|Glen Hebert et al. v. The City of Woonsocket, by and through its Mayor, Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, et al., No. 16-77, 78 (July 2, 2019)||16-77, 78|
The defendants, the City of Woonsocket and the Woonsocket Budget Commission (the WBC), appealed a decision and judgment of the Superior Court that granted a preliminary injunction in favor of the plaintiffs, a group of retired Woonsocket police officers. Through prior collective bargaining agreements, the City and the Woonsocket police union negotiated for the City to pay for the entire cost of health care insurance for its police officers and their beneficiaries for life upon their retirement. Soon thereafter, however, the City spiraled into a fiscal disaster and sought the appointment of a budget commission under G.L. 1956 chapter 9 of title 45 to recover from its financial distress. After the WBC was appointed, the WBC took numerous measures to alleviate the financial burdens on the City. At issue in this case, the WBC adopted a resolution that required retired police officers of the City, which included the plaintiffs, to contribute to their health insurance costs.
The plaintiffs filed suit against the City and the WBC, and the Superior Court, in effect, permanently enjoined the defendants from enforcing the resolution. The defendants appealed, and argued that the trial justice erred by finding the following: (1) that the plaintiffs had a vested contractual right to free lifetime health benefits for themselves and their beneficiaries; (2) that the WBC was not empowered with the statutory authority to make changes to the plaintiffs’ health care benefits; (3) that the WBC violated the Contract Clause of the Rhode Island Constitution when it required the plaintiffs to pay for their health insurance under a new uniform health care plan applicable to all retirees and employees; and (4) that the plaintiffs established that they suffered irreparable harm.
The Supreme Court agreed with the trial justice that the plaintiffs had a vested contractual right to free lifetime health benefits for themselves and their beneficiaries. However, the Court held that the WBC had the statutory authority to make changes to the plaintiffs’ health care benefits when it adopted the resolution. Moreover, the Supreme Court ruled that, although the trial justice properly shifted the burden of production to the City in the Contract Clause analysis, the trial justice had implemented the wrong standard and did not accord deference to the City.
Accordingly, the Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the Superior Court and remanded the case to that court for further proceedings consistent with its opinion.
|Wenda Branson v. Marion P. Louttit, individually and in her capacities as Trustee of the Augusta P. Hathaway Living Trust and Custodian for Jonathan H. Louttit, II and Caroline Hathaway Louttit, minor children, Nos. 17-149, 150 (June 28, 2019)||17-149, 150|
After the death of their mother, Augusta Hathaway, the plaintiff, Wenda Branson, brought this action against her sister, Marion Louttit, challenging the validity of amendments to Ms. Hathaway’s inter vivos trust and gifts of interest in a family limited partnership. After a trial, the jury found that Ms. Hathaway lacked the testamentary capacity to amend her trust and that the defendant had unduly influenced Ms. Hathaway, thereby causing Ms. Hathaway to execute the challenged amendments and gifts. The jury also found that the defendant had breached her fiduciary duty as trustee of the inter vivos trust. Following the verdict, the defendant renewed her motion for judgment as a matter of law and moved for a new trial. The trial justice denied those motions as to the claims of undue influence and testamentary capacity, but granted both with respect to the claim that defendant had breached her fiduciary duty. The parties filed cross appeals.
The Supreme Court held that the doctrine of laches did not bar the plaintiff’s claims because the defendant could not show that she was prejudiced by any delay in bringing the case. The Court further held that sufficient evidence existed in the record to support the plaintiff’s claim of undue influence, that the instructions imparted by the trial justice fairly covered the jury’s charge to weigh the expert opinions provided and to assess their credibility, and that the expert’s testimony regarding his understanding of the meaning of undue influence did not depart in any meaningful way from the definition of undue influence adopted by the Court. The Court held, therefore, that the trial justice was correct to deny the defendant’s motions for judgment as a matter of law and for new trial on that issue.
Because the Court determined that the challenged gifts and trust amendments were properly nullified on the grounds of undue influence, the Court determined that the issue of Ms. Hathaway’s testamentary capacity had become moot. Additionally, the Court held that the excessive award of damages on the fiduciary duty claim did not, standing alone, support an inference that the jury’s entire verdict was the product of improper passion, sympathy, or prejudice. The Court further held that the defendant had failed to preserve or adequately present her argument that she was entitled to a new nonjury trial on the equitable issues of undue influence and testamentary capacity. The Court also held that, even if the defendant had breached a fiduciary duty as trustee of Ms. Hathaway’s trust, the plaintiff could not prove that she had been damaged because the trust required that any money the defendant received, whether by means of a legitimate gift or as a result of a breach of a fiduciary duty, be accounted for when allocating distributions to the beneficiaries of the trust.
Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court in all respects, and vacated the trial justice’s superfluous grant of a new trial on the issue of fiduciary duty.
|Daryl Heneault v. Kenneth Lantini et al., No. 18-195 (June 27, 2019)||18-195|
The defendants, Kenneth Lantini and 1200 Hartford LLC, appealed an order entered in the Superior Court that denied their motion for a new trial after a jury found in favor of the plaintiff, Daryl Heneault. The parties had entered into a lease agreement whereby the plaintiff was to operate his medical marijuana business out of a commercial building owned by 1200 Hartford LLC. The plaintiff paid the defendants a security deposit and rent for the first month of occupancy in advance. Before the parties entered into the lease, the parties also agreed, in a “receipt agreement,” that, if for any reason Mr. Lantini could not provide occupancy by the start date in the lease, then all deposits would be fully refundable. Before the lease start date, however, the commercial building was condemned, and the town instructed the plaintiff to vacate the premises. The plaintiff was reimbursed for the payment of the first month’s rent but, when the plaintiff requested that Mr. Lantini return the security deposit, Mr. Lantini refused. The plaintiff filed this action in Superior Court, claiming in his complaint that the defendants had converted the security deposit for their own use and that the defendants’ actions constituted a breach of contract.
