC et al. v. Home Depot, U.S.A., Inc., Nos. 15-347, 15-348, 15-349 (June 23, 2017)||15-347, 348, 349|
The construction of a sewer line by the Town of Coventry has generated litigation almost as prodigiously as it has carried effluent to the West Warwick sewer treatment plant. In the consolidated appeals before the Supreme Court: (1) Roadepot, LLC and Keyserton, LLC (collectively, Roadepot) appealed from a partial summary judgment in favor of Home Depot U.S.A, Inc. (Home Depot) obligating Roadepot to pay certain disputed sewer assessment charges; (2) Roadepot appealed from a judgment, following a bench trial on Home Depot’s counterclaim, requiring Roadepot to reimburse Home Depot for sewer assessment charges paid by the latter from 2005 through 2014; and (3) Home Depot cross-appealed from the trial justice’s decision limiting its request for prejudgment interest and denying its claim for late fees on the sewer assessment charges. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the Superior Court to the extent it required Roadepot to pay Home Depot a sum equal to the Fast Track Assessment payments made by Home Depot before September 17, 2009. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment in all other respects and remanded the case to the Superior Court to conduct further proceedings.
|In re Adrina T., SU-15-91 (June 22, 2017)||15-91|
The respondent mother, Briana Hebert, appealed from a decree of the Family Court finding that she abused and neglected her daughter, Adrina T. On appeal, Ms. Hebert contended that the Family Court justice erred in making her findings because she allegedly: (1) overlooked and misconceived the evidence; (2) erroneously relied on two opinions of this Court; and (3) ignored evidence contradicting her findings because she did not find Ms. Hebert credible.
The Supreme Court held that the Family Court justice erred because her findings of fact were not supported by sufficient legally competent evidence in the record. Accordingly, the Court vacated the decree of the Family Court as it pertains to Briana Hebert.
|State v. Jesus Danilo Fuentes, No. 14-342 (June 21, 2017)||14-342|
The defendant, Jesus Danilo Fuentes, appealed from a judgment of conviction after a jury found him guilty of the following two counts: Count One, the first-degree murder of Henry Vargas, in violation of G.L. 1956 § 11-23-1; and Count Two, the discharge of a firearm while committing a crime of violence, resulting in the death of Henry Vargas, in violation of G.L. 1956 § 11-47-3.2(b)(3). On appeal to this Court, the defendant primarily contends that “the trial justice erred when he refused to give an eyewitness identification jury instruction approved by this Court in State v. Werner, 851 A.2d 1093, 1102 (R.I. 2004)” (the Werner instruction).
The Supreme Court held that the trial justice did not err in denying the defendant’s request for an eyewitness identification instruction based verbatim on the Werner instruction. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Superior Court’s judgment of conviction.
|State v. Quandell Husband, No. 15-160 (June 21, 2017)||15-160|
On July 30, 2012, three persons were brutally murdered in the Arbor Glen housing complex in Providence during an attempted robbery that took a tragic turn. Then-sixteen-year-old Quandell Husband (defendant) was indicted, tried, and convicted of three counts of first-degree murder, three counts of discharging a firearm while committing a crime of violence, and one count of conspiracy to commit robbery. The defendant appealed his conviction and sentence to the Supreme Court, which concluded that that the trial justice erred by not excluding certain evidence of an unrelated shooting under an analysis pursuant to Rule 403 of the Rhode Island Rules of Evidence. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of conviction and remanded the case for a new trial.
|Michael J. Beagan v. Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training, Board of Review et al., No. 14-187 (June 19, 2017)||14-187|
The claimant, Michael J. Beagan, filed a petition for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court seeking review of a decision of the District Court affirming the denial of his unemployment benefits. Following his termination from employment with the defendant, Albert Kemperle, Inc., the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training (DLT) denied Beagan’s application for unemployment benefits on the basis that it had found he had been discharged for “disqualifying reasons” pursuant to the Rhode Island Employment Security Act. After exhausting his administrative remedies, Beagan sought review in District Court where DLT’s decision was affirmed. The Supreme Court issued a writ of certiorari and held that legally competent evidence did not exist in the record to support the District Court’s decision affirming the Board of Review’s finding that Beagan was discharged for “disqualifying reasons” in the manner contemplated by the Rhode Island Employment Security Act. Accordingly, the Supreme Court quashed the judgment of the District Court, and directed entry of judgment in Beagan’s favor.
