Justia Rhode Island Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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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

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In this appeal, the defendant, Laurie Cronan, challenged a divorce judgement entered by the general magistrate of the Family Court. She primarily disputed the magistrate's authority to preside over the contested divorce trial. Additionally, she disagreed with the magistrate's decisions regarding the distribution of the marital estate, the valuation of premarital assets, and the denial of her request for alimony.The Supreme Court of Rhode Island affirmed the decision of the Family Court. The court found that the issue of the magistrate's authority could have been raised at the trial level but wasn't, hence it was waived on appeal. Regarding the distribution of marital assets, the court found that the general magistrate did not err in determining the value of the plaintiff's equity interest in his medical practice based on the binding shareholder agreement, rather than its fair market value. The court also upheld the general magistrate's decision to deny the defendant's request for alimony, finding that he properly considered all requisite statutory elements and that the defendant would be financially independent and self-sufficient without alimony. Lastly, the court found no error in the general magistrate's valuation of the plaintiff's premarital assets. View "Cronan v. Cronan" on Justia Law

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This case arises from an automobile accident involving Lauren Barnes and Nancy Hodys, where both parties sustained serious injuries and neither has any memory of the accident. A syringe was found in Barnes' car and her urine later tested positive for opioids and benzodiazepines. Barnes filed a complaint against Hodys alleging her negligence caused the collision, while Hodys filed a complaint against Barnes alleging her negligence and intoxication caused the accident.Barnes engaged Dr. David M. Benjamin as an expert witness, who concluded that it was "not possible to determine" whether Barnes' post-accident impairment was caused by head trauma, controlled substances, or medication. However, during deposition, Dr. Benjamin changed his previous opinion, stating that a combination of drugs and brain injury was the most likely explanation for Barnes' impairment. After the deposition, Barnes' counsel learned that Dr. Benjamin had a type of cancer, which along with the medication he was taking, caused him confusion, memory issues, and fatigue. Barnes then filed a motion to replace Dr. Benjamin due to his medical unavailability, which was denied by the lower court.The Supreme Court of Rhode Island found that the trial court erred by not providing a rationale for its decision denying Barnes' motion to modify the scheduling order and replace her expert witness. The Supreme Court held that a reasoned exercise of discretion requires some explanation, which was not provided in this case. Therefore, the court quashed the order of the lower court and remanded the case back to that tribunal with instructions to conduct a meaningful analysis of the issues raised, consistent with the Supreme Court's opinion. View "Barnes v. Hodys" on Justia Law

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This case involves the appeal of a Superior Court judgment in favor of the intervenor, Isabel DaPina Costa, following the grant of her motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff, Clara Martins, is the mother of Orlando A. Da Cruz who died in 2008. His death certificate referred to Costa as his spouse, but Martins disputed this, claiming Costa was merely Da Cruz's "live-in girlfriend". Martins filed a complaint in Superior Court in 2019 seeking to amend her son's death certificate. Costa intervened, arguing that the applicable statute of limitations, under G.L. 1956 § 9-1-13(a), had expired. The Superior Court granted Costa's motion for summary judgment, and Martins appealed.The Supreme Court of Rhode Island affirmed the Superior Court's judgment. On appeal, Martins argued that her claim was not a civil action and therefore not subject to the statute of limitations under § 9-1-13(a). She pointed to another statute, G.L. 1956 § 23-3-21, which governs the correction and amendment of vital records, as the controlling statute for her claim. However, the Court found that Martins had not raised this argument at the lower court level, and thus it was not preserved for appellate review. Even if it had been preserved, the Court would have held that § 9-1-13(a) applies to her claim.The Court noted that while some requests to amend vital records may not be subject to a statute of limitations, not all such requests require the commencement of a civil action. In this case, Martins had commenced a civil action by filing her complaint in Superior Court, and as such, her claim was subject to the statute of limitations under § 9-1-13(a). Therefore, her complaint was barred by this statute. View "In re Da Cruz" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Rhode Island heard an appeal by Kelly Maltais contesting the dismissal of her probate appeal by the Superior Court. Kelly challenged the last will and testament of her father, Laurent E. Maltais, alleging fraud, duress, and undue influence, and asserting that her father lacked testamentary capacity. Kelly's probate appeal was dismissed by the Superior Court on the grounds that it was filed 32 days after the probate court order, two days beyond the statutory 30-day limit for appeal. Kelly argued that the 30th day fell on a Saturday, and under Rule 6 of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure, she had until the following Monday to file her appeal.The Supreme Court of Rhode Island vacated the order of the Superior Court, ruling that the computation of time for the 30-day deadline is tolled when the last day for filing falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or a legal holiday, in order to give appellants the full benefit of all the time allowed, even if it necessitates giving an additional day. The case was remanded to the Superior Court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. View "Maltais v. Maltais" on Justia Law

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The case involves an appeal by a landlord, Carline Vilbon, against her tenant, Judy Vargas, in an eviction action. The landlord had sought possession of the rental property and reasonable use and occupancy damages from the termination date through the date Vargas vacated the property. The Superior Court granted Vilbon possession but dismissed her claim for use and occupancy as well as for money damages. Vilbon appealed the Superior Court's decision to the Supreme Court of Rhode Island.The Supreme Court of Rhode Island affirmed the order of the Superior Court. The court found that without a transcript of the proceedings, it could not determine whether the trial justice had abused his discretion in either dismissing Vilbon’s claims or denying her motion to vacate the consent order. The court held that the burden of furnishing the court with the necessary records to enable it to pass on the alleged error lay with the party alleging the error. As such, the court concluded that Vilbon's failure to provide an adequate transcript was fatal to her claims. View "Vilbon v. Vargas" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court quashed the decision of the superior court granting Defendant's motion to compel production of a complete, unreacted copy of a settlement agreement between Plaintiffs and the former codefendants who settled Plaintiffs' claims, holding that the trial justice abused her discretion in granting Defendant's motion.In granting Defendant's motion to compel production, the trial justice concluded that the amount paid in accordance with the settlement agreement was not discoverable "pursuant to Rhode Island and federal law." When Plaintiffs failed to comply with the order the superior court granted Defendant's motion to dismiss. The Supreme Court quashed the decision below and remanded the case, holding that the trial justice abused her discretion in granting Defendant's motion to compel production of a complete, unreacted copy of the settlement agreement. View "Noonan v. Sambandam" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the orders of the superior court in these three related by unconsolidated appeals, holding that Appellants were not entitled to relief on their arguments on appeal.In No. 2021-303-A and No. 2021-331-A, defendants Thomas and John Mercurio appealed pro se from a superior court granting the motion to adjudge the Mercurios in contempt filed by plaintiffs Dean and Melissa Pinelli. In No. 2021-331-A, plaintiff Elena Massarone appealed pro se from a superior court order granting the Pinellis' motion to adjudge Elena in civil contempt. On appeal, Elena and the Mercurios both asserted largely identical claims of error. The Supreme Court affirmed in all cases, holding that because none of the appellants provided transcripts to the Court from any of the hearings held throughout the proceedings and because their statements failed to provide any cogent legal analysis or substantive discussion of their claims, the appellants waived their arguments on appeal. View "Pinelli v. Mercurio" on Justia Law