On the eve of trial, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint and argued before the trial justice that the economic loss doctrine barred the plaintiff from recovering purely economic damages under a tort claim. The trial justice held that the motion was not timely and denied the motion. After a two day jury trial, the trial justice instructed the jury on the plaintiff’s claim for conversion, but he did not instruct the jury on the plaintiff’s breach of contract claim. No objection was made by either party, and the jury thereafter rendered a verdict, finding in favor of plaintiff on his conversion claim. The plaintiff was later awarded attorneys’ fees pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 9-1-45. Thereafter, posttrial hearings commenced, and the defendants reasserted the economic loss doctrine argument. The defendants also argued that the plaintiff should not have been awarded attorneys’ fees because the case did not arise out of a breach of contract, as required under § 9-1-45. The trial justice found that the economic loss doctrine did not apply because the case sounded in contract, and that there was a proper basis to award attorneys’ fees under § 9 1 45.
On appeal, the defendants argued that the economic loss doctrine barred the plaintiff from recovering damages for the tort of conversion and that the trial justice erred in awarding attorneys’ fees to the plaintiff. Relying on precedent that parties may not allege entirely new issues of law during a motion for a new trial, the Supreme Court held that the defendants had waived the economic loss doctrine argument because the argument was not timely brought before the trial began and was not raised again until the posttrial hearings. The Court did, however, hold that there was no proper basis to award attorneys’ fees under § 9-1-45, because the case did not arise out of a breach of contract.
Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part the judgment of the Superior Court.
|Rollingwood Acres, Inc. et al. v. Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management et al., No. 15-328 (June 24, 2019) ||15-328|
This case concerns an appeal from a denial of a request for reasonable litigation expenses under the Equal Access to Justice for Small Businesses and Individuals Act, G.L. 1956 chapter 92 of title 42 (EAJA). The plaintiffs, Rollingwood Acres, Inc., Smithfield Peat Co., Inc., and Smithfield Crushing Co., LLC, appealed from a Notice of Violation (NOV) issued on November 6, 2006, by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM). The NOV alleged ten discrete violations of the Rhode Island Water Pollution Act, DEM’s Water Quality Regulations, the Rhode Island Oil Pollution Control Act, DEM’s Oil Pollution Control Regulations, and DEM’s Regulations for the Rhode Island Pollution Discharge Elimination System. After a hearing before the Administrative Adjudication Division of DEM (AAD), the plaintiffs prevailed on all but two of the alleged violations, and the petitioners requested reasonable litigation expenses under the EAJA. The AAD hearing officer denied their request, finding that, first, DEM was substantially justified because a complaint had initiated DEM’s investigation of plaintiffs, and, second, that complaint notwithstanding, DEM’s actions were substantially justified. Adopting the hearing officer’s reasoning, the Superior Court affirmed the denial of reasonable litigation expenses.
The Supreme Court held that, in the first instance, the initiating complaint did not afford DEM substantial justification because there was not a sufficient nexus between the complaint and the NOV issued. The Supreme Court further held that DEM was not substantially justified based on its failure to cite the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (DOT) for the same violation, when, during the administrative proceedings, it was revealed that DEM knew that DOT made the changes that had caused the violations as well as that DOT had a general history of noncompliance with state environmental laws. The Supreme Court also noted DEM’s lack of evidence as to the alleged water pollution and oil pollution violations. Accordingly, the Supreme Court quashed the judgment and remanded the record to the Superior Court with directions to enter a judgment in favor of the plaintiffs in the amount of $69,581.25 for attorneys’ fees and $5,628.75 for the stenographic record.
|Richard DiCarlo v. State of Rhode Island, No. 16-119 (June 21, 2019)||16-119|
The petitioner, Richard DiCarlo, appealed a Superior Court judgment in favor of the state, following a written decision denying the petitioner’s appeal from a decision of a Drug Court magistrate upholding a determination by the Sex Offender Board of Review classifying him as a Level II, moderate-risk, sex offender. On appeal, the petitioner argues that, in determining his classification level, the board violated his rights to due process, to the presumption of innocence, and to be spared from double jeopardy, by relying on alleged impermissible hearsay allegations that were the basis for charges of which he was ultimately acquitted.
The Supreme Court held that, because the petitioner did not raise his procedural due process argument before the magistrate and failed to provide any meaningful legal argument to the Superior Court, the petitioner failed to preserve the issue for appellate review. The Court further held that the exception to the “raise-or-waive” rule when an alleged error implicates an issue of constitutional dimension did not apply. Next, the Court held that, because sex-offender registration is a civil regulatory process, the board’s actions were not in the context of a criminal trial and, thus, did not implicate the petitioner’s right to a fair trial or violate the Double Jeopardy Clause. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court.
|Kevin M. Blais v. Rhode Island Airport Corporation et al., 17-326 (June 20, 2019)||17-326|
The Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC) sought review of a judgment in favor of the plaintiff, Kevin Blais, that reversed RIAC’s decision to prohibit Blais from entering North Central State Airport. Before the Supreme Court on writ of certiorari, RIAC argued that it had the authority to ban an individual from any one of its airports without issuing a formal order. In the alternative, it argued that its communications to Blais complied with all statutory requirements of the Uniform Aeronautical Regulatory Act. RIAC also asserted that Blais’s administrative appeal was time barred. The Supreme Court held that, although Blais had subsequently been allowed back onto North Central State Airport, this case was not moot because Blais had alleged in related litigation that RIAC continued to review Blais’s status. The Court concluded that RIAC did not have authority to permanently prohibit entry onto its airports without issuing a formal order, and it described the procedural requirements that such an order must meet to be enforced. The Court concluded that RIAC had not complied with those requirements and that Blais’s administrative appeal was timely. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court.
