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Lomastro v. Iacovelli

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

December 1, 2015

Kimberly Lomastro
v.
Margaret Iacovelli, in her capacity as interim superintendent for the Town of Johnston et al.

Kent County Superior Court, Bennett R. Gallo Associate Justice (KC 10-368)

For Plaintiff: Thomas M. Petronio, Esq.

For Defendants: Kathleen M. Daniels, Esq.

Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.

OPINION

Gilbert V. Indeglia Associate Justice

The plaintiff, Kimberly Lomastro (Lomastro or plaintiff), appeals from an order of summary judgment entered against her and in favor of Margaret Iacovelli, in her capacity as interim superintendent for the Town of Johnston, and David Cournoyer, the director of facilities and transportation for Johnston public schools (collectively defendants). Lomastro, a school bus driver, contends that the defendants intentionally interfered with her contract with her employer, Durham School Services (Durham), when the Town of Johnston School Department (the school department) sent a letter to Durham stating that it was exercising its contractual right to withdraw its approval for Lomastro to drive school bus routes within the town. On November 4, 2015, this case came before the Supreme Court pursuant to an order directing the parties to appear and show cause why the issues raised should not be summarily decided. After hearing the arguments of counsel and reviewing the memoranda submitted on behalf of the parties, we are satisfied that cause has not been shown. Accordingly, we shall decide the appeal at this time without further briefing or argument. For the reasons set forth herein, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.

I

Facts and Travel

This is the second time that these parties have come before us. While we present a brief overview of the facts pertinent to this appeal, we refer the reader who seeks additional detail regarding the facts and procedural history to our opinion in Lomastro v. Iacovelli, 56 A.3d 92 (R.I. 2012) (Lomastro I).

In January of 2008, Lomastro was employed as a bus driver by Durham, a private bus company. At the time, Durham was under contract with the school department to provide transportation for Johnston public school students. A section of that contract, entitled "Driver Withdrawal, " provided: "It is understood that the Superintendent of Schools or designee reserves the right to withdraw, with or without cause, at any time, their approval of any driver. The contractor will immediately upon receipt thereof replace the driver."

On January 18, 2008, Lomastro was driving a bus that was full of elementary-school children, without a bus monitor on board, when she broadcast over the radio that someone had shot at her bus and that the children were panicked. After an investigation was conducted, an employee disciplinary report was completed by a supervisor at Durham. In this report, the supervisor determined that Lomastro should be given a warning, but noted that this action was "[p]ending communication with [the] school [department]." On January 23, 2008, Morris Bochner (Bochner), the director of transportation for Johnston schools, wrote a letter to Durham on behalf of the school department stating that it found Lomastro's conduct "unacceptable." The letter stated that, although Lomastro reported that the school bus was shot at, "[a]s the facts unfolded, the Providence Police responded along with Durham and School Department personnel, [and] it was determined that this was not the case."[1] The letter went on to state that "[b]roadcasting a hoax is * * * a violation of Federal Communications Commission – Section 73.1217 of 47 CFR 73.1217." In the letter, the school department also took issue with Lomastro's "refusal to maintain radio contact, not utilizing her cellular telephone, placing students in harm[']s way as a result of unwarranted panic, allowing a student to obtain names of who was on the school bus, and never attempting to maintain control or reassuring the students that they were safe * * *." Citing the aforementioned "Driver Withdrawal" provision from its contract with Durham, the school department "formal[ly] request[ed] to not have [Lomastro] transport students of the Johnston Public Schools upon receipt of [the] letter." Two days later, on January 25, 2008, a "Work Separation Form" was completed by Lomastro's supervisor at Durham stating that Lomastro was being involuntarily terminated and listed as a reason: "Driver withdrawal at customer's request."

In her amended complaint, [2] Lomastro alleged that the school department's letter "constituted an intentional interference with Contract as to [her] then employment with her then current employer * * * as well as intentional interference of prospective economic relations * * * with her employer[.]" In due course, defendants moved for summary judgment. In response, Lomastro argued that a genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether she was an at-will employee and whether the letter sent by the school department was based on truthful information.

The hearing justice determined that the school department was a customer of Durham and, as a customer, exercised a right that it had reserved in its contract with Durham to "indicate that [it] didn't want a particular driver assigned to [the school department's] route." He further determined that Lomastro was not an employee of the school department, but an employee of Durham. Thus, he concluded that her claims against the school department must fail, noting that "her gripe is ...


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