Justia Rhode Island Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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The plaintiff, PennyMac Loan Services, LLC, a mortgage company, held a mortgage interest in a property in Coventry, Rhode Island. The mortgagor, Domenico Companatico, failed to pay 2018 fire district taxes, leading to a tax sale auction where the property was sold to Roosevelt Associates, RIGP. Roosevelt later filed a petition to foreclose any right of redemption, and the Superior Court clerk issued a citation notifying interested parties. The citation did not include a street address for the property. Despite receiving the citation, PennyMac failed to respond and was defaulted. A Superior Court justice entered a final decree foreclosing the right of redemption, and Roosevelt sold the property to Coventry Fire District 5-19, RIGP, which later sold it to Clarke Road Associates, RIGP.PennyMac filed an action to challenge the foreclosure decree, arguing that the citation failed to provide adequate notice, thus denying PennyMac its right to procedural due process. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, and a second trial justice concluded that PennyMac had received adequate notice of the petition to foreclose all rights of redemption. The justice also found that the fire district taxes constituted a superior lien on the property and that PennyMac is statutorily barred from asserting a violation of the Uniform Voidable Transactions Act.The Supreme Court of Rhode Island affirmed the amended judgment of the Superior Court. The court found that the citation, despite lacking a street address, did not constitute a denial of due process. The court also concluded that PennyMac's claim under the Uniform Voidable Transactions Act was barred due to its failure to raise any objection during the foreclosure proceeding. Finally, the court determined that the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Tyler v. Hennepin County, Minnesota did not alter the outcome of this case. View "PennyMac Loan Services, LLC v. Roosevelt Associates, RIGP" on Justia Law

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The case involves Wilmington Savings Fund Society, FSB DBA Christiana Trust as Trustee for HLSS Mortgage Master Trust, by PennyMac Loan Services, LLC (plaintiff), and Power Realty, RIGP a/k/a Power Realty Group, RIGP, Douglas H. Smith, and TMC Keywest LLC (defendants). The plaintiff, a mortgage company, failed to pay municipal taxes on a property in Coventry, Rhode Island, which it had obtained title to in 2016. As a result, the town conducted a tax-sale auction in 2019, and Power Realty acquired the property. Power Realty then filed a petition to foreclose any right of redemption, which was granted by the Superior Court. The plaintiff challenged the foreclosure decree, arguing that the notice of the petition was inadequate.The Superior Court had granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, concluding that the plaintiff had received adequate notice of the petition to foreclose all rights of redemption. The plaintiff appealed this decision to the Supreme Court of Rhode Island.The Supreme Court of Rhode Island affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court. The court found that the citation provided to the plaintiff contained all the necessary components required by law, including a description of the land, the name of the petitioner, and a statement of the nature of the petition. The court rejected the plaintiff's argument that the citation's failure to include the street address for the property deprived the plaintiff of meaningful notice. The court concluded that the plaintiff, a sophisticated mortgage company, could and should have investigated the matter further upon receipt of the citation. The court also found that the plaintiff's argument based on the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Tyler v. Hennepin County, Minnesota did not alter the outcome of the case. View "Wilmington Savings Fund Society, FSB v. Power Realty, RIGP" on Justia Law

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This case was brought before the Supreme Court of Rhode Island to resolve a dispute between neighbors over property views. The plaintiffs, Thomas Knudsen, Trustee, Ciara Ladnier, and Edward Knudsen, Trustees, own property that rests on a hill with a view of the Sakonnet River. The defendant, Dr. Gregory DeJean, owns property that borders the plaintiffs' property and sits downhill from it. In 1989, the parties' predecessors entered into a restrictive covenant agreeing to certain building height restrictions and land maintenance obligations to preserve the existing views. Over time, however, Dr. DeJean has allowed new landscaping and existing vegetation to grow, diminishing the plaintiffs' view.In response, the plaintiffs filed a lawsuit seeking a declaration of their rights to maintain the agreement and enjoy the water views, as well as an injunction restraining Dr. DeJean from violating the agreement. The Superior Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, granting them declaratory and injunctive relief. The court ordered Dr. DeJean to make a variety of changes to his property to restore the plaintiffs' view to the condition it was in as of 1989.Dr. DeJean appealed to the Supreme Court of Rhode Island, arguing that the lower court had erred in its interpretation of the agreement and in its application of the legal defense of laches. However, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court, finding that Dr. DeJean had violated the restrictive covenant and that the trial justice had not erred in dismissing his laches defense. Thus, Dr. DeJean was ordered to maintain his property in a way that preserved the plaintiffs' view. View "Knudsen v. DeJean" on Justia Law