|Jason Boudreau v. Automatic Temperature Controls, Inc. et al., No. 18-91 (June 20, 2019)||18-91|
The plaintiff appealed a judgment from the Superior Court granting summary judgment in favor of the defendants. According to Automatic Temperature Controls (ATC), the plaintiff’s former employer, in June 2011, the company installed tracking software on the plaintiff’s work computer after child pornography was discovered on the computer. The tracking software took “screenshots” of the activity on the plaintiff’s work computer, which were provided to the local police department and led to the plaintiff’s arrest and ultimate conviction for possession of child pornography. In August 2016, the plaintiff filed an action in Superior Court against the defendants, alleging that ATC had violated the Rhode Island Wiretap Act, the Rhode Island Computer Crime Act, the Rhode Island Software Fraud Act, state privacy laws, as well as various federal laws, when it installed the tracking software on the plaintiff’s work computer without his consent. The Superior Court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on the grounds that the plaintiff’s state law claims were time barred by the three-year statute of limitations set forth in G.L. 1956 § 9-1-14(b).
On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the discovery rule should have applied to his claims under the Computer Crime Act and the Software Fraud Act. The plaintiff also contended that the hearing justice erred when he found that there was no evidence indicating that ATC had fraudulently concealed the existence of the plaintiff’s claims under the Computer Crime Act and the Software Fraud Act. Further, the plaintiff maintained that the continuing violation doctrine should have applied to his claims under the Rhode Island Wiretap Act.
The Supreme Court held that the discovery rule did not apply to the plaintiff’s claims under the Computer Crime Act and the Software Fraud Act, but noted that, even if it did, the latest a reasonable person would have discovered such a cause of action was at the plaintiff’s unemployment hearing on January 24, 2012, which was when ATC’s president testified, with the plaintiff present, that ATC had installed tracking software on the plaintiff’s work computer. The Supreme Court also held that there was no evidence that ATC had fraudulently concealed the existence of the plaintiff’s claims. Finally, the Supreme Court held that the continuing violation doctrine did not apply to the facts of this case.
Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment entered by the Superior Court.
|JHRW, LLC v. Seaport Studios, Inc. et al., No. 17-313 (June 19, 2019)||17-313|
This case stemmed from a decade-long dispute over parking spaces in the Watch Hill section of Westerly. The defendants, Seaport Studios, Inc. and Randall Saunders, an officer of Seaport, appealed from an order of the Superior Court granting summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff, JHRW, LLC, as to count I of the plaintiff’s amended complaint seeking a permanent injunction to bar the defendants from parking on JHRW’s property. Before the Supreme Court, the defendants argued that the hearing justice erred in not referring the dispute to arbitration and in concluding that the defendants were precluded from asserting any claims or defenses with respect to the right to park on JHRW’s property.
The Supreme Court first held that the defendants had waived their right to arbitration. Next, the Supreme Court held that the defendants sought to litigate the same dispute over parking rights as was litigated in an earlier action which resulted in a final judgment and that, therefore, the defendants were precluded from relitigating the issue. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Superior Court.
|In re Violet G., No. 18-24 (June 19, 2019)||18-24|
The respondent, Jennifer L., appealed from a decree entered in the Family Court that terminated her parental rights with respect to her daughter, Violet G. On appeal, the respondent assigned error to the Family Court justice’s finding of parental unfitness, her conclusion that DCYF made reasonable efforts to provide services to address the circumstances that led to Violet’s placement in the first instance, and the determination that the termination of her parental rights was in the best interest of Violet.
The Supreme Court held that there was adequate evidentiary support for the Family Court justice’s findings of unfitness. The Court concluded that the record revealed that respondent failed to address her parenting and substance-abuse issues, as well as her need for mental-health treatment and medication management. Additionally, the Court was satisfied that DCYF complied with its obligation to make reasonable efforts toward reunification. Finally, the Court determined that termination was in the best interests of Violet.
Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the decree of the Family Court terminating the respondent’s parental rights with respect to her daughter, Violet.
|State v. Joel Najera, No. 18-151 (June 19, 2019)||18-151|
The defendant, Joel Najera, appealed from a judgment of conviction in the Superior Court after a jury found him guilty of one count of assault with a dangerous weapon, to wit, a machete, in violation of G.L. 1956 § 11-5-2, and one count of malicious injury to property, to wit, a car window and basement window, in violation of G.L. 1956 § 11-44-1. On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial justice clearly erred when he denied the defendant’s motion for a new trial because, according to the defendant, the verdict was against the weight of the evidence.
The Supreme Court held that the trial justice independently assessed the credibility of each witness, weighed the evidence before him, assessed it in light of the jury charge, and determined that he would have reached the same conclusion as the jury. Specifically, the Court found that the trial justice noted the shortcomings and inconsistencies of certain witnesses, passed upon the credibility of the state’s witnesses, and found those witnesses to be quite credible, and found defendant and his witnesses to be lacking in credibility.
Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court.
|Rhode Island American Federation of Teachers/Retired Local 8037 et al. v. Johnston School Committee et al., No. 18-51 (June 19, 2019)||18-51|
he defendants, the Town of Johnston, the Johnston School Department, the Johnston School Committee, and various municipal officials (the town), appealed from the Superior Court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, Rhode Island American Federation of Teachers/Retired Local 8307 and several retirees of the Johnston School Department (the association) in this declaratory-judgment action involving the annual cost of a life insurance policy made available to retired teachers in Johnston, Rhode Island.
On appeal, the town argued that the Superior Court erred in granting the association’s motion for summary judgment and denying its cross-motion for summary judgment because, according to the town, the trial justice incorrectly interpreted G.L. 1956 § 16-16-42. The town argued that the cost of life insurance for retired teachers must be that which is in effect at the time the teacher retires, not before the teacher retires.
The Supreme Court held that the statute carries no ambiguity; thus, in accordance with its plain and ordinary meaning, Johnston’s teachers are entitled to retain the insurance coverage in effect at the time of retirement by paying the same annual cost that the retiree paid before retirement, as an active employee. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court granting the association’s motion for summary judgment.
|Robin Brindle et al. v. Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training, by and through its Director, et al., Nos. 16-324, 325, 326, 328, 329 (June 18, 2019)||16-324, 325, 326, 328, 329|
The petitioners, Robin Brindle, Kathleen Brown, Sandra Carter, Marcie LaPorte, and Kelvin Ramirez, filed petitions for writ of certiorari to this Court pursuant to the Administrative Procedures Act, G.L. 1956 § 42-35-16, seeking review of a Superior Court judgment affirming a decision of the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training that denied the petitioners’ wage and hour claims against Delta Airlines, Inc. The petition was granted, and, before the Supreme Court, the petitioners argued that the Superior Court erred in affirming DLT’s finding that G.L. 1956 § 25-3-3 is preempted by federal law, specifically, 49 U.S.C § 41713(b)(1) of the Airline Deregulation Act (the ADA).
The Supreme Court held that requiring airlines such as Delta to provide one-and-one-half-times the normal rate of pay for work on Sundays and holidays does in fact relate to the services provided by Delta, and, thus, the logical effect of § 25-3-3 on Delta’s delivery of services is sufficient to bring the statute within the preemptive scope of the ADA. Specifically, the Court determined that the sworn testimony offered by Delta before the DLT demonstrated that forcing Delta to comply with the requirements of § 25-3-3 could significantly impact the services that Delta and other airlines provide on Sundays and holidays. The Court concluded that there was sufficient evidence in the record for the Superior Court to conclude that DLT’s decision was supported by adequate and legally competent evidence.
Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court.
|La Gondola, Inc. v. City of Providence, by and through its Treasurer James J. Lombardi, et al., No. 16-282 (June 17, 2019)||16-282|
The plaintiff, La Gondola, Inc. (La Gondola), appealed from a September 14, 2016 judgment entered after a bench trial in Providence County Superior Court, which judgment was in favor of the defendants, the City of Providence, the Rhode Island Zoological Society, P.G.S., Inc., and various municipal officials. The case concerned the awarding of a concessions contract for concessions at Carousel Village in Roger Williams Park, located in the City of Providence. On appeal, La Gondola contended that the trial justice erred in: (1) “concluding that the [bidding] process was free of corruption, bad faith, and/or an abuse of discretion;” (2) holding that a certain amendment to the contract at issue, which dealt with the operation of a trackless train, was not enforceable; and (3) denying La Gondola’s “contractual interference claim.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.)
The Supreme Court held that the trial justice did not abuse his discretion or commit a clear error of law when he concluded that there was no corruption, bad faith, or a palpable abuse of discretion in this case. It further concluded that the trial justice did not err in finding that the amendment to the contract at issue, which dealt with the operation of a trackless train, was not binding. Finally, the Court found no error on the part of the trial justice in his conclusion that La Gondola was not entitled to relief on its claim of intentional interference with prospective contractual relations.
Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court.
|Maurice J. Cusick v. Judith P. Cusick, No. 18-47 (June 17, 2019)||18-47|
The pro se plaintiff, Maurice J. Cusick, appealed from a Family Court postjudgment order in favor of his former wife, Judith P. Cusick, the defendant, requiring the plaintiff to submit to limited genetic testing for the benefit of the parties’ minor children. On appeal, the plaintiff argued that by ordering him to submit to genetic testing, the hearing justice: (1) violated his right to privacy and to due process and (2) committed an abuse of discretion by relying on factual findings that overlooked and misconceived material evidence and were clearly wrong.
The Supreme Court held that, because the plaintiff did not raise his right to privacy and due-process arguments before the hearing justice, he failed to preserve this argument for appeal; and the exception to the “raise-or-waive” rule for basic constitutional rights did not apply in this case. Next, the Court held that, because the plaintiff failed to raise any objection to the introduction of an expert’s affidavit, the plaintiff waived the right to contest it on appeal. Lastly, the Court held that the hearing justice did not abuse his discretion in ordering the plaintiff to submit to limited genetic testing because the hearing justice made sufficient findings of fact; properly balanced the plaintiff’s interests with that of the children; and concluded that, based on the evidence presented by the medical experts, genetic testing was in the best interest of the children. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Family Court.
|Lizbeth A. Larkin, in her capacity as Executrix of the Estate of Catherine I. Ryan v. Michaela Arthurs et al.; Michaela Arthurs et al. v. Lizbeth Larkin, Nos. 17-56, 17-183 (June 17, 2019)||17-56, 183|
The appellants, Michaela Arthurs and Mark Ryan, appealed from two November 9, 2016 final judgments entered after a trial in the Washington County Superior Court involving two consolidated cases. As the judgments indicate, the appellants had failed to prevail with respect to two controversies: one relative to the distribution of the assets of their mother’s estate and the other involving an attempt to remove Lizbeth Larkin as the executrix of their mother’s estate. (Michaela Arthurs, Mark Ryan, Lizbeth Larkin, and Lisa Ryan are the children of the decedent, Catherine Ignatia Ryan.) On appeal, the appellants contended that the Superior Court justice erred in: (1) interpreting their mother’s will to read that two bank accounts not specified as joint accounts with right of survivorship be distributed only to Lisa Ryan and Lizbeth Larkin, instead of to all four siblings; and (2) denying their motion seeking to remove Lizbeth Larkin as executrix of their mother’s estate.
