Justia Rhode Island Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Business Law
Wilby v. Savoie
In 1997, Defendants formed a Vermont corporation called Green Mountain Park, Inc. to reconstruct, revive, and operate a defunct horseracing facility in the Town of Pownal, Vermont. Plaintiff agreed to invest $350,000 in the enterprise. Plaintiff subsequently became a member of the board of directors along with Defendants. A few years later, the project was abandoned due to issues surrounding Green Mountain’s ability to obtain a racetrack license. Defendants filed a complaint against Plaintiff in 2002, and Plaintiff counterclaimed for breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, and breach of contract. Defendants’ complaint was subsequently dismissed, and the case proceeded to trial on Plaintiff’s counterclaims. After a bench trial, the superior court entered judgment for Defendants on all counts. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial justice did not err in his factual findings and conclusions of law.View "Wilby v. Savoie" on Justia Law
LaBonte v. New England Dev. R.I., LLC
Lawrence LaBonte, the owner of New England Development RI, LLC (N.E. Development), filed a petition seeking the reorganization and/or the dissolution of N.E. Development. American Steel Coatings, LLC (American Steel) filed a motion to approve secured claim attempting to recover the funds it alleged were owed pursuant to a loan agreement between the parties. The LLC’s permanent receiver and LaBonte objected to American’s motion, asserting that the loan agreement was void because the amount of interest to be charged violated the state’s usury laws. The superior court sustained the objections and voided as usurious the loan agreement. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the loan agreement in this case was usurious and, therefore, void. View "LaBonte v. New England Dev. R.I., LLC" on Justia Law
Piccoli & Sons, Inc. v. E & C Constr. Co., Inc.
This litigation stemmed from a dispute over monies allegedly owed to a now-defunct corporation for work performed as part of a construction project that took place in 1990. Plaintiff corporation instituted suit about twenty-two years ago. Seventeen years later, the superior court dismissed the action, finding that Plaintiff could neither maintain the action in its own name nor substitute another entity as Plaintiff. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, as a defunct corporation, Plaintiff could no longer maintain this action in its own name, and because the receiver was discharged when Plaintiff was dissolved, the receiver could not maintain the action on its behalf. View "Piccoli & Sons, Inc. v. E & C Constr. Co., Inc." on Justia Law
Vogel v. Catala
After Defendant failed to repay a loan Plaintiff made to him in the amount of $8,500, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendant alleging breach of contract and breach of an implied-in-fact contract. Plaintiff later amended his complaint to include a claim for failure to repay based on book account. After a jury, the trial justice ordered Defendant to pay damages to Plaintiff in the amount of $8,500. Defendant appealed, contending that the trial justice erred in finding that Plaintiff was a credible witness and in failing to find that the transaction was void because Plaintiff had allegedly advanced the money to Defendant with the knowledge that it would be used for gambling. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Court had no choice but to uphold the lower court's findings because the Court was not provided with a transcript of the trial below and therefore was unable to properly engage in a review of the trial justice's factual findings. View "Vogel v. Catala" on Justia Law
Nationwide Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. D.F. Pepper Constr., Inc.
Dean Pepper, the owner and sole shareholder of D.F. Pepper Construction (DFP) was driving one of his trucks home in the early winter morning. An icy road caused the truck to slide into Pepper's house and crash through the foundation and west wall. The house was later condemned and demolished as a result of the damage. The house was insured by Nationwide Casualty Insurance Company. Nationwide paid the loss. As subrogee of Pepper, Nationwide then sued DFP, the registered owner of the truck, alleging vicarious liability for the negligence of its employee, Pepper. The superior court issued judgment in favor of Nationwide, finding that Pepper had been negligent and that the antisubrogation rule did not apply in this case. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court did not err in its judgment. View "Nationwide Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. D.F. Pepper Constr., Inc." on Justia Law
Custom Metals Sys., Ltd. v. Tocci Building Corp.
Plaintiff was a Massachusetts corporation when it entered into a contract with Defendants. The contract was to be performed entirely in Rhode Island. Defendants subsequently commenced a civil action against Plaintiff. At the time, Plaintiff had a certificate of authority from the secretary of state, but after Plaintiff filed this action, the corporation's certificate of authority was revoked. The superior court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants, determining that Plaintiff did not have a certificate of authority to transact business in Rhode Island, and therefore, it lacked the capacity to sue in the state. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that a certificate was not required in this instance, but Plaintiff must obtain a certificate before proceeding to final judgment. View "Custom Metals Sys., Ltd. v. Tocci Building Corp." on Justia Law
Vasquez v. Sportsman’s Inn, Inc.
