Justia Rhode Island Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court entering summary judgment against Plaintiff and in favor of Defendants - Michael Baird, Mike's Professional Tree Services, Inc. (MPTS), and John Rossi - with respect to Plaintiff's personal injury claims, holding that the superior court did not err.This litigation arose from a serious injury that Plaintiff suffered while he was engaged as a foreman for a tree removal crew. Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging that Defendants had been negligent on the day of the accident. The central dispute between the parties on summary judgment was whether Plaintiff was employed by MPTS, as Defendants asserted, or whether Plaintiff was an employee of a related but distinct entity, as Plaintiff insisted. The hearing justice determined that MPTS was Plaintiff's employer and granted summary judgment for Defendants. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the hearing justice properly determined that Plaintiff was employed by MPTS and correctly granted Defendants' motion for summary judgment. View "Selby v. Baird" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the superior court denying Defendant's motion for a new trial, holding that the motion for a new trial was untimely filed.Defendant was found guilty of sex trafficking of a minor and conspiring to do so and three counts of first-degree sexual assault. The Supreme Court vacated the convictions for sex trafficking of a minor and conspiring to do so and otherwise affirmed. Defendant subsequently filed a second motion for a new trial, arguing that the vacatur of his convictions on counts four and six constituted newly available evidence, allowing him to file this motion. The trial justice denied the motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the motion for a new trial was filed outside of the ten-day time limit set forth in Rule 33, which cannot be waived. View "State v. Maxie" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the decree of the family court terminating Father's parental rights to his daughter, holding that the the trial justice was not clearly wrong to conclude that there was parental unfitness and did not err in determining that termination of Father's parental rights was in the best interest of the child.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) Father was not denied the effective assistance of counsel where Father failed to allege any basis for a finding that he did not knowingly give up his right to counsel; and (2) the trial justice did not err in finding that there was sufficient evidence to support a finding of parental unfitness and that there was no substantial probability that the child could be placed in Father's care within a reasonable period of time. View "In re Mandy M." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court convicting Defendant of eighteen counts of financial fraud crimes and sentencing him to a total of seven years to serve in prison, with the balance of the eighteen concurrent sentences suspended with probation, holding that the trial justice did not err or abuse her discretion.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the trial justice did not abuse her discretion in admitting evidence related to Defendant's character; (2) the trial justice did not err by permitted a Rhode Island State Police detective to provide expert opinion testimony as a lay witness; (3) the trial justice was not clearly wrong in allowing a waiver of the attorney-client privilege; (4) the trial justice did not err when she denied Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence he claimed was illegally obtained by state action; (5) the trial justice did not err by denying Defendant's motion for a new trial; and (6) Defendant waived his remaining allegations of error. View "State v. Doyle" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the superior court granting summary judgment in favor of Gonsalves-Pastore Realty, LLC and dismissing Mauro Poletti's negligence complaint, holding that summary judgment was properly granted.Poletti entered into an agreement with Linda Glynn, a licensed real estate agent, to assist him in the purchase of real estate for investment purposes. Later, Glynn granted two mortgages on property purchased in furtherance of Poletti's investment plan and used the resulting funds in contravention of that plan. In his complaint, Plaintiff alleged that Gonsalves-Pastore, as Glynn's employer or principal, breached its fiduciary duty to Poletti to oversee Glynn such that Glynn was acting in the best interests of Poletti and that no loss would ever occur to Poletti. The hearing justice granted summary judgment for Gonsalves-Pastore. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the hearing justice did not err in (1) determining that no genuine issue of material fact remained as to whether or not a fiduciary relationship existed between Poletti and Gonsalves-Pastore; and (2) concluding that no genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether or not Defendant was liable for Glynn's alleged acts of malfeasance. View "Poletti v. Glynn" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the superior court dismissing Plaintiffs' petition alleging that the City of Providence violated the terms of two superior court consent judgments entered in 2004 and seeking to enforce those judgments and to hold the City in contempt, holding that the City violated separation-of-powers principles.Plaintiffs, a retired firefighter and two retired police officers, filed a petition to enforce the 2004 consent judgments and hold the City in contempt of those judgments. The trial justice granted summary judgment for the City, finding that a pension ordinance passed in 2012 modified Plaintiffs' rights under the consent judgments. Plaintiffs appealed, arguing that a consent judgment cannot be overruled or otherwise modified by city ordinance. The City countered that the court would have violated separation of powers principles by finding it in contempt because courts cannot restrain municipal bodies from exercising their legislative powers. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment, holding (1) by enacting the pension ordinance, the City attempted to alter a superior court decision entered in the form of the consent judgment and thereby infringed on the exercise of judicial power; and (2) therefore, to the extent that the pension ordinance purported to nullify the consent judgment, it violated separation-of-powers principles embodied in the state constitution. View "Quattrucci v. Lombardi" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decree of the family court terminating Respondents' parental rights to their daughter, holding that the findings of the family court justice were based on clear and convincing evidence and were not clearly wrong, nor did the justice overlook or misconceive material evidence.The family court justice concluded that it was in the best interest of the child that the parental rights of Respondents be terminated based on the finding of unfitness. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the family court justice did not err in (1) admitting into evidence a medical report prepared by Dr. Adebimpe Adewusi, the child's treating physician; (2) finding, by clear and convincing evidence, that Respondents were unfit parents "by reason of conduct or conditions seriously detrimental to the child," in that they committed, or allowed to be committed, conduct toward the child "of a cruel and abusive nature"; and (3) finding that it was in the best interest of the child that Respondents' parental rights be terminated. View "In re Rylee A." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Appellate Division of the Workers' Compensation Court affirming the decree of the trial judge that Petitioner had failed to prove that he sustained a neck injury arising out of and in the course of his employment, holding that legally competent evidence supported the Appellate Division's determination.Before the Supreme Court, Petitioner argued that the trial judge committed reversible error by stating that Dr. Thomas Rocco, M.D. was not qualified to opine on an orthopedic issue because he was a board certified general surgeon, not a board certified orthopedic surgeon, and finding Dr. Rocco's testimony to be inconsistent. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Appellate Division did not err in upholding the trial judge's decision to discount Dr. Rocco's testimony; and (2) there was legally competent evidence to support the conclusion of the Appellate Division that Dr. Rocco's testimony was inconsistent. View "Thompson v. Millard Wire Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court convicting Defendant of first-degree robbery and assault with a dangerous weapon in a dwelling with intent to rob, holding that the trial justice did not abuse her discretion in excluding the complaining witness's prior criminal convictions and excluding photographs of bruises on Defendant's torso and supporting testimony from an investigator.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the trial justice did not abuse her discretion in excluding evidence of the complaining witness's prior convictions for resisting arrest and domestic disorderly conduct; and (2) the trial justice did not abuse her discretion in excluding the photographs and supporting testimony because, without further evidence connecting the injuries depicted in the photographs to the altercation with the complaining witness that occurred nearly two weeks earlier, the evidence was inadmissible. View "State v. Lamontagne" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In this action challenging an ordinance passed in 2011 requiring retirees from the City's police and fire departments to enroll in the federal Medicare program upon reaching the age of eligibility instead of continuing to have the City pay for their private health insurance for life the Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part the final judgment of the superior court in favor of the City, holding that the trial judge misconceived the evidence with respect to the health care benefits that Plaintiffs were receiving from the City.Most police or firefighter retirees filed suit challenging the ordinance, and many settled. Some retirees opted out of the settlement and pursued their claims through a bench trial. The trial justice found in favor of the City. The Supreme Court held (1) with respect to Plaintiffs' claims for breach of contract, violation of the Takings Clause, and promissory estoppel, the superior court's judgment was proper; and (2) as to Plaintiffs' Contract Clause claims, the trial justice overlooked or misconceived evidence in several crucial respects. The Court remanded the case with instructions to enter judgment consistent with the provisions pertaining to the Medicare Ordinance as set forth in the final and consent judgment in the lawsuit from which Plaintiffs opted out. View "Andrews v. Lombardi" on Justia Law