The Supreme Court held that the trial justice properly determined that the two bank accounts should be distributed to Lisa Ryan and Lizbeth Larkin pursuant to the paragraph of Catherine Ryan’s will relating to joint accounts with right of survivorship. The Court further concluded that the trial justice did not err in affirming the Probate Court’s denial of the motion to remove Lizbeth Larkin as executrix. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed both judgments of the Superior Court.
|Adless Desamours v. State of Rhode Island, No. 17-351 (June 14, 2019)||17-351|
The applicant, Adless Desamours, appealed from the Superior Court’s denial of his application for postconviction relief. On appeal, the applicant argued that the trial justice violated Rule 11 of the Superior Court Rules of Criminal Procedure by failing to ensure that applicant entered his plea of nolo contendere knowingly and voluntarily, and by failing to establish a factual basis for his plea.
The Supreme Court held that the trial justice’s colloquy with the applicant established that the plea was voluntary, and that it was made with knowledge and understanding of the charge against him.
In addition, the Court found that there was a factual basis for the applicant’s plea because the state recited facts that supported the charge against the applicant, and the applicant unequivocally agreed with the state’s recitation of facts it would prove if the matter proceeded to trial. Finally, the Court held that the applicant’s petition for postconviction relief could also have been denied based on the doctrine of laches.
Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court’s denial of the applicant’s application for postconviction relief.
|National Education Association Rhode Island et al. v. Town of Middletown, by and through its Finance Director, Lynn Dible, et al., No. 17-202 (June 13, 2019)||17-202|
The plaintiffs, the National Education Association Rhode Island and the Middletown Teachers’ Association/NEA, appealed from a final judgment of the Providence County Superior Court granting summary judgment in favor of the defendants, the Town of Middletown, the Middletown School Committee, and the Middletown School Department. The plaintiffs asserted on appeal that the hearing justice erred in deciding that the case is moot and further contended that, even if the case was moot, the exception to the mootness doctrine applied.
The Supreme Court held that the trial justice did not err in granting summary judgment on the basis of mootness. The Court further held that the mootness exception did not apply to the facts of this case because the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that the issues raised in the complaint are of extreme public importance and are capable of repetition yet will evade review. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court.
|Karl Olsen v. Anna L. DeMayo, No. 18-72 (June 13, 2019)||18-72|
The appellant, Karl Olsen, appealed from a February 6, 2018 Newport Superior Court judgment granting the motion for summary judgment of the appellee, Anna L. DeMayo, and denying Mr. Olsen’s cross-motion for summary judgment. On appeal, Mr. Olsen contended that the Superior Court justice erred in granting Mrs. DeMayo’s motion for summary judgment and denying his cross-motion for summary judgment in view of his arguments: (1) that G.L. 1956 § 34-18-22.3 provided him the right to recover all the rent which he had paid to Mrs. DeMayo over several years because she, as a landlord who was not a resident of this state, had failed to designate an agent for service of process as required by the statute; (2) that he had a right to recover the rent under G.L. 1956 § 9-1-2, which provides “civil liability for crimes and offenses;” and (3) that he had a right to recover the rent under the theory of unjust enrichment.
The Supreme Court held that the hearing justice properly granted Mrs. DeMayo’s motion for summary judgment as to all three issues. The Court concluded: (1) that Mr. Olsen’s proffered interpretation of § 34-18-22.3 ran afoul of the canon of statutory construction that counsels against interpreting an ambiguous statute in a manner that yields an absurd result; (2) that he had not met his burden of showing that he had suffered any damages as required by § 9-1-2; and (3) that he had not shown that it was inequitable for Mrs. DeMayo to have received and retained rent payments from him while, for nearly ten years, he and his family occupied a waterfront condominium owned by her. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court.
|State v. Mario Souto, No. 15-295 (June 13, 2019)||15-295|
The defendant, Mario Souto, appealed from a judgment of conviction on three counts—assault of a police officer, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct—following a two-day jury trial during which the defendant represented himself. On appeal, the defendant challenged the trial justice’s finding that the defendant voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently waived his right to counsel prior to trial. Specifically, the defendant argued that the trial justice was required to conduct a separate inquiry into his indigency status before finding a valid waiver, and that the trial justice had not considered the fact that, when the defendant agreed to allow his attorney to withdraw, he had not understood that he would be required to represent himself at trial if he did not hire another attorney.
