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In this case between former spouses who disagreed about the ex-husband's entitlement to visitation with two dogs the parties acquired during their marriage, the Supreme Court affirmed the order of the family court approving the marital settlement agreement (MSA) entered into between Diane and Paul Giarrusso and ordering that Paul had the dogs Tuesdays through Thursdays, as provided in the MSA. Diane and Paul entered into a MSA formalizing the terms of the dissolution of their marriage. The final judgment dissolving the marriage incorporated the MSA. The MSA gave Diane title and interest in and to the two dogs and permitted Paul to take the dogs for weekly visits. After Diane unilaterally ceased allowing the visits, Paul filed a motion for post-final judgment relief. Diane also filed a motion for relief, claiming that Paul had breached the MSA regarding the dogs. The hearing justice denied Diane's requested relief, finding that the MSA unambiguously gave Paul the right to visitation with the dogs every week from Tuesday to Thursday and that Paul acted in good faith with respect to the dogs. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the hearing justice did not err in not withdrawing the court's approval of the MSA and did not overlook or misconceive any evidence. View "Giarrusso v. Giarrusso" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the superior court granting summary judgment in favor of Defendant, NAMCO, LLC, the company that sold the swimming pool in which a four-year-old child drowned to the child's grandmother, holding that there existed issues of material fact precluding summary judgment. Plaintiffs filed negligence claims alleging that Defendants negligently installed or allowed the safety ladder and pool to be installed without proper permitting and in violation of applicable ordinances, building codes and health regulations. NAMCO filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that because NAMCO did not install the pool or ladder and because the entity that did the installation was not its agent, NAMCO had no duty to Plaintiffs regarding the installation of the pool. Further, NAMCO argued that Plaintiffs could not prove that its actions were the proximate cause of the child's death. The hearing justice granted summary judgment for NAMCO. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) a factual issue remained in dispute as to whether the installer acted as NAMCO's agent; and (2) the issue of whether NAMCO had a duty to vet the installers it recommended could not be resolved on summary judgment. View "Oliver v. Narragansett Bay Insurance Co." on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury

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The Supreme Court vacated the September 20, 2016 judgment of the superior court entering judgment against Family Dollar Stores of Rhode Island, Inc. and affirmed the November 9, 2016 order of the superior court granting Family Dollar's emergency motion for a thirty-day extension of time within which to file its notice of appeal, holding that the hearing justice erred in dismissing Family Dollar's declaratory judgment action. Family Dollar filed this action against Justin B. Araujo seeking a declaratory judgment that the parties had entered into an enforceable settlement agreement releasing Family Dollar from claims that Araujo asserted against it in his charge before the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights and also alleging breach of contract. The Commission was added as an additional party to the case. The hearing justice granted Defendants' motions to dismiss on the basis that the proper forum for this action was before the Commission. Family Dollar later filed an emergency motion for a thirty-day time extension, which the hearing justice granted. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part, holding (1) the hearing justice did not abuse his discretion in finding excusable neglect in this case; and (2) Family Dollar's declaratory judgment action may proceed in superior court on remand. View "Family Dollar Stores of Rhode Island, Inc. v. Araujo" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decree of the appellate division of the Workers' Compensation Court (WCC) dismissing Petitioner's appeal from the decision of the trial judge finding that work-sharing benefits were properly not included in Petitioner's average weekly wage for workers' compensation benefits, holding that work-sharing benefits received pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws 28-44-69 may not be taken into account when determining the average weekly wage to be used in calculating workers' compensation benefits pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws 28-33-20. Petitioner was injured during the course of his employment and was unable to work for two months. At the time of the injury, Petitioner received work-sharing benefits from the state under an approved work-sharing program pursuant to section 28-44-69, in addition to receiving remuneration. Petitioner applied for workers' compensation benefits, but Petitioner's "average weekly wage" calculation did not take into account the work-sharing benefits Petitioner had been receiving. Petitioner filed a "claim for a trial" to challenge the calculation of his average weekly wage. The trial judge concluded that Petitioner's work-sharing benefits were properly not included in his average weekly wage. The appellate division of the WCC affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that work-sharing benefits are not included as part of the term "wages" in section 28-33-20. View "Powers v. Warwick Public Schools" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the determination of the hearing justice that Plaintiff, Christy's Auto Rentals, Inc., lacked standing to bring this declaratory judgment action against Christian Lanoie and his insurer, Massachusetts Homeland Insurance Company (Homeland), holding that the hearing justice correctly ruled that Homeland did not waive the standing defense and that Christy's lacked standing to pursue this declaratory judgment action. In this action against Homeland, Christy's sought a ruling that the damages Lanoie caused to its rental vehicle and a trailer owned by a third party were covered under Lanoie's policy with