|State v. James Adams, No. 16-116 (June 19, 2017)||16-116|
The defendant, James Adams, appealed from a judgment of conviction of one count of first-degree robbery, two counts of felony assault, one count of second-degree murder, and one count of committing a crime of violence while possessing a firearm. Following the jury’s guilty verdict, the defendant filed a motion for a new trial, which was heard and denied by a justice of the Superior Court. On appeal, the defendant maintained that he was entitled to a new trial because the weight of the evidence was insufficient to convict him and that the trial justice erred in deciding otherwise. The defendant also appealed the admission of certain evidence relating to cell phone data and analysis that was introduced at trial, which he claimed should have been excluded by the trial justice. The Supreme Court, after reviewing the extensive trial record, including exhibits and transcripts, held that the trial justice had articulated adequate grounds for denying the new-trial motion and had not overlooked or misconceived material evidence nor was he otherwise clearly wrong. The Supreme Court further held that the trial justice had not abused his discretion in admitting the evidence relating to cell phone data and analysis. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the defendant’s conviction on all counts of which he had been found guilty.
|Adam Correia v. John Bettencourt et al. v. James Martitz et al., No. 16-273 (June 19, 2017)||16-273|
The plaintiff, Adam Correia, was seriously injured when a friend’s High Standard Model 1911 .45-caliber handgun accidentally discharged, causing a bullet to strike Correia in the abdomen. At the time of the accident, the friends were target shooting on property owned by the defendants, John Bettencourt and Theresa Bettencourt (the Bettencourts). Correia appealed from a final judgment pursuant to Rule 54(b) of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure granting the Bettencourts’ motion for summary judgment. This case came before the Supreme Court sitting at Woonsocket High School, pursuant to an order directing the parties to appear and show cause why the issues raised in this appeal should not be summarily decided. After considering the parties’ written and oral submissions and reviewing the record, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court and concluded that the factual circumstances before the Court did not give rise to the imposition of a duty on the defendant.
|State v. Francisco Pacheco, No. 14-229 (June 16, 2017)||14-229|
The defendant, Francisco Pacheco (Pacheco or defendant), appealed from a judgment of conviction in the Superior Court; the basis of this appeal was that the doctrine of collateral estoppel should have barred the state from prosecuting a chemical breath test refusal under G.L. 1956 § 31-27-2.1. Specifically, the defendant contended that the ultimate issues of fact relevant to the chemical refusal were already decided in the Traffic Tribunal in connection with a preliminary refusal infraction.
The Supreme Court held that the doctrine of collateral estoppel did not apply under the circumstances because the two refusals did not involve identical issues. The Court also determined that the preliminary refusal was not “actually litigated” in the Traffic Tribunal because it was dismissed for a lack of evidentiary foundation. Furthermore, the Supreme Court acknowledged the differences between a civil infraction in the Traffic Tribunal and a criminal charge in Superior Court, but the Court did not base its decision upon these differences.
|Amberleigh Hudson v. GEICO Insurance Agency, Inc., d/b/a GEICO General Insurance Company., No. 16-15 (June 16, 2017) ||16-15|
The plaintiff, Amberleigh Hudson (plaintiff), is before the Supreme Court on appeal from a Superior Court judgment in a jury-waived trial in favor of the defendant, GEICO Insurance Agency, Inc., d/b/a GEICO General Insurance Company (defendant or GEICO), in this underinsured motorist (UM) insurance case. The plaintiff, a Good Samaritan, was injured while rendering assistance to victims at the scene of an accident, and she brought this action to recover UM benefits under the policy insuring the motor vehicle in which she had been a passenger moments before her injury. The trial justice concluded that the plaintiff was not “occupying” the insured vehicle at the time of her injuries and, therefore, could not recover under the terms of that policy.