The Supreme Court held that the trial justice did not err in finding that the defendant had voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently waived his right to counsel prior to trial. The Court determined that the defendant’s actions—his failure to obtain counsel after being afforded multiple continuances over fourteen months—demonstrated a voluntary waiver. Furthermore, the Court held that the trial justice did not err in concluding that the defendant had knowingly and intelligently waived his right to counsel because the defendant had been warned about the consequences of his failure to hire an attorney at multiple times throughout the proceedings. The Court concluded that, based on the totality of the circumstances, the defendant had validly waived his right to counsel. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgment of conviction.
|In re Estate of Amet Chelo, No. 18-183 (June 12, 2019)||18-183|
The appellant, Amet Chelo, appealed from a Superior Court judgment dismissing his probate appeal after finding that, because the appellant was under guardianship, he lacked the capacity to retain legal counsel and file an appeal in his own name. Before this Court, the appellant argued that the Superior Court erred in dismissing his probate appeal because, according to the appellant, he was only under a limited guardianship and, thus, was entitled to pursue the probate appeal on his own.
The Supreme Court found that, because the certificate of appointment did not “clearly state” that the appointment was a “limited guardianship,” and because the December 15, 2015 Probate Court order did not “clearly indicate the scope of the powers and duties of the limited guardian,” there was no compliance with G.L. 1956 § 33-15-4(a)(1), and, thus, the appellant was under a full guardianship pursuant to a superseding order of the Probate Court. Next, because the Supreme Court found that the appellant was under a full guardianship, the Court concluded that the appellant lacked the capacity to bring and maintain an action in his own name.
Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court.
|Gerald Richard v. Steven Robinson, No. 18-124 (June 12, 2019)||18-124|
The defendant, Steven Robinson, appealed from an order of the Superior Court that denied his motion to confirm an arbitration award issued in his favor in court-annexed arbitration. Although the plaintiff, Gerald Richard, filed a timely rejection of the arbitration award, his initial electronically submitted filing was rejected because he had used an incorrect filing code. When the statutory period for filing a rejection expired, the defendant filed a motion to confirm the award. Soon thereafter, the plaintiff corrected his initial filing. The Superior Court denied defendant’s motion to confirm the arbitration award. On appeal, the Supreme Court noted that an improper code is not a sufficient reason for rejecting an electronic filing in an arbitration case, but noted that plaintiff had not challenged the procedures used to reject his filing in this case. The Court held that Article X, Rule 5(c) of the Supreme Court Rules Governing Electronic Filing directs that, if an electronically submitted filing is rejected, a corrected filing will relate back to the date of the original filing if made “promptly.” The Court further held that a determination of whether a correction was made promptly is within the sound discretion of the trial justice, and the Court’s review of such a determination is limited to whether the trial justice abused his or her discretion. The Court discerned no abuse of discretion in this case and affirmed the order of the Superior Court.
|State v. Justice Andrade, No. 17-231 (June 12, 2019)||17-231|
The defendant, Justice Andrade, was found guilty by a jury of first-degree murder, discharging a firearm during a crime of violence, and carrying a firearm without a license. On appeal, the defendant (1) argued that the admission of the statements he gave to the police when he voluntarily turned himself into their custody a few days after Ty-Shon Perry was killed was a violation of his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights; (2) asserted that his Sixth Amendment right to effective counsel was violated because, he contended, his trial counsel maintained an actual conflict of interest throughout her representation of him; (3) challenged the admission of testimonial and photographic evidence suggesting his affiliation with known Providence gangs; and (4) challenged specific portions of the jury instructions given to the jurors prior to their deliberation as well as the trial justice’s decision not to include two specific instructions defendant had requested.
The Supreme Court held that the trial justice did not err when he denied defendant’s motion to suppress the statements he made to the police after turning himself into their custody because the Sixth Amendment right to counsel is not implicated until formal criminal prosecution begins and there was no indication of a Fifth Amendment violation. The Court also held that the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to effective counsel was not violated by his trial counsel’s representation of another defendant in an unrelated incident despite the personal connection between this other defendant and one of the state’s eyewitnesses. With respect to the admission of testimonial and photographic evidence of gang affiliation, the Court held that the defendant’s arguments were waived for failure to preserve the challenge to this evidence during the trial. Finally, the Court held that the defendant’s respective arguments regarding the jury instructions were also waived because the defendant had not preserved the argument for appellate review and because the defendant simply stated the issue for review without providing any meaningful argument thereon.
Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of conviction.
|Management Capital, L.L.C. v. F.A.F., Inc. et al., No. 17-275 (June 12, 2019)||17-275|
The plaintiff, Management Capital, L.L.C. (Management), initiated this litigation after defendant, F.A.F., Inc. (FAF), maintained that a common stock warrant held by Management had no value. A Superior Court justice, sitting without a jury at a trial held over six days, found in favor of Management. On appeal, FAF contends that the trial justice erred when he: (1) reformed certain dates in a stock warrant which were a result of mutual mistake; (2) determined that “funded debt” was an unambiguous term meaning “long-term debt”; (3) found that FAF repudiated its obligations under the stock warrant; (4) found that Management properly preserved its post-repudiation rights; (5) determined that Management proved its damages with reasonable certainty; (6) determined that prejudgment interest would accrue from October 13, 2008 onward; and (7) did not rule on FAF’s counterclaims.
The Supreme Court first held that the trial justice, after finding that the evidence clearly demonstrated a mutual mistake, was correct in reforming the stock warrant. Next, the Supreme Court held that the stock warrant was unambiguous and, therefore, “funded debt” means “long-term debt,” the plain and ordinary meaning of funded debt. The Supreme Court also found that FAF had repudiated its obligations under the warrant and that Management properly preserved its post-repudiation rights. Additionally, the Supreme Court held that Management had proven its damages with reasonably certainty and the date from which prejudgment interest was to accrue was properly determined. Finally, the Supreme Court held that the trial justice did not err when he did not rule on FAF’s counterclaims.
|Dolores Voccola v. The Stop & Shop Supermarket Company, LLC et al. v. Xpress Sweeping, Inc., No. 17-371, 18-136 (June 11, 2019)||17-371, 18-136|
The plaintiff, Dolores Voccola, appealed from the grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants, the Stop & Shop Supermarket Company, LLC and Xpress Sweeping, Inc. On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the Superior Court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the defendants because there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether there was black ice in the area of the parking lot of Stop & Shop where the plaintiff slipped and fell.
