|Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation v. Restivo Monacelli LLP, No. 16-140 (July 3, 2018)||16-140|
The defendant, Restivo Monacelli LLP (Restivo), appealed from a February 1, 2016 judgment in Providence County Superior Court in favor of the plaintiff, Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (Resource Recovery), in the amount of $5,733,648.18, inclusive of interest. That judgment was entered following a jury trial and a verdict in Resource Recovery’s favor. On appeal, Restivo contended that the trial justice erred in denying its motion for judgment as a matter of law for the following reasons: (1) Resource Recovery was required to present, but did not present, expert testimony with respect to proximate cause; and (2) Resource Recovery did not have standing to assert a claim for “investment losses.” Restivo further claimed that the “trial justice committed prejudicial error in his instructions to the jury.” Restivo posited, additionally, that the trial justice erred as a matter of law by holding that Resource Recovery was “‘immune’ from the in pari delicto defense and that the ‘adverse interest’ exception to the defense applied to [Resource Recovery].” Lastly, Restivo contended on appeal that the trial justice erred in denying Restivo’s motion to “set off settlement amounts that [Resource Recovery] received from other parties from the jury’s awarded damages.”
The Supreme Court held that Resource Recovery was required to present expert testimony on the issue of proximate cause with respect to both its professional malpractice and breach of contract claims, but it did not do so. Accordingly, the Court vacated the judgment of the Superior Court.
|State v. Michael Patino, 16-352 (June 29, 2018)||16-352|
The defendant appealed from a judgment of conviction for second-degree murder in violation of G.L. 1956 § 11-23-1. After a trial, a jury found the defendant guilty of murdering his girlfriend’s six-year-old son. On appeal, the defendant alleged three errors: (1) that the trial justice erred in her jury instructions on second-degree felony murder; (2) that the trial justice erred in her jury instructions on causation and the doctrine of intervening causation; and (3) that the trial justice erred in admitting testimony about prior bruising that had been observed on the victim’s body.
With respect to the defendant’s argument regarding the jury instructions on second-degree felony murder, the Supreme Court held that: (1) although the indictment charging the defendant with murder in violation of § 11-23-1 included neither a charge of second-degree felony murder nor a charge of the predicate felony for second-degree felony murder—in this case, felony child abuse in violation of G.L. 1956 § 11-9-5.3—the defendant was not deprived his due process rights to fair notice of the charges asserted against him and to present a meaningful defense; (2) the defendant failed to preserve his argument that the predicate felony, felony child abuse, should have merged with the homicide and that, even had he preserved that argument, Rhode Island has not adopted the California merger doctrine and, based on the arguments in this case, the Court declined to do so here; and (3) the trial justice did not err by referring to the injury required to establish felony child abuse pursuant to § 11-9-5.3 as one that was “however slight.”
|State v. Willie Washington, No. 16-151 (June 29, 2018)||16-151|
The defendant, Willie Washington, was found guilty by a jury of four offenses in connection with a shooting that occurred in Providence on November 15, 2014, and he appealed his conviction. On appeal, the defendant challenged the admissibility at trial of two separate show-up identification procedures that resulted in witnesses identifying him as the shooter. In addition, he challenged the admission of an anonymous 911 call as evidence at trial. While this appeal was pending before the Supreme Court, counsel for the defendant learned that the state had a pretrial phone call with the 911 caller. Based on this information, the defendant filed a motion before the Supreme Court to remand the matter to the Superior Court seeking a new trial based on allegations that the state withheld information gleaned from that pretrial phone call, in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). The Supreme Court remanded the portion of the record necessary for the Superior Court to hear the Brady-related motion for a new trial. On remand, the trial justice held a hearing on the defendant’s Brady allegations. Prior to the issuance of the trial justice’s decision, the defendant filed a motion to recuse the justice based on the defendant’s contention that there was an appearance of impropriety. The trial justice ultimately denied the defendant’s Brady-related motion for a new trial and his recusal motion.
The defendant returned to the Supreme Court and contended that the trial justice, in addition to committing errors in admitting the show-up identifications and the 911 call into evidence at trial, erred by denying the defendant’s Brady-related motion for a new trial and recusal motion. The Supreme Court held that the trial justice was not clearly erroneous in finding that the show-up procedures were marred by some suggestiveness but were nonetheless were reliable and admissible based on the totality of the circumstances surrounding the procedures. In regard to the 911 call, at the time of the pretrial hearing, the trial justice admitted the then-anonymous 911 call under the excited-utterance exception to the hearsay rule after he listened to the recording itself and determined that the 911 caller saw the license plate. The Supreme Court held that the trial justice did not abuse his discretion based on the information before him at that time. After trial, it came to light that the no-longer-anonymous 911 caller did not personally observe the shooter’s license plate, rendering the 911 caller’s statement regarding the license plate number inadmissible hearsay because the caller was not a percipient witness, as the excited-utterance exception requires. However, the Supreme Court held that, because the defendant’s guilt was sufficiently established by proper evidence, the admission of the 911 call amounted to harmless error.