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The plaintiff, Dania Mateo, filed a case against Davidson Media Group Rhode Island Stations, LLC and several of its employees, which included 22 counts alleging violations of Rhode Island's Fair Employment Practices Act (RIFEPA) and Civil Rights Act (RICRA) as well as claims of sexual harassment, civil conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, assault and battery, negligence, false imprisonment, defamation, and conspiracy to commit defamation. The case was pending for nearly 14 years.Mateo appealed a Superior Court decision granting partial summary judgment in favor of certain defendants. The defendants cross-appealed, arguing that the hearing justice erred in granting partial final judgment because he failed to make an express determination that there was no just reason for delay, as required by Rule 54(b) of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure.The Supreme Court of Rhode Island found the defendants’ cross-appeal meritorious. The Court ruled that the hearing justice erred in granting partial final judgment because he failed to determine whether the criteria clearly set forth in Rule 54(b) had been satisfied. The Court held that the judgment must be vacated and the case remanded to the Superior Court for further proceedings. As a result, the Court did not reach the issues raised in the plaintiff's appeal. View "Mateo v. Davidson Media Group Rhode Island Stations, LLC" on Justia Law

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In a dispute between Nancy Robayo and Luis Robayo, the Supreme Court of Rhode Island affirmed the judgment of the Family Court. The case focuses on a marital settlement agreement between the plaintiff, Nancy Robayo, and the defendant, Luis Robayo, who are former spouses. The plaintiff argued that she is entitled to survivor benefits in the defendant's federal civilian pension according to their marital settlement agreement. The agreement was silent on the issue of survivor benefits, leading the court to find it ambiguous in this regard.The Supreme Court concluded that the most equitable construction of the agreement does not entitle the plaintiff to survivor benefits. The court's decision was based on the circumstances of the parties' marriage, their separation, and the context of their agreement. The parties had lived separately in different states for sixteen years during their twenty-eight-year marriage and had acknowledged in their marital settlement agreement that they had not had a "marital relationship" since 2010. The court found that all of the plaintiff's rights to the defendant's pensions ended on June 30, 2018, as stated in the agreement.The Supreme Court also addressed the plaintiff's argument that the trial justice erred in taking judicial notice of defense counsel's experience litigating in the Family Court. The court found that this did not constitute judicial error. View "Robayo v. Robayo" on Justia Law

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The plaintiff, Lourenco DoCouto, appealed a decision by the Superior Court of Rhode Island that dismissed his case against defendants Blue Water Realty, LLC and Louis Bachetti. The dispute centered around a property DoCouto claimed he had an option to purchase. DoCouto argued that the Superior Court erred in applying the doctrine of res judicata, dismissing his complaint for failure to timely serve defendants, and in determining that the District Court had jurisdiction over his equitable claims in the eviction proceedings.The Supreme Court of Rhode Island affirmed the Superior Court's decision. The court found that the parties in the eviction proceedings were the same or in privity with the parties in the present case. It also determined that DoCouto’s counterclaim in the eviction proceedings had alleged the same facts and arose out of the same transactions as those set forth in the current complaints. Therefore, the doctrine of res judicata applied, barring DoCouto’s claims.Moreover, the court disagreed with DoCouto’s claim that the District Court lacked jurisdiction over his equitable claims. As the eviction action pertained to a lease agreement, the court held that the District Court had the requisite jurisdiction over DoCouto’s equitable claims according to the Rhode Island statute. Lastly, the court rejected DoCouto’s argument that the District Court lacked jurisdiction over his request for compensatory damages for services rendered because the amount in controversy exceeded the statutory limit relative to District Court jurisdiction. The statutory maximum set forth had no bearing on the District Court’s subject matter jurisdiction over landlord-tenant cases such as this one. View "DoCouto v. Blue Water Realty, LLC" on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute among neighbors over the use and ownership of a private road in Rhode Island. The plaintiffs, Merlyn P. O’Keefe and Mary Ellen O’Keefe, who own the residential lot farthest from the main road, sought injunction relief and claimed adverse possession over the private road. The private road was part of a residential compound, known as White Horn Acres, and each party owned an undivided one-sixth interest in the private road and the six residential lots in the compound. The plaintiffs observed multiple obstructions in the private road over the years, some of which were removed during the course of the lawsuit.The Supreme Court of Rhode Island affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court, denying the plaintiffs' request for injunctive relief and their claims for adverse possession. The court found no evidence that the defendants' obstructions excluded the plaintiffs from enjoying their equal privileges in the private road. Therefore, the plaintiffs did not demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits, irreparable harm, or that the balance of the equities favored injunctive relief. Regarding the adverse possession claims, the court found that the plaintiffs did not provide clear and convincing evidence of acts of possession that excluded the rights of the other cotenants. The defendants regularly used the cul-de-sac and believed it was their right to do so. Therefore, the plaintiffs' claims for adverse possession related to the cul-de-sac were denied. View "Merlyn O'Keefe v. Myrth York" on Justia Law