The Supreme Court addressed the particular interplay between G.L. 1956 § 11-56-1 and the term “occupying,” as defined in an insurance contract. The Supreme Court concluded that, based on the factors set forth by the Court in General Accident Insurance Co. of America v. Olivier, 574 A.2d 1240 (R.I. 1990), the plaintiff was “occupying” the insured motor vehicle for purposes of UM coverage. Accordingly, the Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the Superior Court and remanded the case to the Superior Court with directions to enter judgment for the plaintiff.
|Joseph Aubin v. MAG Realty, LLC., No. 16-42 (June 15, 2017)||16-42|
In this slip-and-fall case, the Supreme Court was called upon to determine whether the trial justice misstepped when she granted the defendant’s motion for judgment as a matter of law. The plaintiff, Joseph Aubin, alleged that he slipped on a patch of “black ice” in the paved parking area adjacent to his apartment building, which was owned by the defendant, MAG Realty, LLC. The plaintiff claimed that his fall resulted in a torn rotator cuff that required surgery and caused the plaintiff to be unable to work for a period of several months. The plaintiff argues on appeal that the trial justice erred because issues of fact remained in dispute and that, when reviewing the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, it was possible for the plaintiff to prevail in his negligence action.
Because the Supreme Court does not weigh evidence when analyzing a Rule 50 motion, the Court held that there was enough evidence to send the case to the jury. Consequently, the Supreme Court held that the trial justice’s grant of judgment as a matter of law was made in error. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the Superior Court.
|State v. Ernest Sabourin, No. 15-335, (June 9, 2017)||15-335|
The defendant, Ernest Sabourin, appealed from a judgment of conviction after a jury found him guilty on two counts of first-degree sexual assault. The defendant had been accused by a woman, both of whom believed was his daughter, of sexually assaulting her at a time when she was too intoxicated to resist. The trial justice sentenced the defendant to twenty-five years on the first count and twenty-five years on the second count, to run concurrently with the first count. On appeal, the defendant argued that his oral statements to the police should have been suppressed because he was in custody while in his home and was subject to interrogation by the police without the benefit of Miranda warnings. He further contended that his post-Miranda statements were inadmissible because the police employed the “question first” interrogation technique, a practice found unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in Missouri v. Seibert, 542 U.S. 600 (2004).
With respect to the statements the defendant made in his apartment, the Supreme Court held that the defendant was not interrogated by the detectives and that, therefore, his statements were voluntary. The Court reasoned that the detective’s questions were merely instinctive reactions to the defendant’s unprompted statements. As a result, the Supreme Court did not find it necessary to determine the custody analysis.
Furthermore, the Court held that the Central Falls detectives did not engage in the “question first” interrogation technique. The Court reasoned that, because it held that the interrogation requirement was missing, Miranda warnings were not required before they were given at the police station, when the defendant was in custody and interviewed by the lead detective.
Lastly, the Supreme Court held that the defendant’s waiver of his Miranda rights at the police station was voluntary, knowing, and intelligent. The Court agreed with the hearing justice’s finding that there was no evidence of any interaction between the defendant and the detectives that would evidence that he was in any way coerced or that he did not understand his rights or the consequences of abandoning them. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court.
|State v. Tavell D. Yon, No. 14-294 (June 9, 2017)||14-294|
The defendant, Tavell D. Yon, appealed from a May 2, 2014 judgment of conviction in Providence County Superior Court for constructive possession of a firearm after a conviction for a crime of violence, in violation of G.L. 1956 § 11-47-5. On appeal, he contended that the trial justice erred in: (1) failing to suppress the defendant’s statement with respect to the gun at issue in the case; (2) failing to “submit to the [j]ury the issue of the voluntariness of [the] defendant’s alleged statement” with respect to the gun at issue; and (3) denying the defendant’s motion for judgment of acquittal and motion for a new trial.
The Supreme Court held that the trial justice did not err in denying the defendant’s motion to suppress the statement at issue because the defendant was advised of his Miranda rights and made a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver of those rights. Further, the Supreme Court held that the defendant had waived his contention that the trial justice should have submitted the issue of voluntariness to the jury. Finally, the Supreme Court was unable to perceive any error in the trial justice’s denial of defendant’s motion for a new trial.
Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court.
|State v. Kevin Corleto, No. 15-267 (June 8, 2017)||15-267|
The defendant, Kevin Corleto, appealed from an order of the Superior Court denying his motion to dismiss on double jeopardy grounds a criminal information charging him with breaking and entering a dwelling, in violation of G.L. 1956 § 11-8-2. Specifically, his motion was predicated on alleged prosecutorial goading that resulted in the declaration of a mistrial.
The Supreme Court held that the trial justice did not err in determining that the prosecutor did not intentionally goad the defendant into moving for a mistrial. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Superior Court.
|Darren Gomes v. State of Rhode Island, No. 15-306 (June 8, 2017)||15-306|
The applicant, Darren Gomes, appealed from the Superior Court’s denial of his application for postconviction relief. Gomes argued that he had been denied the effective assistance of counsel at the violation hearing and that he did not knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily admit a violation of probation. When reviewing Gomes’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, the Supreme Court focused on the prejudice prong of the Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), test and held that the postconviction-relief hearing justice appropriately determined that Gomes was unable to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that a competent attorney would have been successful at the violation hearing and that, had Gomes been competently represented, the probation violation hearing justice would not have found him to be a violator. The Supreme Court agreed that there was ample evidence in the record for the hearing justice to find Gomes to be in violation of the terms and conditions of his probation.
Furthermore, the Supreme Court held that the record clearly demonstrated that Gomes’s rights concerning the hearing and the effect of his waiver were adequately explained to him and that his admission was made knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily. The Supreme Court’s review of the record revealed that the postconviction-relief hearing justice found that, at the violation hearing, the Superior Court engaged in an appropriate colloquy with Gomes before the violation hearing justice determined that he had violated his probation. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court.
|Tri-Town Construction Company, Inc. v. Commerce Park Associates 12, LLC et al., No. 16-47 (June 7, 2017)||16-47|
The defendant, Nicholas E. Cambio (the Judgment Debtor), appealed from an order of the Superior Court, which ordered that the plaintiff, Tri-Town Construction Company, Inc. (the Judgment Creditor), “shall be the effective assignee and step in the shoes of the Judgment Debtor and litigate any and all claims of the Judgment Debtor arising out of the Choses in Action.”
The Supreme Court held that the issue raised on appeal had been waived. Accordingly, solely on the ground of said reason, the Court affirmed the order of the Superior Court.
|Dorrance H. Hamilton et al. v. Carol C. Ballard et al., No. 14-323 (June 6, 2017)||14-323|
This case arises from a briar patch of litigation between feuding neighbors who are unable to agree about many things, including, particular to this case, the details of an easement that resulted from a court-mandated land partition. The underlying legal battle began in August 2000. By May 2005, Carol and A. L. Ballard had filed an answer to SVF Foundation’s fifth amended complaint. Within that pleading, the Ballards counterclaimed, alleging that, among other things, SVF Foundation was interfering with the Ballards’ easement that ran across SVF’s property. SVF moved for summary judgment on that count, and the Superior Court granted SVF’s motion. The Ballards timely appealed to this Court, challenging the Superior Court’s decision granting summary judgment to SVF.
In addition to countering the Ballards’ arguments on appeal, SVF argued to this Court that the matter had been rendered moot during the pendency of this appeal because an express limitation contained within the easement language caused the easement to be extinguished by its own terms.
|State v. Helberth Perez, No. 14-358 (June 6, 2017)||14-358|
The defendant, Helberth Perez, was indicted and convicted by a jury of six counts of first-degree sexual assault and three counts of second-degree sexual assault, relating to conduct involving his biological daughter. He appealed from the Superior Court judgment of conviction, arguing that certain testimony should have been precluded at trial and that the trial justice erred in denying his motion for judgment of acquittal on count 5 (second-degree sexual assault) of the indictment. On review, the Supreme Court vacated count 5 of the judgment of conviction and affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court in all other respects.
|State v. Keith J. Pittman, No. 15-370 (May 31, 2017)||15-370|
A robbery on the streets of Providence led to a thief’s short-term possession of the stolen goods but long-term period of incarceration. The defendant, Keith J. Pittman, appealed from his conviction by a jury of second-degree robbery, for which he was given a twenty-year sentence with sixteen years to serve at the Adult Correctional Institutions and four years suspended with probation.