The Supreme Court next considered the defendant’s Brady-related motion for a new trial. The Supreme Court concluded that the trial justice did not commit clear error in finding that the state did not deliberately withhold any information obtained from the pretrial phone call that was of high value to the defendant and that the state did not fail to disclose information favorable to the defendant that was material to his guilt or punishment. Lastly, the Supreme Court held that the trial justice did not commit clear error in denying the defendant’s motion to recuse because the defendant failed to put forth any facts establishing a personal bias, prejudice due to a preconceived opinion, or any reason for a member of the public to question the trial justice’s impartiality. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of conviction.
|In re Madlyn B.;In re Luke B., Nos. 16-349; 16-354 (June 28, 2018)||16-349, 16-354|
A skeletal survey revealed that Luke, a four-month-old infant, had suffered fourteen fractures, for which there was no obvious explanation. Luke’s mother, Kimberly Warrington, appealed from a Family Court decree declaring that she neglected and abused her two children. On appeal, Kimberly’s primary challenge was to the trial justice’s declaration that sufficient evidence supported an inference that she abused and neglected Luke. The Supreme Court concluded, after a thorough review of the record, that legally competent evidence existed to support the trial justice’s findings. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the decree of the Family Court.
|State of Rhode Island, by and through Attorney General Peter Kilmartin v. Rhode Island Troopers Association, 17-330 (June 27, 2018)||17-330|
This case came before the Supreme Court on appeal by the defendant, the Rhode Island Troopers Association, from a judgment granting declaratory and equitable relief in favor of the plaintiff, the State of Rhode Island. The Superior Court declared that the Governmental Tort Liability Act, G.L. 1956 chapter 31 of title 9, vests the Attorney General with the nondelegable, nontransferable legal duty to determine whether the state should provide a defense and indemnification in a civil action brought against a state employee. The Superior Court also permanently enjoined arbitration of issues related to the Attorney General’s decision to decline to provide a defense and indemnification for Rhode Island State Trooper James Donnelly-Taylor in a pending federal civil rights action brought against him in his individual capacity. After narrowing the issues on appeal, the Supreme Court upheld the trial justice’s decision to permanently enjoin the arbitration proceedings, because the issues raised in this case are not arbitrable within the collective bargaining process. The Supreme Court also held that the Governmental Tort Liability Act vests the Attorney General with the authority to determine whether a state employee is acting within the scope of his or her employment and is therefore entitled to representation. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed six of the eight declarations and vacated the two remaining declarations in the judgment of the Superior Court.
|State v. Bruce Moten, No. 17-158 (June 26, 2018)||17-158|
The defendant, Bruce Moten, was before the Supreme Court on appeal from a Superior Court judgment of conviction on eight counts and the denial of his motion for a new trial in connection with the murder of Terry Robinson. The defendant received consecutive life sentences of life imprisonment for murder and for discharging a firearm while committing a crime of violence, death resulting; consecutive sentences of twenty years to serve for felony assault and for discharging a firearm while committing a crime of violence; and consecutive sentences of ten years to serve for felony assault, discharging a firearm while committing a crime of violence, and conspiracy. The defendant also received a suspended sentence of ten years, with probation, for carrying a pistol without a license. On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial justice erred by allowing Detective Theodore Michael to offer a lay opinion regarding the location of a particular cell phone at a particular time and also by denying the defendant’s motion for a new trial.
The Supreme Court considered the arguments of both the defendant and the state, and concluded that the defendant’s argument with respect to Det. Michael’s testimony was waived on appeal because the defendant did not preserve that issue by specific objection at trial. The Supreme Court also concluded that the trial justice properly denied the defendant’s motion for a new trial. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of conviction and the Superior Court’s denial of the defendant’s motion for a new trial.
|James H. Arnold et al. v. Thomas L. Arnold, Jr., individually and in his capacity as Trustee of the Thomas L. Arnold Jr. Trust, et al., Nos. 16-12, 16-145 (June 22, 2018)||16-12, 16-145|
The plaintiffs’ predecessors in title acquired by deed an easement over the defendants’ property to access the adjacent body of water. A disagreement later arose as to the plaintiffs’ and the defendants’ respective property rights, and litigation ensued. Eventually, after lengthy and painstaking negotiations, a settlement was reached that resulted in easements in favor of the plaintiffs. A justice of the Superior Court entered a consent order embodying the terms of their agreement.
However, yet another lawsuit was spawned after the defendants fenced the fifteen-foot-wide confines of the “Launching and Retrieval Easement,” which the plaintiffs claimed stymied their ability to tow boats to and from their dock and thereby frustrated the purpose of the consent order and the easement. According to the plaintiffs, due to the existence of the defendants’ fence, they could no longer (1) navigate the “elbow” of the right-of-way or (2) execute a three-point turn at the water’s edge. Thus the plaintiffs initiated litigation anew to reinstate what they considered to be the intended purpose of the consent order: to “pass and re-pass by vehicles * * * for the purpose of hauling, launching, or retrieving boats * * *.” The plaintiffs also sought favorable declarations as to the meaning of other terms in the consent order. A nonjury trial was held in the Superior Court, and the trial justice denied the plaintiffs’ claims in whole, actually finding the plaintiffs themselves to be in breach of the consent order.
