Justia Rhode Island Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court entering summary judgment in favor of the Town of Johnston and dismissing Plaintiff's suit alleging claims of governmental promissory estoppel and deprivation of property rights after the Town denied Plaintiff's requests for health benefits set forth in Ordinance 767, holding that Plaintiff was not eligible to receive benefits under the ordinance. Plaintiff served on the Johnston Town Council from 1981 until 1994. In 1989, the Town passed and adopted Ordinance 767, which established various benefits for certain town officials. In 1993, Ordinance 767 was repealed by Ordinance 913. In the early 2000s Plaintiff made several demands on the Town for the health benefits set forth in Ordinance 767, arguing that his entitlement to those benefits had vested as of 1991. After the Town denied those requests Plaintiff filed suit. The superior court granted summary judgment for the Town. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the clear and unambiguous language of Ordinance 767 indicates that Plaintiff was not eligible to receive benefits under the ordinance; and (2) Ordinance 767 sought to create a right to health benefits that did not previously exist, and therefore, the enactment could not be deemed a remedial ordinance. View "Zanni v. Town of Johnston" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed an order and judgment of the superior court granting the Rhode Island Department of Health's (Department) motion to dismiss Physicians' complaint, quashed a later judgment of the superior court granting the physicians' motion to enter default judgment against the Department, and remanded this case for further proceedings, holding that a default judgment against an agency in this case was inappropriate. The Department made a finding of unprofessional conduct against Physicians. Physicians move to dismiss the charges filed against them. The hearing officer denied the motion. Physicians then filed a complaint appealing the order. A hearing justice granted the Department's motion to dismiss the complaint without prejudice to them seeking review after they had exhausted their administrative remedies. The Supreme Court then granted Physicians' petition for writ of certiorari, and a second hearing justice granted Physicians' motion to enter default judgment because the Department did not submit the certified administrative record of the appeal. The Supreme Court held (1) the first hearing justice correctly found that the case was interlocutory and therefore premature; and (2) the second hearing justice exceeded his discretion when he entered default judgment in favor of Physicians. View "Banki v. Fine" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decree of the superior court foreclosing Crown Realty LLC's right of redemption to real property that was the subject of a 2017 tax sale, holding that that the superior court justice properly entered a decree forever barring Crown Realty's right of redemption. Crown Realty was the owner of real property that was sold to Plaintiff at a tax sale conducted by the Town of North Providence. Plaintiff failed a petition to foreclose the right of redemption, citing a failure to any interested party to redeem the property. The justice determined that Crown Realty's right of redemption was barred. One week later, a final decree was entered foreclosing the right of Crown Realty to redeem the property. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Crown Realty's request that an exception to Conley v. Fontaine, 138 A.3d 756 (R.I. 2016), be applied in this case was misplaced; and (2) no implied-in-fact contract existed between the parties. View "Conley v. Crown Realty, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated Defendant's judgment of conviction on one count of first-degree child molestation sexual assault and remanded the case to the superior court for a new trial, holding that the trial justice erred in denying Defendant's motion to pass the case after the prosecutor's statements during closing argument about Defendant's courtroom demeanor and behavior toward the complainant. Specifically, the Court held (1) the prosecutor's statements regarding Defendant's courtroom demeanor had the potential for unfair prejudice, and a curative instruction could not overcome the prejudice in this case; (2) the trial justice erred in admitting some, but not all, of the evidence pertaining to a police investigation into Defendant for possession of child pornography; and (3) Defendant's claim that the trial justice erred in failing to safeguard Defendant's right to a fair trial based on various claims related to the presence of members of a motorcycle group known as Bikers Against Child Abuse in the courtroom during trial was not properly before the court. View "State v. Bozzo" on Justia Law