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The case involves plaintiff Angelo Riccitelli and defendant Town of North Providence, through its Finance Director, Maria Vallee. Riccitelli, a retired firefighter, filed a complaint against the town, alleging that it failed to pay him the full amount required by a collective bargaining agreement. The agreement required the town to provide Riccitelli with a "supplemental pension payment" equal to the difference between his pension and the "monthly net pay" that he received at retirement, less any pension deductions. The dispute centered around the interpretation of the term "monthly net pay."The Supreme Court of Rhode Island found that the Superior Court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Riccitelli because the collective bargaining agreement was not in the record. The court emphasized that the entire contract must be reviewed to determine whether a provision is clear and unambiguous. Without the agreement in the record, Riccitelli failed to carry his initial burden as the party moving for summary judgment, leaving open a critical question of fact—the content of the collective bargaining agreement. The court vacated the judgment of the Superior Court and returned the record to the Superior Court for further proceedings. View "Riccitelli v. The Town of North Providence" on Justia Law

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This case concerns a child custody dispute between Kelly K. Fitzgerald and James W.A. Jackson. The parties have two minor children, who have dual citizenship of the United States and Australia. The children have lived in Rhode Island with the Plaintiff since 2015. The Defendant, an Australian citizen, argued that the Family Court of Rhode Island lacked jurisdiction over the dispute, contending that there was a simultaneous case in Australia and that he had no personal ties to Rhode Island.The Supreme Court of Rhode Island affirmed the Family Court's decision over the custody dispute, confirming that Rhode Island had jurisdiction over the matter. The Supreme Court confirmed that the Family Court has subject-matter jurisdiction over child-custody cases as a matter of law and that the defendant had waived the issue of personal jurisdiction and consented to jurisdiction in Rhode Island by availing himself of the laws of Rhode Island.The Court found that the Family Court had jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) because Rhode Island was the children's home state at the time the proceedings were commenced, and no other state would have jurisdiction under the criteria specified in the act. The UCCJEA treats a foreign country as if it were a state of the United States for the purpose of applying its provisions. The Court also noted that the Australian court had declined to exercise jurisdiction over the case, further supporting the Family Court's jurisdiction.The Court also rejected the defendant's argument that the Family Court should not have issued orders regarding child support and custody without first making a jurisdictional finding, noting that the defendant himself had filed a motion for custody, participated in mediation, and submitted a form prior to a hearing on child support. The Court concluded that the hearing justice did not err in finding that the Rhode Island Family Court has subject-matter jurisdiction over the matter.Finally, the Court concluded that the hearing justice erred in not ruling on the defendant's emergency motion for temporary orders, apparently seeking visitation with the children during the summer, because at the time, no order had been entered divesting the Family Court of jurisdiction, and no appeal had been filed. The matter was remanded to the Family Court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. View "Fitzgerald v. Jackson" on Justia Law

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In this case, the plaintiff, Andre Howell, acting as the treasurer of the Urban League of Rhode Island, Inc., initiated a receivership proceeding for the Urban League. Julie Longtin, the appellant, filed a proof of claim in the receivership proceeding, stating that she was claiming for the amount due to her former company, Antari Properties, LLC. However, the Superior Court denied her proof of claim on the grounds that she lacked standing. Longtin then filed a motion under Rule 60(b) of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure, seeking relief from the order that denied her proof of claim. However, the Superior Court also denied her Rule 60(b) motion.Upon appeal, the Supreme Court of Rhode Island affirmed the order of the Superior Court. The Supreme Court noted that its review of a Rule 60(b) motion is limited to examining the correctness of the order granting or denying the motion, not the correctness of the original judgment. The Court found that Longtin had not demonstrated excusable neglect or pointed to new evidence that would warrant relief under Rule 60(b). The Court also noted that the hearing justice did not abuse his discretion in denying the Rule 60(b) motion. Thus, the denial of Longtin's Rule 60(b) motion by the Superior Court was upheld. View "Howell v. Urban League of Rhode Island, Inc." on Justia Law