The Supreme Court held that the plaintiffs were bound by the fifteen-foot-width term contained in the consent order because the language of the consent order, including the easement-width term, was clear and unambiguous. In rejecting the plaintiffs’ argument that the purpose of the consent order was for the plaintiffs to be able to launch and retrieve boats by vehicle and that that purpose trumped the conflicting width provision, the Court concluded that the parties’ overarching intent in entering into the consent order was actually to resolve all property-rights disputes and settle the previous lawsuit. The Court determined that the Launching and Retrieval Easement was but one part of the whole agreement, and it could not be isolated therefrom.
The Court further determined that there was no latent ambiguity in the consent order, giving deference to the trial justice’s finding of fact that the plaintiffs knew when they negotiated and entered into the consent order that fifteen feet was insufficient to execute a three-point turn, but that they agreed to the term anyway based on the erroneous presumption that they would be allowed to go beyond the specific confines of the easement. The Court also concluded that the other terms disputed by the plaintiffs were clear and unambiguous and therefore had to be enforced as written. Finally, the Court perceived no abuse of discretion in the trial justice’s decision to deny the defendants an award of attorneys’ fees. In sum, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court in all respects.
|State v. Curtis Maxie, No. 17-92 (June 22, 2018)||17-92|
The defendant appealed from a judgment of conviction on three counts of first-degree sexual assault, one count of sex trafficking of a minor, and one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of a minor. The defendant’s appeal centered on whether the trial justice erred in denying his motion to dismiss the counts charging him with sex trafficking of a minor, in violation of G.L. 1956 § 11-67-6, and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of a minor. The Supreme Court concluded that those two counts should have been dismissed, holding that § 11-67-6 failed to state a crime. The defendant also raised two evidentiary issues, but the Court determined that one was without merit and the other had been waived. Accordingly, the Supreme Court vacated the judgment of conviction with respect to the count charging the defendant with committing sex trafficking of a minor and the count charging him with conspiring to do so, and it affirmed the judgment of conviction in all other respects.
|Tara J. Cancel, as Administratrix of the Estate of Ira Lukens v. City of Providence et al., No. 17-370 (June 22, 2018)||17-370|
On June 9, 2014, Ira Lukens was thrown from his bicycle as a result of a pothole on a road in Roger Williams Park. The plaintiff, Tara J. Cancel, as Administratrix of the Estate of Ira Lukens, brought an action against the City of Providence, and various other employees and officials of the city, alleging that Lukens, who passed away prior to the commencement of this action by causes unrelated to the accident at issue in this case, had suffered serious personal injuries as a result of the city’s negligence in maintaining the park. Cancel appealed from a Superior Court judgment granting the defendants’ motion for summary judgment. On appeal, Cancel asserted that there remained genuine issues of material fact regarding whether the city knew of the dangerous condition of a pothole on a street in the park and whether it willfully and/or maliciously failed to warn of the pothole, which would have stripped the city of the protection against liability afforded under G.L. 1956 chapter 6 of title 32, the Recreational Use Statute.
After viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the Supreme Court ruled that there were no genuine issues of material fact concerning the city’s knowledge of the dangerous condition or discovery of the user’s peril. The Court expressed that there was no evidence that the city had actual knowledge of the pothole, had received complaints regarding the condition of the roadway, or had notice of any past incidents resulting from the condition of the roadway. Therefore, the Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court.
|Angel Navarro v. State of Rhode Island, No. 16-143 (June 22, 2018)||16-143|
Angel Navarro appealed from a postconviction-relief judgment in favor of the State of Rhode Island. In his application for postconviction relief, Navarro challenged the trial justice’s acceptance of his nolo contendere plea on a second-degree murder charge. His plea was “capped” at sixty years, with forty years to serve and twenty years suspended with probation following his release and the maximum sentence was imposed. He argued that, during the plea proceedings, he suffered from ineffective assistance of counsel and judicial error. The postconviction-relief justice concluded that Navarro entered the plea agreement “with knowledge, consent, voluntarily, understanding what was happening, the nature of the plea, [and] the consequences of it” and that Navarro did not receive ineffective assistance of counsel. Therefore, she denied Navarro’s application for postconviction relief.