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In this consolidated appeal from an order of the superior court concluding that former Central Falls Mayor and former members of the Central Falls City Council (collectively, the elected officials) were not entitled to indemnification from the State for attorneys' fees and costs incurred over the course of this action the Supreme Court held that the superior court correctly concluded that the State was not required to indemnify the elected officials. These cases arose out of conflicts between a receiver, appointed for the City of Central Falls pursuant to the Financial Stability Act, and the elected officials. After the Supreme Court resolved the issue of the constitutionality of the Financial Stability Act the parties continued to litigate about the issue of attorneys' fees and indemnification. The Supreme Court concluded that the elected officials were entitled to indemnification. At issue in this appeal was who was required to indemnify the elected officials for their legal fees and costs. The superior court held that the City was required to indemnify the elected officials. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the elected officials were entitled to indemnification from the City but not from the State. View "Shine v. Moreau" on Justia Law

Posted in: Constitutional Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court convicting Defendant of first-degree murder and first-degree arson, holding that the trial justice was not clearly wrong in denying Defendant's motion for a new trial. On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial justice was clearly wrong when she denied his motion for a new trial because the weight of the evidence did not support the jury's verdict. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the evidence supported a finding that Defendant was the perpetrator and that the verdict was not against the weight of the evidence because the evidence supported a finding of premeditation. View "State v. Gumkowski" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court in favor of South County Hospital, Home & Hospice Care of Rhode Island and Emmy Mahoney, M.D. (collectively, Defendants), and dismissing all claims alleged by Plaintiff individually and on behalf of the Guardianship of Joyce C. Willner, holding that the trial justice did not err in dismissing the claims. Plaintiff filed an eight-count complaint against Defendants, individually and as guardian of Joyce Willner, his mother. The trial judge granted Defendants' motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgment, dismissing all claims. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial justice did not err in (1) dismissing the claims alleged by Plaintiff on behalf of the guardianship because Joyce had no right to be represented by Plaintiff, who was not authorized to practice law; and (2) denying Plaintiff's request to appoint a guardian ad litem. View "Willner v. South County Hospital" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court convicting Defendant of one count of domestic assault with a dangerous weapon, holding that the trial justice did not abuse her discretion in her evidentiary rulings. On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial justice erred by granting two of the State's motions in limine precluding the jury from hearing evidence of the victim's arrest for gun charges and viewing videos of the victim having engaged in acts of violence. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial justice did not abuse her discretion when she (1) prevented any mention that Defendant had been arrested on the gun charges, and (2) excluded the videos. View "State v. Medina" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and quashed in part the final decree of the Workers' Compensation Court (WCC) upholding an award of accidental disability benefits for occupational cancer to Petitioner, holding that the WCC had jurisdiction to hear Petitioner's appeal but erred in finding that R.I. Gen. Laws 45-19.1-1 contains a conclusive presumption that all cancer in firefighters is occupational cancer. Petitioner served as a firefighter for the City of Cranston until he was diagnosed with colon cancer. Petitioner applied for accidental disability benefit based upon his cancer diagnosis. The Retirement Board of the Municipal Employees' Retirement System of Rhode Island denied the application, finding that Petitioner did not prove that his cancer arose out of and in the course of his employment as a firefighter. The WCC then filed his petition arguing that, pursuant to chapter 19.1 of title 45, all cancers contracted by firefighters are presumed to be work-related. The trial judge agreed and reversed the board. The Supreme Court quashed the decree in part, holding that chapter 19.1 of title 45 does not contain any presumption that all cancers in firefighters are occupational cancers. View "Lang v. Municipal Employees' Retirement System of Rhode Island" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the family court denying Father's motions to modify visitation placement, ordering Father's visitation to remain suspended, granting in part Mother's motion for a mental health examination of Father, and ordering the parties to engage a counselor for the purposes of Father's psychological evaluation as well as for a parent-child evaluation of Father and the minor children, holding that the family court did not err. The parties in this case were divorced and shared joint custody of their three minor children with physical possession granted to Mother and visitation to Father. After a few years, the family court suspended Father's visitation and ordered him to undergo a mental health examination. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial justice did not abuse his discretion when he issued the order. View "Tsonos v. Tsonos" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law