After reviewing the record, the Supreme Court, sitting at Woonsocket High School, concluded that the trial justice did not overlook or misconceive any material evidence proffered by the state, nor did he commit clear error in denying the defendant’s motion for a new trial. The Supreme Court, therefore, affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court and returned the record thereto.
|Mark Quillen v. Mary Macera, SU-16-76 (May 30, 2017)||16-76|
Mark Quillen (plaintiff), appealed from a Superior Court judgment in favor of Mary Macera (defendant), the beneficiary of an Amica Insurance Company annuity policy created by Domenic Zubiago (Mr. Zubiago), the plaintiff’s great-uncle and the defendant’s brother. The plaintiff argued that the trial justice misconstrued his theory of the case and applied the wrong law to the evidence, overlooked and misconceived material evidence, erroneously failed to take judicial notice of the findings made by another Superior Court justice, and erroneously refused to shift the burden of proof. The Supreme Court discerned no error and affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court.
|Plainfield Pike Development, LLC. v. Victor Anthony Properties, Inc., SU-16-103 (May 30, 2017)||16-103|
The defendant, Victor Anthony Properties, Inc., appealed from the entry of final judgment in favor of the plaintiff, Plainfield Pike Development, LLC. The plaintiff filed a declaratory-judgment action seeking adjudication regarding its use of a roadway over the defendant’s abutting property. The matter was tried before the Superior Court, and the trial justice found that the plaintiff had an easement or right-of-way over this roadway and that the plaintiff’s use of the right-of-way was not limited to a specific use. On appeal, the defendant did not dispute the finding that the plaintiff has a right-of-way over its roadway; instead, the defendant asserted that the proposed use of said right-of-way by the plaintiff was “an unreasonable extension of the use intended by the parties when the easement was originally created in 1922.”
The Supreme Court disagreed and affirmed the decision of the Superior Court. The Supreme Court opined that the trial justice was not clearly wrong when she concluded that there was no restriction on the use of the right-of-way where the language of the deed conveying the right-of-way specifically noted that the right-of-way may be used “with teams and otherwise,” several deeds in the chain of title to both pertinent lots contained identical or similar language, and that no limiting language was included in any deed in the chains of title. The Supreme Court also held that the trial justice did not abuse her discretion in rejecting the defendant’s judicial estopple claim, as the defendant had failed to present any evidence to warrant its application. Consequently, the Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Superior Court.
|Albert J. Branch Revocable Trust Dated March 4, 1993, Albert J. Branch, Trustee v. Interstate Battery Center et al., No. 15-311 (May 26, 2017)||15-311|
This breach-of-contract case derived from a dispute over an alleged commercial lease agreement between the plaintiffs, owners of property located at 492 Reservoir Avenue in Cranston, Rhode Island, and the defendants, Interstate Battery Center et al., who the plaintiffs asserted had breached the terms of the lease. The plaintiffs appealed from the Superior Court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants.
The Supreme Court declared summary judgment inappropriate because the motion justice, in granting summary judgment based on what he described as “so many deficiencies in this lease,” passed over genuine issues of material fact. Specifically, the Court noted the existence of genuine issues of material fact with respect to: (1) which entity, if any, was bound under the lease; and (2) whether someone with authority sufficient to bind the tenant signed the lease. As such, deeming this case not ripe for summary judgment, the Court vacated the Superior Court’s judgment.
|State v. Hakim Funches, SU-15-32 (May 26, 2017)||15-32|
The defendant, Hakim Funches (defendant), appeals from a judgment of conviction entered in the Superior Court following a jury trial. The defendant was convicted of one count of domestic assault by strangulation and one count of simple assault. Before the Supreme Court, the defendant contended that the trial justice erred in denying his motion to pass the case and his motion for judgment of acquittal.