The Supreme Court agreed and determined that the postconviction-relief justice conducted a thorough and independent review of the record in support of her denial of Navarro’s postconviction-relief application. Therefore, the Supreme Court held that, in making her determination, the postconviction-relief justice did not overlook or misconceive material evidence, nor did she clearly err in her denial of Navarro’s postconviction-relief application. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court judgment denying Navarro’s application for postconviction relief.
|Moises Pineda v. Chase Bank USA, N.A., et al., No. 16-331 (June 21, 2018)||16-331|
The plaintiff, Moises Pineda, appeals from a Superior Court judgment granting the motion of the defendant, Chase Bank USA, N.A., for summary judgment with respect to all claims asserted by Pineda against Chase. It was undisputed that an attorney, Pasquale Scavitti III, who was involved in refinance proceedings for Pineda’s two properties, defalcated funds disbursed by Chase that were intended to satisfy earlier promissory notes secured by mortgages on the properties. Pineda named both Scavitti and Chase in his action alleging breach of fiduciary duty, civil liability for a crime, breach of contract, conversion, and unjust enrichment. In response, Chase moved for summary judgment and contended that it could not be held liable for Scavitti’s defalcation under a theory of respondeat superior. The hearing justice found that, although a genuine issue of material fact existed regarding whether Scavitti was acting as an agent of Chase when he absconded with the loan funds, summary judgment was nevertheless appropriate. Specifically, he determined that, even if Scavitti were Chase’s agent, there was no genuine issue of material fact as to whether Scavitti’s conduct was within the scope of the alleged agency relationship.
The Supreme Court concurred with the hearing justice that, even though a genuine issue of material fact existed with respect to whether Scavitti was an agent of Pineda or Chase, summary judgment was proper because Pineda failed to put forth any evidence showing that Scavitti’s malfeasance was within the scope of any purported agency relationship with Chase. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court granting summary judgment in favor of Chase.
|Lauren Daley Ainsworth v. John Ainsworth, No. 16-9 (June 21, 2018)||16-9|
The plaintiff, Lauren Daley Ainsworth, appealed from an order of the Family Court denying her motion to relocate with the parties’ four minor children from Rhode Island to Australia. On appeal, Lauren contended: (1) that the justice of the Family Court who passed upon her motion erred and abused his discretion in weighing the evidence; (2) that the hearing justice overlooked material evidence by failing to specifically reference the testimony of a school nurse; and (3) that, in determining whether relocation would serve the best interests of the children, the hearing justice failed to properly apply the criteria set forth in two prior opinions of the Rhode Island Supreme Court.
After thoroughly reviewing the testimony and evidence adduced at trial as well as the hearing justice’s analysis of the relevant factors, the Supreme Court held that the hearing justice did not overlook or misconceive material evidence in denying Lauren’s motion to relocate with the minor children to Australia, nor were his factual findings otherwise clearly erroneous.
Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Family Court denying the motion to relocate.
|Peter E. Ucci et al. v. Town of Coventry, No. 16-91 (June 21, 2018)||16-91|
The defendant, the Town of Coventry, appealed from the Superior Court’s February 4, 2016 declaratory judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, Peter E. Ucci and John S. Ucci, which followed the Superior Court’s grant of summary judgment in plaintiffs’ favor. The Superior Court concluded that the narrow strip of land at issue had not been dedicated for public use because, even if there had been an incipient dedication or offer to dedicate, there had been no acceptance thereof by the Town. On appeal, the Town contended that the hearing justice erred by granting summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs because, in its view: (1) the hearing justice inappropriately focused only on the acceptance of the disputed strip of land by the Town; and (2) plaintiffs had failed to join the abutting landowners as indispensable parties, requiring the dismissal of the case.
The Supreme Court held that the Superior Court did not err in awarding summary judgment and entering declaratory judgment in favor of plaintiffs because, regardless of whether there had been an offer of dedication, the Town conceded that it had never accepted the purported offer. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court.
|SMS Financial XXV, LLC v. David Corsetti et al., No. 17-299 (June 21, 2018)||17-299|
The plaintiff, SMS Financial XXV, LLC, appealed from the Superior Court’s denial of its motion for summary judgment and grant of the cross-motion for summary judgment brought by the defendants, David Corsetti and 385 South Main Street, LLC. This case concerned a promissory note issued by the defendants to Sovereign Bank. Sovereign Bank lost the note, but nevertheless subsequently assigned its interest in the lost note to the plaintiff. The plaintiff later brought suit against the defendants to recover on the unsatisfied note. Upon cross-motions for summary judgment, the hearing justice granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment because, under Rhode Island’s enactment of the Uniform Commercial Code, the plaintiff was not entitled to enforce the lost note because the plaintiff was not in possession of the note when the loss occurred. On appeal, the plaintiff asserted that the hearing justice erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the defendants because he failed to consider a provision of the note that required the defendants to issue a replacement note upon receiving a lost note affidavit.