The Supreme Court held that the trial justice erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the defendants because the plaintiff had satisfied her burden of producing competent evidence that established the existence of a disputed issue of material fact, such that a reasonable factfinder could conclude that the cause of the plaintiff’s fall was, in fact, black ice. Accordingly, the Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the Superior Court granting summary judgment in favor of the defendants and remanded the case for further proceedings.
|State v. Hasim Munir, No. 18-43 (June 11, 2019)||18-43|
The defendant, Hasim Munir, appealed from a July 6, 2017 judgment of conviction entered against him in Providence County Superior Court following a jury trial. Mr. Munir was charged by indictment with and convicted of one count of first-degree child molestation sexual assault, in violation of G.L. 1956 §§ 11-37-8.1 and 11-37-8.2. On appeal, he raised the following issues: (1) “whether the trial justice committed clear error by refusing to suppress defendant’s statement to the police where evidence that defendant’s confession was knowing, intelligent and voluntary was less than clear and convincing;” and (2) “whether the trial justice committed clear error in admitting defendant’s confession into evidence despite his invocation of his right to remain silent[.]”
The Supreme Court held that Mr. Munir knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waived his rights that were recognized in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). The Court also held that Mr. Muir did not invoke his right to remain silent. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the trial justice’s denial of Mr. Munir’s motion to suppress his statements to the police.
|In re Austin B., No. 16-237 (June 10, 2019)||16-237|
The respondent, Austin B., appealed from a Family Court order and judgment finding him delinquent for possession of child pornography. On appeal, respondent argued that: (1) the Family Court magistrate erred in denying his request for a Franks hearing; (2) the Family Court justice erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence based on a lack of probable cause to support the search warrant; (3) even if there was probable cause, the Family Court justice erred in deciding that the police properly executed the warrant; (4) the Family Court justice erred in failing to suppress respondent’s statements made to an officer at the residence.
The Supreme Court affirmed on all grounds that were properly preserved below. The Court held that the Family Court magistrate properly denied respondent’s request for a Franks hearing because there was no evidence that the detective included a knowing or intelligent false statement in the affidavit. Moreover, the Court determined that the Family Court justice properly denied respondent’s motion to suppress because there was enough evidence in the warrant and affidavit to establish probable cause and the officers lawfully executed the warrant. Finally, the Court held that respondent waived any argument regarding the statements he made while at the residence because he failed to raise that argument below. Therefore, the Court affirmed the judgment of delinquency.
|Estate of Brian Chen et al. v. Lingting Ye et al., No. 17-309 (June 10, 2019)||17-309|
The plaintiffs, the estate of a seven-year-old decedent and his parents and sister, sought review of an order entered by the Superior Court that restricted a deposition to written questions in accordance with the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure. The plaintiffs filed suit against the defendants after the decedent, a seven-year-old boy, drowned in the defendants’ swimming pool while he was attending a party at the defendants’ home. During discovery, the plaintiffs sought to depose M.Y., the defendants’ minor daughter and an alleged material witness to the drowning. The defendants filed a motion to quash the deposition and attached a letter from M.Y.’s psychotherapist indicating that M.Y. had been in treatment for generalized anxiety for several years, that her symptoms had exacerbated since the decedent’s death, and that exposing M.Y. to a deposition would certainly worsen her mental health and might have a negative and lasting consequence to her condition. The Superior Court entered an order that quashed an oral deposition of M.Y., allowed a deposition on written questions “in accord with the rules of civil procedure[,]” and required defense counsel to submit, every six months from the date of the order until the case was resolved, a statement from a mental-health professional indicating whether M.Y. was fit to be deposed.
On appeal, the plaintiffs argued, inter alia, that the hearing justice erred because, instead of prohibiting the oral deposition outright, he should have allowed the oral deposition to continue under reasonable restrictions that would limit any potential harm to M.Y. while still preserving the plaintiffs’ right to relevant discovery. The Supreme Court agreed and held that good cause had not been demonstrated to a sufficient degree to impose such a restriction on M.Y.’s deposition. The Court observed that oral depositions have inherent advantages over written depositions, and reasoned that the mental-health professional’s letter was conclusory with respect to the potential harm that could result if M.Y. were to be deposed.
Accordingly, the Supreme Court quashed the order of the Superior Court and remanded the case to that court so that plaintiffs could conduct an oral deposition of M.Y. The Supreme Court also noted that the hearing justice may impose reasonable restrictions on the oral deposition, such as setting a time limit on the deposition, allowing frequent recesses, and/or permitting a parent of M.Y. to be present during the deposition.
|Jason Puerini et al. v. Jeanne LaPierre et al., No. 16-335 (June 4, 2019)||16-335|
This appeal arose out of litigation over whether the owner-lessor of a motor vehicle was vicariously liable for the alleged negligence of the driver-lessee in a roadway collision resulting in injuries to plaintiff Jason Puerini. A hearing justice of the Superior Court granted the owner-lessor’s motion for summary judgment. On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that the owner-lessor of the motor vehicle was not entitled to summary judgment because it did not qualify for protection from the federal Graves Amendment, 49 U.S.C. § 30106.