The Supreme Court held that the trial justice did not err in denying the motion to pass the case because, although the prosecutor posed an improper question to the defendant, it was not so inflammatory that it could not be cured by the cautionary instruction given to the jury. Likewise, the trial justice did not err in denying the motion for judgment of acquittal on the basis that the defendant was twice placed in jeopardy for the same act. The defendant was convicted of only one of the two counts and, therefore, did not face multiple punishments for a single offense.
|Joanne C. Miller v. Wells Fargo Bank et al., No. 16-71 (May 25, 2017)||16-71|
The plaintiff, Joanne C. Miller (plaintiff), appeals from a Superior Court judgment in favor of the defendant, Wells Fargo Bank (defendant). Before this Court, the plaintiff argues that: (1) the defendant breached federal guidelines regarding loan modification review and improperly foreclosed on her home while her loan modification request was pending; (2) the defendant breached the covenant of good faith and fair dealing; and (3) her reliance on the federal regulations, as well as the defendant’s failure to adhere in good faith to those regulations, should have estopped the defendant from foreclosing on the property.
The Supreme Court held that the plaintiff’s first argument, that the defendant breached federal guidelines regarding loan modification review and improperly foreclosed on her home, was waived. Next, the Supreme Court deferred to the Superior Court justice’s conclusion that, because there was no contractual obligation on behalf of the lender to modify the loan, the alleged breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing claim must fail. Lastly, the Supreme Court held that the Superior Court justice did not err in rejecting the plaintiff’s promissory estoppel claim. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court.
|Deutsche Bank National Trust Company, as Trustee for Registered Holders of Ameriquest Mortgage Securities, Inc. Asset-Backed Pass-Through Certificates 2004-R11 v. John A. McDonough, Jr., No. 16-37 (May 24, 2017)||16-37|
The defendant, John A. McDonough, Jr., appealed the Superior Court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff, Deutsche Bank National Trust Company, as Trustee for Registered Holders of Ameriquest Mortgage Securities, Inc. Asset-Backed Pass-Through Certificates 2004-R11. At the center of this case was the defendant’s ownership interest in property located on Arnold Street in Lincoln, Rhode Island and, precisely, a dispute related to the note and mortgage associated with it.
The Supreme Court gleaned two issues properly before it: whether the Arnold Street note was endorsed in blank and whether the Arnold Street mortgage was validly assigned to the plaintiff. On both of these issues, the Court deemed summary judgment appropriate because the defendant failed to satisfy his burden of putting forth competent evidence that demonstrated a genuine dispute of material fact with respect to each. Therefore, the Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court.
|Pocahontas Cooley v. Paul Kelly, No. 14-337 (May 24, 2017)||14-337|
In this premises liability case, in which the plaintiff alleged that she was injured after falling through a defective stair, the plaintiff, Pocahontas Cooley, appealed from a decision of the Superior Court granting summary judgment to the defendant, Paul Kelly. The plaintiff argued that the hearing justice erred when he concluded that there was no evidence that the defendant had any notice of a defective condition and that there was no basis for the application of the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur.
The Supreme Court held that there was no competent evidence in the record to demonstrate that any defect in the step existed for sufficient time to justify charging the defendant with notice. The Supreme Court also held that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur could not properly be applied to the facts of the case because no evidence was submitted to substantiate the plaintiff’s claims. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court.
|Yara Chum v. State of Rhode Island., No. 15-43 (May 23, 2017)||15-43|
The applicant, Yara Chum, appealed the denial of his application for postconviction relief. On appeal, he asserted that the trial justice erred in denying his application because Chum had ineffective assistance of counsel. Specifically, Chum referenced his trial attorney’s failure to act when the prosecutor discussed Chum’s statement to the police during the state’s opening statement and then did not introduce the statement into evidence. Chum asserted that his attorney’s failure to request a curative instruction, seek a mistrial, or act at all following the prosecutor’s comment, prejudiced him.
The Court held that Chum was not prejudiced because there was sufficient evidence of his guilt, namely three eyewitness identifications. The Court also noted that, although the trial attorney failed to request a curative instruction, Chum was not prejudiced because the trial justice instructed the jury on numerous occasions that counsels’ arguments were not evidence and such instructions were adequate. Additionally, the attorney’s failure to request a mistrial was not prejudicial because the trial justice stated that he would not have granted such a motion. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court’s judgment.