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court. The Court held that, pursuant to the relevant Rhode Island Uniform Commercial Code provision, the plaintiff was not entitled to enforce the note, including the note’s provision that mandated the defendants to issue a replacement note upon receiving a lost note affidavit.
|William C. McLaughlin v. Zoning Board of Review of the Town of Tiverton et al., No. 17-156 (June 20, 2018)||17-156|
In 2008, William C. McLaughlin built a garage on his Tiverton property in violation of the setback requirements of the Tiverton Zoning Ordinance. In 2013, a justice of the Superior Court entered judgment affirming the Tiverton Zoning Board of Review’s decision to deny McLaughlin’s request for relief from those setback requirements. After McLaughlin appealed to the Supreme Court—an appeal that was dismissed as procedurally improper—the zoning board filed a “Motion for Order to Comply,” which was heard by the same hearing justice who had entered judgment on McLaughlin’s zoning appeal. The hearing justice granted that motion, and he entered an order on April 7, 2014, requiring McLaughlin to move or remove his garage. On the very next day, McLaughlin filed a motion to vacate/reconsider, which the hearing justice denied. In the years subsequent, a number of other court orders were entered (including one that adjudged him in contempt and imposed $69,300 in fines), all of which were based on the April 7, 2014 order. At the end of March 2016, the Town of Tiverton removed McLaughlin’s garage.
In May 2016, McLaughlin filed a motion to vacate the April 7, 2014 order. He argued that the order should be vacated under Rule 60(b)(4) of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure because it was void and that it should be vacated under Rule 60(b)(6) because it was unjust. A justice of the Superior Court denied that motion. On appeal, McLaughlin maintained that the order was void under Rule 60(b)(4); however, the Supreme Court disagreed, holding that, pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 45-24-62, the Superior Court possessed the jurisdiction to order the removal of McLaughlin’s garage. McLaughlin also argued to the Supreme Court that the order should be vacated under Rule 60(b)(6) because the Town of Tiverton had not complied with § 45-24-62. On this point, the Supreme Court agreed. The Supreme Court held that, to comply with that statute, the Town of Tiverton, not the zoning board, needed to have filed a separate action, not merely a motion filed by the zoning board in the context of a zoning appeal. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the order denying McLaughlin’s 2016 motion to vacate.
|William Coscina et al. v. Craig J. DiPetrillo et al., No. 17-127 (June 20, 2018) ||17-127|
The defendants, Craig J. DiPetrillo and Rebecca M. DiPetrillo, were before the Supreme Court on appeal from the entry of summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, William Coscina and Cheryl L. Bailey Coscina. This case arose from a boundary dispute between the parties. The plaintiffs brought an action requesting to be adjudged as the rightful owners of two parcels of land on the defendants’ property that plaintiffs claim they adversely possessed. The hearing justice granted the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, finding that plaintiffs successfully proved that they adversely possessed the contested property; however, the hearing justice was displeased with the fact that the survey of the property submitted by the plaintiffs did not contain a metes and bounds description of the disputed back parcel. The hearing justice decided to conduct an evidentiary hearing, after granting summary judgment on the adverse possession claim, in order to determine the exact boundary line of the disputed back parcel. The hearing justice adopted the plaintiffs’ expert witness’s testimony with respect to the boundary lines of both disputed parcels.
The Supreme Court addressed the arguments of both parties and concluded that the hearing justice erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs because issues of material fact remained with respect to the boundary lines of both parcels. Furthermore, the Supreme Court concluded that the hearing justice erred by not addressing the essential elements of an adverse possession claim in his decision. Accordingly, the Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the Superior Court.
Justice Flaherty did not participate.
|Epic Enterprises LLC et al. v. The Bard Group, LLC, No. 17-334 (June 20, 2018)||17-334|
The defendant, The Bard Group, LLC, appeals from a final judgment granting summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, Epic Enterprises LLC, Donna R. Morvillo, Kurt Rauschenbach, and Kristin Rauschenbach. The dispute concerns a thirteen-unit condominium complex known as “10 Brown & Howard Wharf Condominium” located near Thames Street in Newport, Rhode Island. The defendant owns nine of the thirteen condominium units and is the majority owner with 70.8 percent of the voting share. The plaintiffs own the remaining four units and have 29.2 percent of the voting share. The original declaration permitted only “Retail/Office,” “Office,” or “Residential” uses in the condominium.
|State v. Tory Lussier, No. 16-182 (June 20, 2018)||16-182|
The defendant appealed from a judgment of conviction on one count of felony assault following a jury-waived trial in the Superior Court. The defendant argued that the trial justice overlooked material evidence and that the state had not rebutted defendant’s evidence of self-defense. The Supreme Court held that the trial justice did not overlook material evidence and that there was sufficient evidence on the record to support the trial justice’s decision. Accordingly, the Court concluded that there was no error in defendant’s trial, and the judgment of conviction was affirmed.
|Sean McKenna et al. v. William R. Guglietta, in his capacity as magistrate of the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal, et al., No. 17-112 (June 14, 2018)||17-112|
The plaintiffs appeal from the Superior Court’s dismissal of their second amended complaint with prejudice, which complaint included two claims: (1) a claim challenging the constitutionality of the statutory system for appointing magistrates to the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal; and (2) a claim for unjust enrichment alleging that defendants illegally levied fines against plaintiffs when they appeared as litigants before the Traffic Tribunal. The hearing justice concluded that the second amended complaint did not plead sufficient facts to support either of plaintiffs’ claims. On appeal, plaintiffs contended that the hearing justice erred by dismissing their case because, in their view, their complaint provides defendants with adequate notice of their causes of action and claims for relief.
