Justia Rhode Island Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of one count of felony assault and one count of simple assault, holding that none of the trial justice's rulings challenged on appeal was erroneous. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) because Defendant never questioned the trial justice's impartiality when it was appropriate to do so Defendant waived his argument that he was deprived of his right to trial by a neutral and detached arbiter; (2) the trial justice’s finding of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt on each count did not constitute an impermissible pyramiding of inferences; (3) Defendant's argument that he was deprived of his right to fair notice of the crime for which he was convicted and prejudiced by the timing of the introduction of the theory of aiding and abetting was without merit; and (4) because each of the individual allegations of error lacked merit, the cumulative effect doctrine did not apply. View "State v. Parrillo" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the order of the superior court dismissing Plaintiff's complaint against Defendants and declaring that a foreclosure sale of Plaintiff's property was valid, holding that the foreclosure sale was void because the notice of default sent to Plaintiff failed to comply with the terms of the mortgage. In 2007, Plaintiff purchased property and granted a mortgage on the property to secure a loan. In 2014, Plaintiff became delinquent on the mortgage. The mortgagee sent a notice of default and intent to accelerate to Plaintiff. After Plaintiff failed to cure the default, Plaintiff's property was sold at foreclosure sale. Plaintiff filed suit, alleging that the default notice was deficient and thus the foreclosure sale was void. After Defendants' motion for summary judgment was denied, Defendants sought declaratory relief seeking a declaration that the default notice sent to Plaintiff complied with the terms of the mortgage. The trial justice ruled in favor of Defendants. An order then entered dismissing Plaintiff's complaint and declaring the foreclosure sale valid. The Supreme Court vacated the order of the superior court, holding that the default notice failed strictly to comply with the terms of the mortgage, and therefore, Defendants failed to satisfy the condition precedent to a valid foreclosure. View "Woel v. Christiana Trust" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approving the interconnection tax which National Grid (NG) charged Petitioners to interconnect to NG's distribution system then paid to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as contributions in aid of construction, holding that the PUC did not err. In their petition for the issuance of writ of certiorari, Petitioners asked the Supreme Court to declare the PUC order illegal and unreasonable for purportedly failing to follow a specific IRS ruling and for failing to hold NG to its burden of proof. The Supreme Court affirmed the PUC's order, holding (1) NG was entirely reasonable in believing that it continued to owe the interconnection tax to the IRS and in, therefore, passing that tax on to Petitioners; and (2) the PUC order fully comported with a settlement proposal in this case. View "ACP Land, LLC v. Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission" on Justia Law

Posted in: Tax Law, Utilities Law
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The Supreme Court answered in this case in what situations a non-attorney who performs one or more of the various services that are associated with a real estate transaction is engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. The Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee transmitted three reports to the Supreme Court concluding that Respondents had engaged in the unauthorized practice of law by engaging in several aspects of residential real estate transactions that constitute the practice of law. The Supreme Court declined to adopt the Committee's recommendations in part and accepted them in part, holding (1) title insurance companies and their agencies do not engage in the unauthorized practice of law when they conduct a residential real estate closing, draft a residency affidavit, and draft a limited durable power of attorney when those activities are carried out in connection with the issuance of title insurance; (2) a title insurance company by conduct the examination of title for marketability only if a licensed attorney conducts the examination; and (3) drafting a deed constitutes the practice of law and that an attorney is required to either draft the deed or review it after its has been prepared. View "In re William E. Paplauskas, Jr." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court in favor of Employer on Employee's claim that Employer had violated the Rhode Island employer drug testing statute, R.I. Gen. Laws 28-6.5-1(a)(1) when it required Employee to take a drug test, allegedly without reasonable grounds, and terminated him for his refusal to do so, holding that reasonable grounds existed for the request that Employee take a drug test. According to the complaint, Employer wrongfully demanded that Employee undergo drug and alcohol testing in violation of portions of chapter 6.5 of title 28 of the General Laws. After the close of the trial, the trial justice concluded that Employer had reasonable grounds to believe that Employee was under the influence of a controlled substance. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that there were ample facts on the basis of which the trial justice could have reached the conclusion that reasonable grounds existed for Employer's request that Employee take a drug test, and therefore, the trial justice did not err or abuse her discretion. View "Colpitts v. W.B. Mason Co., Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court, holding that an amendment to the City of Providence's zoning ordinance that restricted the number of college students who may live together in single-family homes in certain residential areas in Providence did not violate Plaintiffs' right to equal protection or due process under the Rhode Island Constitution. Plaintiffs, a real estate investment company, and four individuals who were college students and housemates leasing the real estate investment company's property, filed a declaratory judgment action against the City seeking to invalidate the amendment, arguing that the City had violated the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the Rhode Island Constitution. The hearing justice entered judgment in favor of the City. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the amendment was rationally related to the legitimate state purpose of preserving the residential character of certain neighborhoods and that there was no constitutional violation. View "Federal Hill Capital, LLC v. City of Providence" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the order of the superior court denying the motion filed by a teachers' union and Jennifer Leyden (collectively, the Union) to vacate an arbitration award and granting the City of Providence's motion to confirm the award, holding that the trial justice erred in holding that the decision of the Employees' Retirement System of Rhode Island (the Retirement Board) granting Leyden's application for an ordinary disability retirement retired Leyden as a matter of law. Leyden, a school teacher, was awarded workers' compensation benefits after she was assaulted by students. The Retirement Board later approved Leyden's application for an ordinary disability retirement. While she was receiving workers' compensation benefits, Leyden sought reinstatement to her former teaching position. However, the School Department considered her to be retired. The Union filed a grievance, and the matter proceeded to arbitration. The arbitrator ruled in favor of the School Department, concluding that the Retirement Board had retired Leyden when it granted her request for an ordinary disability pension, and therefore, the Union had no standing to represent her. The superior court confirmed the award. The Supreme Court vacated the superior court's order, holding that Leyden's grievance that she was denied an appointment for the upcoming academic year was substantively arbitrable. View "Providence Teachers' Union Local 958, AFT, AFL-CIO v. Hemond" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court convicting Defendant of two counts of first-degree child molestation sexual assault and two counts of second-degree child molestation sexual assault, holding that the trial justice did not err by admitting evidence of an uncharged incident and by denying Defendant's motion for a new trial. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) Defendant's argument that evidence of a previous encounter Defendant had with the police, which resulted in neither charges against Defendant nor injuries to the victim, was improperly admitted under R.I. Evid. R. 404(b) was waived; and (2) the trial justice did not overlook or misconceive any material evidence and did not clearly err by denying Defendant's motion for a new trial. View "State v. Mensah" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the superior court granting summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs and declaring that Plaintiffs were entitled to unobstructed access to a beach easement and may cross Defendants' properties to reach that easement, holding that genuine issues of material fact remained, precluding summary judgment. At trial, Plaintiffs asserted that their property enjoyed an unrestricted easement appurtenant to the beach by virtue of the original easement to cross over the beach and that they were entitled access to the beach because they held a right-of-way over all three of defendants' properties based on the doctrines of easement by implication and easement by necessity. The hearing justice granted summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment, holding that where the hearing justice did not first determine whether an implied easement or easement by necessity existed for Plaintiffs to cross over Defendants' properties, the case must be remanded for further fact-finding. View "McElroy v. Stephens" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court in favor of the State and Lieutenant Scott Raynes and the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI), the Council on Postsecondary Education, and Captain Timothy Poulin, holding that the superior court did not err. Plaintiff brought a complaint alleging that Defendants terminated him in violation of the Rhode Island Whistleblowers' Protection Act and that Lieutenant Raynes and Captain Poulin violated 42 U.S.C. 1983 when they took action against Plaintiff from being continuously employed due to his whistleblowing activity. The hearing justice dismissed Plaintiff's claims. Plaintiff appealed the dismissal of his complaint and the denial of his motion to amend his complaint. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the hearing justice correctly concluded that Plaintiff failed to state a valid claim under the Act because Plaintiff's actions did not qualify as protected activity; and (2) the hearing justice did not err in denying Plaintiff's motion to amend his complaint on the ground that his claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983 was barred by the statute of limitations. View "Crenshaw v. State" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Rights