Homeland. The hearing justice granted summary judgment for Homeland because Christy's had not secured a judgment against Lanoie. The hearing justice went on to opine that Lanoie's insurance policy with Homeland did not provide coverage for the collision giving rise to the underlying dispute and that such coverage was not statutorily mandated. The Supreme Court affirmed the ruling with respect to Christy's lack of standing, holding that Christy's asserted injury was conjectural and hypothetical unless and until there was and unsatisfied final judgment in Christy's tort action against Lanoie. View "Christy's Auto Rentals, Inc. v. Massachusetts Homeland Insurance Co." on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part the order of the superior court authorizing a permanent receiver to distribute the proceeds from the sale of 25 Burnside Avenue in Narragansett in accordance with the receiver's recommendations, holding that the order is vacated to the extent that it deducted the entire balance of an outstanding mortgage from Kevin Hunt's share of the proceeds. The property in this case was owned by Kevin and Alice Hunt as tenants by the entirety. After the family court dissolved the Hunts' marriage, Bank scheduled a sale of the property to foreclose upon the mortgage. Alice filed a petition for receivership to protect her equity interests in the property, and the property was placed into temporary judicial receivership. The receiver eventually sold the property and filed a final report and a recommendation on allowance of claims. The superior court entered an order adopting the receiver's recommendations. The Supreme Court held that the superior court justice (1) did not err when he concluded that the net proceeds were to be distributed equally between Kevin and Alice; (2) erred when he attributed the mortgage wholly to Kevin; and (3) did not err by ordering Kevin to pay rent retroactively. View "In re 25 Burnside Avenue, Narragansett, R.I." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the superior court denying Plaintiffs' motion for a new trial after a jury found in favor of Defendants in this negligence action, holding that the motion was properly denied. Plaintiffs filed a complaint alleging negligence against Defendants seeking damages for injuries Plaintiff sustained when she slipped on some ice on pavement on Defendants' property. Plaintiffs also sought punitive damages, alleging that Defendants' conduct was reckless and willful. The punitive damages claim was dismissed after Plaintiffs rested their case. After deliberating, the jury rendered a verdict in favor of Defendants. Plaintiffs moved for a new trial, arguing that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence and failed to do substantial justice between the parties. The trial justice denied the motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial justice did not overlook or misconceive material and relevant evidence and was not otherwise clearly wrong in denying Plaintiffs' motion for a new trial. View "Letizio v. Ritacco" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury

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The Supreme Court vacated the decree of the family court finding that Mother abused and neglected her infant child, holding that the trial justice's findings were not supported by legally competent evidence. The trial justice determined that the child was abused and neglected as to both Father and Mother and ordered that the child be committed to the care, custody, and control of the Department of Children, Youth, and Families. On appeal, Mother argued that the trial justice overlooked or misconceived relevant law evidence, ignored evidence contradicting her findings, disregarded uncontroverted evidence, and based her finding of abuse and neglect on "an impermissible pyramid of inferences[.]" The Supreme Court held that, under the clear and convincing standard, the evidence was insufficient to support a finding of abuse or neglect as to Mother. View "In re Sophia M." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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In this personal injury suit seeking damages for injures alleged to be caused by defects in a public park, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court granting summary judgment in favor of the City of East Providence, holding that the City was immune from liability under the Recreational Use Statute, R.I. Gen. Laws chapter 6 of title 32 (RUS). Plaintiff was injured while riding his bicycle through Glenlon Park, located in East Providence. Plaintiff brought this action claiming that Defendant was negligent in maintaining the park. Defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that the City was immune from liability under the RUS because the park was open to the public for recreational purposes and the City did not act in a willful or malicious manner in failing to guard or warn against a known danger. The superior court granted summary judgment for the City. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the City was immune from liability under the RUS; (2) the spoliation doctrine did not apply to the circumstances presented in this case; and (3) the superior court did not err in refusing to apply the exception to the RUS, R.I. Gen. Laws 32-6-5(a)(1), to Plaintiff's claim. View "Yattaw v. City of East Providence" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of second-degree murder, holding that Defendant waived his argument that the trial justice erred when she failed to instruct the jury on the lesser-included offense of voluntary manslaughter and that the trial justice did not err in refusing to grant a mistrial. Specifically, the Court held (1) Defendant's contention that the trial judge erred in failing to give the jury an instruction on voluntary manslaughter and instead giving an involuntary manslaughter instruction was not properly preserved for appellate review; (2) the trial justice did not err in refusing to declare a mistrial on what Defendant characterized as the prosecutor's "wholly improper" statements made during closing argument because the court's cautionary instruction cured the prejudice created by the prosecutor's comments labeling Defendant as a scam artist, liar, and thief. View "State v. Lastarza" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law