The Supreme Court held that plaintiffs had waived their constitutional claim because the second amended complaint did not allege any facts specifying that plaintiffs had brought their constitutional challenges to the attention of the pertinent magistrates in the Traffic Tribunal when they appeared before that body. With respect to plaintiffs’ claim for unjust enrichment, the Court held that the second amended complaint did not allege the facts necessary to support the essential elements of such a claim.
Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court.
|Russell G. Gross et al. v. Steven M. Pare et al., No. 17-178 (June 14, 2018)||17-178|
The plaintiff, Russell G. Gross, was before the Supreme Court on appeal from the entry of summary judgment in favor of the defendants, Steven M. Pare, William Trinque, and James J. Lombardi. The plaintiff was transferred from the department of communications in the Providence Fire Department to the division of training and was demoted from lieutenant to firefighter after he allegedly allowed one of his dispatchers to be sprawled in his chair while on duty. The plaintiff filed an action in Superior Court against the defendants for intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and invasion of privacy. The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure, and the plaintiff requested that the hearing justice treat the defendants’ motion as a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 instead because the plaintiff attached documents outside of the four corners of his complaint to his objection to the defendants’ motion. At a hearing, the hearing justice granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on all counts. The plaintiff timely appealed.
The Supreme Court addressed the arguments of both parties and concluded that all of the plaintiff’s claims were unmeritorious. The Court held that: (1) nothing in the record was suggestive of any extreme or outrageous conduct on the part of any defendant; (2) the plaintiff was neither in the zone of danger nor a bystander to a traumatic event; and (3) the defendants did not publish any false or fictitious fact about the plaintiff. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court granting summary judgment in favor of the defendants on all counts of the plaintiff’s complaint.
|Prospect CharterCARE, LLC v. Michael E. Conklin, Jr., 17-188 (June 13, 2018)||17-188|
The plaintiff, Prospect CharterCARE, LLC (PCC), appealed from an order of the Superior Court denying its motion to vacate an arbitration award and confirming the award in favor of the defendant, Michael E. Conklin, Jr. On appeal, PCC contended that the arbitrator exceeded his authority by: (1) relying on a “concededly erroneous” factual assumption and thereby manifestly disregarding the applicable law; (2) manifestly disregarding the clear and unambiguous contractual language that should have precluded any award in favor of the defendant; and (3) ordering PCC to pay the defendant extended severance benefits when the defendant failed to prove that PCC had assumed liability for the employment contracts entered into between the defendant and his previous employer—PCC’s predecessor entity.
The Supreme Court held that the arbitrator neither manifestly disregarded the law nor manifestly disregarded a contractual provision, because the arbitrator’s award drew its essence from the parties’ agreement and was sufficiently grounded in the contract to be within the scope of his authority as an arbitrator. Additionally, the Supreme Court concluded that PCC had waived its argument with respect to assumption of liability under the employment contract. For these reasons, the Supreme Court affirmed the order and the judgment of the Superior Court.
|State v. Ashner Alexis, No. 17-2 (June 13, 2018)||17-2|
A senseless compulsion for revenge resulted in the tragic and unintended death of George Holland, Jr. and the conviction of four conspirators. Ashner Alexis appealed to the Supreme Court from a judgment of conviction for murder (count 1); conspiracy to commit murder (count 2); and discharging a weapon while committing a crime of violence (count 3). He was sentenced to two consecutive life terms of imprisonment on counts 1 and 3, and ten years to serve on count 2, also to be served consecutively. He sought to have his convictions reversed and remanded for a new trial on the grounds that the trial justice abused his discretion in denying Alexis’s motions for a mistrial and to pass and in overruling Alexis’s objection to photographic evidence, and because the trial justice was clearly wrong in denying Alexis’s motion for a new trial.
The Supreme Court declared that the trial justice did not abuse his discretion in denying Alexis’s motions to pass and for a mistrial or in admitting the photographic evidence. The Supreme Court further declared that the trial justice was not clearly wrong in denying Alexis’s motion for a new trial. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court.
|State v. Andre Marizan, No. 15-322 (June 12, 2018)||15-322|
The defendant, Andre Marizan, was convicted of first-degree sexual assault in a Providence County Superior Court jury trial. On appeal, the defendant argued that the prosecutor in her closing argument improperly commented on the defendant’s failure to testify, violating his Fifth Amendment rights. In addition, the defendant contended that the trial justice erred in admitting the defendant’s booking photograph into evidence and also erred in denying his motion for new trial.