The Supreme Court first addressed a question of first impression in this jurisdiction—whether the Graves Amendment preempts our state laws allowing a party injured in a motor vehicle accident to recover from the title owner of the vehicle through the owner’s vicarious liability for the negligence of the driver. The Supreme Court held that the Graves Amendment conflicts with G.L. 1956 § 31-34-4 and therefore preempts application of this state statute authorizing vicarious liability for the title owner of a motor vehicle when the vehicle operator’s negligence causes injury. The Supreme Court also addressed G.L. 1956 § 31-33-6, holding that, to the extent that this statute makes business entities potentially vicariously liable for failure to comply with financial responsibility or liability insurance requirements, this statute is not preempted because it specifically falls within the § 30106(b)(2) savings clause of the Graves Amendment. In addition, the Supreme Court held that the Motor Vehicle Reparation Act, G.L. 1956 chapter 47 of title 31, is not preempted by the Graves Amendment because the consequences for automobile dealers for failure to comply with the requirements of this statute do not include vicarious liability for the alleged negligence of automobile drivers.
The Supreme Court also engaged in a de novo review of the evidence HLT submitted in support of its motion for summary judgment, as well as the evidence plaintiffs submitted in objection thereto, and held that the record showed no genuine issue of material fact that HLT is engaged in the general business of leasing motor vehicles. The Supreme Court held that HLT was entitled to summary judgment on the plaintiffs’ claims that it is vicariously liable for their injuries, and therefore the Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court.
|Bacon Construction Co., Inc. v. Arbella Protection Insurance Company, Inc., No. 17-350 (June 4, 2019)||17-350|
The plaintiff, Bacon Construction Co., Inc., appealed from the Superior Court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of the defendant, Arbella Protection Insurance Company, Inc., in this declaratory-judgment action involving the question of whether Arbella is contractually obligated to provide insurance coverage to Bacon, which is listed as an additional insured on the insurance policy at issue.
On appeal, Bacon argued that the Superior Court erred in denying its motion for summary judgment and granting Arbella’s cross-motion for summary judgment. According to Bacon, the hearing justice erred by: (1) ruling that Bacon is not afforded coverage under a plain-language reading of the additional insured endorsement; (2) ruling that the additional insured endorsement includes a negligence trigger; (3) conflating the Arbella policy and subcontract analyses; and (4) ruling that Arbella does not have a duty to defend Bacon.
The Supreme Court held that Bacon is not entitled to additional insured coverage because (1) the additional insured endorsement includes a negligence trigger and, thus, restricts Bacon’s entitlement to coverage to only those situations where liability is caused by the named insured’s negligence; and (2) Bacon’s voluntary dismissal of all claims against the named insured and its settlement with the complainant in the underlying action preclude any finding of the named insured’s negligence so as to trigger this contractual obligation. Next, the Court held that the subcontract is irrelevant to this analysis and thus need not be addressed. Lastly, the Court, applying the “pleadings test,” held that Arbella has no duty to defend Bacon because the underlying complaint is devoid of any allegations that bring the underlying case within or potentially within the risk covered by the Arbella policy.
Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court granting summary judgment in favor of the defendant.
|Joel Trojan v. Denise Trojan, No. 17-123 (June 3, 2019)||17-123|
The defendant appealed a judgment of the Family Court ordering the plaintiff, her former husband, to pay child support for their minor child. The defendant argued that the trial justice erred when he did not order the plaintiff to pay interim and retroactive child support while their divorce proceeding was ongoing. The defendant also contended that the trial justice erred in determining the plaintiff’s gross income for the purpose of calculating his child support obligation because he did not include 2015 net income and distributions from an “S” corporation of which he was the sole shareholder. According to the defendant, the 2015 distributions from the corporation to the plaintiff were used to pay for income taxes, the plaintiff’s sole ownership in the corporation, and personal expenses, including a personal life insurance premium.
The Supreme Court first held that the trial justice did not abuse his discretion in denying interim child support at the beginning of the divorce trial because there was evidence presented to the trial justice that the defendant had access to ample funds during that time. The Court also held that the defendant waived her argument that such an award should have been granted at a subsequent hearing, because the defendant had failed to raise that argument at that hearing. The Court additionally noted that the parties had agreed to interim child support while the divorce proceeding was pending.
Furthermore, the Court held that the trial justice ruled within the bounds of his discretion when he found that the corporation’s 2015 net income, which had been retained within the corporation, should not have been included in the plaintiff’s gross income calculation. According to the Court, this was so because, although the net income was reported on the plaintiff’s tax returns due to the corporation’s structure as an S corporation for income tax purposes, the net income had been retained for a legitimate business purpose because the corporation was required to meet a minimum equity retention requirement with its bonding company. Related to this holding, the Court agreed with the trial justice and held that the 2015 distribution to the plaintiff that had been used to pay for taxes on the income legitimately retained by the corporation did not inure to the plaintiff’s benefit.
However, the Supreme Court held that the trial justice erred in determining that the 2015 distribution used to pay for the plaintiff’s obligations in acquiring sole ownership of the corporation should have been excluded from his gross income calculation. The Court reasoned that there was testimony and evidence indicating that the payments were the plaintiff’s personal obligations, but the plaintiff used corporate funds to satisfy those obligations. Moreover, with respect to the 2015 distribution used to pay for the plaintiff’s personal life insurance premium, the Court similarly held that that distribution should have been included in the plaintiff’s gross income calculation because the distribution was used to pay for a personal expense. The Court also determined that the defendant’s claim as to distributions that were used to pay for other personal expenses had been waived because such an argument was never raised at the child support hearing in the Family Court.
Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part the judgment of the Family Court.