Plaintiff filed a civil action against Sportsman's Inn, Inc., a hotel and lounge, and DLM, Inc., the corporation that leased the premises to the hotel, alleging that he was shot as a result of the failure of Defendants to provide adequate security at the business. Several months later, Plaintiff learned that the property where the hotel was located was for sale, and moved for a preliminary injunction. The trial justice granted Plaintiff's motion to enjoin the sale of the property, concluding that Plaintiff had established a likelihood of success that the corporate formalities should be disregarded and that Sportsman's Inn had breached its duty of reasonable care to him. Defendants appealed, contending that the trial justice erred in finding Plaintiff had demonstrated there was a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits of the negligence claim and that the corporate veil should be pierced. The Supreme Court vacated the superior court's order granting a preliminary injunction, holding that Plaintiff did not establish a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits of his underlying negligence claim and that a "piercing of the corporate veil" analysis was unnecessary at this stage of the litigation. View "Vasquez v. Sportsman's Inn, Inc." on Justia Law
Mutual Development Corporation v. Ward Fisher & Company, LLP et al.
Plaintiff Mutual Development Corporation appealed a Superior Court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants Ward Fisher & Company, LLP (Ward Fisher) and WF Realty & Investment, LLC (WF Realty). On appeal, plaintiff contended that the hearing justice improperly interpreted and applied subsection 6 of G.L. 1956 sec. 9-1-4 (the Statute of Frauds) in deciding that that subsection could properly be invoked with respect to an alleged oral finder's fee agreement between plaintiff and the defendants, thereby barring recovery by plaintiff. The Supreme Court requested the parties address" (1) "the issue of whether there is a distinction between a finder and a broker with respect to real estate transactions, and, if so whether the language of the statute of frauds, G.L. 1956 sec. [9-1-4], encompasses a finder as well as a broker;" and (2) the issue of "[w]hether the statute of frauds applies equally to percentage-based commissions and flat-sum commissions, or solely to percentage-based commissions or fees." After review, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court. View "Mutual Development Corporation v. Ward Fisher & Company, LLP et al." on Justia Law
GSM Industrial, Inc. v. Grinnell Fire Protection Systems Company, Inc.
The facts of this case were "clear and undisputed; in point of fact, they are a textbook example of a mechanic's-lien dispute." Plaintiff, GSM Industrial, Inc., was a subcontractor that entered into an agreement with AirPol, Inc., a general contractor, to install an air-pollution-control mechanism on property owned by Defendant Grinnell Fire Protection Systems Company, Inc. When AirPol failed to pay GSM the balance of its fee, GSM filed a complaint to enforce a mechanic's lien against Grinnell. The particular issue before the Supreme Court was whether a notarial acknowledgment in a subcontractor's notice of intention satisfied the statutory requirement that such a statement be "under oath." A justice of the Superior Court ruled that a Pennsylvania notary public's "acknowledgement" was insufficient to satisfy the oath requirement, and, as a result, the notice was fatally defective. Upon review, the Supreme Court agreed, and affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court. View "GSM Industrial, Inc. v. Grinnell Fire Protection Systems Company, Inc." on Justia Law
Takian v. Rafaelian
The dispute at the center of this case arose from a business relationship that "rapidly turned sour." Plaintiffs Charles and Marguerite Takian and Defendants Ralph and Lucia Rafaelian together purchased property in South Kingstown that included a motel, restaurant and trailer park. The couples formed a business to manage the property and Plaintiffs agreed to run the businesses. In 2002, the relationship between the parties deteriorated when Defendants alleged Plaintiffs were mismanaging the businesses. Defendants decided to sell their interest to Plaintiffs' son Randolph. As part of the sale, Defendants signed a release absolving Plaintiffs from "any and all claims arising out of the ownership of the property and operation of the business." After the sale, Defendants continued to feel "unsettled" about how the business had been operated. They investigated further and alleged to have discovered facts that suggested far more serious misdeeds in management. Plaintiffs filed an action for declaratory relief, in which they sought a ruling that the release that had been executed by Defendants contemporaneous with the sale barred any further claims. Defendants counterclaimed, both on behalf of themselves and derivatively on behalf of the corporation, alleging embezzlement, misrepresentation, misappropriation, and loss of corporate opportunity. A justice of the Superior Court granted summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs, after he found that the release was both valid and effective against both defendants and the corporation. Defendants appealed. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed in part, and reversed in part. The Court found triable issues of fact that were inappropriate for resolution by summary judgment. The case was remanded for further proceedings with respect to those remaining issues. View "Takian v. Rafaelian" on Justia Law