The Supreme Court held that the prosecutor’s comment in her closing argument was not of such a nature that a jury would interpret it as a remark on the defendant’s failure to testify at trial, and, accordingly, the trial justice did not clearly err in denying the defendant’s motion for a mistrial. Additionally, the Court concluded that the admission of the defendant’s “mug shot” was not reversible error, if error at all, because of other evidence of guilt admitted at trial, as well as a timely cautionary instruction given by the trial justice. Finally, the Court held that the trial justice did not err in denying the defendant’s motion for new trial because the trial justice adequately articulated his reasons for denying the motion, and he sufficiently assessed the credibility of all the witnesses. As such, the Court affirmed the Superior Court’s judgment.
|Angela Luis v. Kevin Gaugler., No. 16-334 (June 11, 2018)||16-334|
The defendant, Kevin Gaugler, appealed from a Providence County Family Court judgment granting the request of the plaintiff, Angela Luis, for a divorce. Angela alleged that she and Kevin, although not formally wed, were married at common law based on their intentions and conduct over the course of their twenty-three-year relationship. The trial justice agreed, and concluded that Angela presented clear and convincing evidence that she and Kevin were married by common law.
The Supreme Court held that the trial justice erred in determining that the proffered evidence satisfied the standard of clear and convincing to support the conclusion that Angela and Kevin were married at common law. Accordingly, the Court vacated the trial justice’s judgment.
|Janet L. Coit, in her capacity as Director of the Department of Environmental Management, et al. v. Vincent Coccoli, d/b/a Millville Associates, Inc., et al., No. 16-157 (June 8, 2018)||16-157|
The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and the State of Rhode Island appeal from a decision of a trial justice in the Superior Court granting summary judgment in favor of Vincent Coccoli, doing business as Millville Associates, Inc., and Patrick Conley, as Trustee of the Pearl Trust (collectively defendants). The DEM also appeals from the denial of its motion to file a second amended complaint. In 2002, DEM concluded that defendants were responsible for the remediation of excessive chlorinated volatile organic compounds detected in the groundwater of an abutting property. After defendants’ alleged failure to remediate the contamination, DEM issued a notice of violation against defendants and assessed an administrative penalty. The DEM then commenced an action against defendants seeking injunctive relief to require defendants to remediate. The DEM also sought enforcement of the administrative penalty and argued that its authority to do so arose from G.L. 1956 § 42-17.1-2(21)(v). On February 17, 2016, fourteen years after DEM became involved in defendants’ property, the trial justice issued a bench decision finding that DEM could not enforce an administrative penalty in the context of an action for injunctive relief. The DEM filed a timely notice of appeal.
The Supreme Court held that DEM’s appeal was not properly before the Court because, pursuant to § 42-17.1-2(21)(vii), an appeal from a final judgment of the Superior Court brought under § 42-17.1-2(21) must proceed by a petition for a writ of certiorari. The Supreme Court concluded that DEM’s failure to comply with this statute was fatal to the appeal.
|Richard Goodrow v. Bank of America, N.A., Successor by Merger to BAC Home Loans Servicing, LP, f/k/a Countrywide Home Loans Servicing, LP, et al., No. 17-31 (June 8, 2018)||17-31|
The plaintiff, Richard Goodrow, appealed a Newport County Superior Court order granting the motions to dismiss of the defendants, Bank of America, N.A., and EverBank Mortgage. The plaintiff asserted that the Superior Court justice erred in ruling that the doctrine of res judicata prevented him from asserting his claims against the defendants in state court. The defendants rebutted that the plaintiff’s action was in fact barred on res judicata grounds based on an action filed and dismissed in federal court.
The Supreme Court held that the hearing justice properly granted the defendants’ motions to dismiss because res judicata prohibited the plaintiff from relitigating his claims against the defendants. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the order of the Superior Court.
|Vincent R. Coccoli, Sr. v. Town of Scituate Town Council et al., No. 16-240 (June 8, 2018)||16-240|
The pro se plaintiff, Vincent Coccoli, is before the Supreme Court on appeal from the entry of summary judgment in favor of defendants, the Town of Scituate Town Council et al. The plaintiff, a member of Hope Mill Village Associates, LLC, fruitlessly attempted to develop the Hope Mill Property located in Scituate, Rhode Island. The plaintiff was granted conditional approval for dimensional relief from the Scituate Zoning Board of Review, contingent upon receiving approval from the Scituate Town Council for a municipal sewer line. At a regular meeting, the town council voted to approve the plaintiff’s sewer line pending receipt of a Memorandum of Understanding from the plaintiff, which was thereafter executed, signed by the town council president, adorned with an official town seal, and recorded in the land evidence records. The property subsequently went into receivership and was sold to New England Development R.I., LLC, in spite of the plaintiff’s multiple attempts at purchasing the property from the receiver. The plaintiff then filed a four-count complaint in Superior Court against the town, alleging breach of contract, federal Privacy Act violations, tortious interference with a contractual relationship, and fraudulent misrepresentation. At a hearing, the trial justice granted summary judgment in favor of defendants on all counts. The plaintiff timely appealed.
The Supreme Court addressed the arguments of both parties and concluded that the Memorandum of Understanding constituted a binding contract between the plaintiff and the town because it was signed by the town council president and recorded in the land evidence records, and plaintiff performed subsequent acts in furtherance of the contract. However, the Supreme Court concluded that the remainder of the plaintiff’s claims are without merit. Accordingly, the Supreme Court vacated that portion of the judgment of the Superior Court granting summary judgment on Count I of the plaintiff’s complaint, and it affirmed the judgment dismissing the remainder of the plaintiff’s claims.
|Leonard Jefferson v. State of Rhode Island, No. 15-323 (June 7, 2018)||15-323|
The petitioner, Leonard Jefferson, appealed from the June 2, 2015 denial of his application for postconviction relief in Providence County Superior Court. He contended before the Supreme Court that the hearing justice erred in denying his application for postconviction relief because, in his view, his parole was revoked and he was denied the possibility of parole in the future pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 13-8-14(b) in violation of the ex post facto clause of the United States Constitution. He further averred that the separation of powers doctrine and his right to be free from double jeopardy were also violated when he was denied the possibility of parole; and he argued that his due process rights were violated when his parole was revoked.
The Supreme Court held that Mr. Jefferson was entitled to a new parole revocation hearing with the representation of counsel prior to the revocation of his parole and that he did not receive such a hearing in the instant case. Accordingly, the Court remanded the case to the Superior Court with instructions that it remand the case to the Parole Board to conduct a new parole revocation hearing which complies with the requirements of due process and the right to counsel.
|Charles Kemp v. PJC of Rhode Island, Inc., d/b/a Rite Aid of Rhode Island, Inc., et al., Nos. 17-43,50 (June 6, 2018)||17-43|
The plaintiff in a slip-and-fall action appealed from a Providence County Superior Court hearing justice’s grant of summary judgment in favor of one defendant, Rite Aid, and he also appealed from the trial justice’s denial of his motion for a new trial in favor of the other two defendants, Riverside and Venditelli. On appeal, the plaintiff contends that Rite Aid owed a duty to him based on his status as an invitee, that the trial justice erred in granting the defendants’ motion in limine as to the admission of certain photographs, and that the trial justice erred in denying his motion for a new trial.
The Supreme Court concluded that the defendant, Rite Aid, did not owe a duty of care to the plaintiff, based on the terms of the relevant lease agreement. Additionally, the Court held that the trial justice did not abuse his discretion in precluding the photographs at issue. Finally, the Court determined that the trial justice was not clearly wrong in denying the plaintiff’s motion for a new trial based on the application of the Connecticut Rule regarding snow removal because the plaintiff failed to put forth evidence of any unusual circumstances. Thus, the Supreme Court affirmed the order and judgment of the Superior Court.
|Dolores Nugent v. State of Rhode Island Public Defender’s Office., No. 16-248 (June 6, 2018)||16-248|
The plaintiff, Dolores Nugent (Nugent), appeals from a Superior Court judgment granting a motion of the defendant, the State of Rhode Island Public Defender’s Office (Public Defender’s Office), for judgment on the pleadings. This matter arises out of Nugent’s termination from her position in the Public Defender’s Office. Upon her termination, the Rhode Island Laborers’ District Council, on behalf of Local Union 808, LIUNA, filed a grievance claiming that Nugent was terminated without just cause. The grievance was not resolved and proceeded to arbitration. The arbitrator determined that the Public Defender’s Office acted with just cause when it terminated Nugent.
Subsequently, Nugent filed a complaint in Superior Court appealing the arbitration decision. The Public Defender’s Office moved for judgment on the pleadings based on several grounds, including lack of standing. The hearing justice granted the motion finding that Nugent, indeed, lacked standing to bring the claims. Then, Nugent filed another action against the Public Defender’s Office in Superior Court that included claims of discrimination. In response, the Public Defender’s Office again moved for judgment on the pleadings and argued that res judicata and collateral estoppel barred Nugent’s discrimination claims. The same hearing justice granted the motion in favor of the Public Defender’s Office.
On appeal, Nugent contended that the hearing justice erred in granting judgment on the pleadings in favor of the Public Defender’s Office because the doctrine of res judicata did not bar her discrimination claims. The Supreme Court focused its analysis on the dispositive issue—whether the hearing justice’s grant of judgment on the pleadings in Nugent’s first action operated as a final judgment on the merits for purposes of res judicata. The Supreme Court held that because the basis for the hearing justice’s grant of judgment on the pleadings was Nugent’s lack of standing to challenge her termination in Superior Court without a showing that the union breached its duty of fair representation—a threshold issue unrelated to the case’s merits—the judgment was not final for purposes of res judicata. Thus, Nugent was not barred from seeking redress for her discrimination claims in Superior Court. Accordingly, the Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the Superior Court.