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Albanese v. Town of Narragansett

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

March 7, 2016

Jo-Ann Albanese
Town of Narragansett et al

Page 1180

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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          Washington County Superior Court. (WC 06-687). Associate Justice Kristin E. Rodgers.

         For Plaintiff: Jo-Ann Albanese, Pro se.

         For Defendants: Marc DeSisto, Esq., Brian J. Clifford, Esq.

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


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         Maureen McKenna Goldberg, J.

          This case came before the Supreme Court on October 28, 2015, pursuant to an order directing the parties to show cause why the issues raised in this appeal should not be summarily decided. The plaintiff, Jo-Ann Albanese (plaintiff or Albanese), appeals pro se from grants of summary judgment by the Washington County Superior Court in favor of the defendants, the Town of Narragansett, David Krugman in his official capacity as Treasurer for the Town, the Narragansett Police Department, and Sgt. Gerald Favreau (Sgt. Favreau) and then-Patrolman (now Lieutenant) Matthew Sutton (Lt. Sutton) in their official capacities as police officers with the Narragansett Police Department (collectively, defendants). Albanese further appeals from the denial of multiple pretrial motions. After examining the memoranda filed by the parties,[1] we are of the opinion that cause has not been shown, and we proceed to decide the appeal at this time. For the reasons set forth herein, we affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand to the Superior Court.

         Facts and Travel

         Many of the underlying facts of this action stem from an incident recounted by this Court in State v. Albanese, 970 A.2d 1215 (R.I. 2009). On November 11, 2003, Sgt. Favreau and Lt. Sutton were called to the Driftwood Apartment Complex (Driftwood), where Albanese resides in Narragansett, after receiving a report that Albanese had physically assaulted a Driftwood maintenance worker, Thomas Arrico (Arrico). Id. at 1217-18. The officers arrested Albanese, and she subsequently was charged with one count of assault and/or battery upon Arrico and one count of resisting arrest. Id. at 1217, 1218. A District Court judge found Albanese not guilty of resisting arrest but guilty on the other count. Id. at 1217. Albanese appealed her conviction to the Washington

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County Superior Court. Id. In a jury-waived trial, Albanese centered her defense on her allegation that mold existed at Driftwood; defense counsel questioned Arrico about the mold on cross-examination and called a former Driftwood tenant and a Rhode Island Department of Health official as witnesses to testify on the subject.[2] Id. at 1217-19. The Superior Court trial justice found Albanese guilty of battery but not guilty of assault. Id. at 1219. This Court affirmed the conviction. Id. at 1225.

         The circumstances of the 2003 arrest and Albanese's allegations about the presence of mold at Driftwood are the subject of this action. On November 10, 2006, Albanese, acting pro se, filed a multi-count complaint against defendants in the Washington County Superior Court. She alleged assault and battery (count 3) stemming from the purported use of excessive force by Sgt. Favreau and Lt. Sutton. Specifically, she claimed that Sgt. Favreau and Lt. Sutton had injured her when they " drag[ged] her [out] of her car and * * * dragged her with her jacket over her head, * * * 200 [feet] (approximately) or so to her apartment in order to put her dog inside her apartment" just before arresting her. She also alleged false arrest (count 2).

         Albanese further claimed that defendants had engaged in " gross negligence and/or misconduct" (count 1) by " failing to act in a professional manner, * * * effectively be[coming] [Driftwood's] agents[,] and abus[ing] their power and position" in the ongoing landlord-tenant dispute over the purported mold. She alleged that defendants had intimidated and harassed her in an attempt to dissuade her from making additional complaints about mold. Albanese charged that defendants' alleged failure to address reports of mold constituted " negligence per se" (count 4). Albanese included an additional claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress (count 5), and she sought to recover punitive damages (count 6).

         In addition to the case at bar, Albanese previously had brought suit against Driftwood's property management company in 2005, in which she alleged multiple causes of action on account of the mold in her apartment (Driftwood case). The suit subsequently settled. In 2009, the attorney who had represented Albanese in the Driftwood case entered his appearance in the Superior Court on Albanese's behalf in the case before us.

         However, the case remained dormant in the Washington County Superior Court for a number of years, until May 2, 2013, when a Superior Court justice imposed a deadline of July 17, 2013 for the close of discovery. On August 29, counsel for Albanese moved to withdraw his representation, citing a breakdown of the attorney-client relationship. The trial justice heard the motion on September 6, at which time Albanese confirmed that she wished to terminate the relationship and intended to represent herself. The court scheduled December 10 for trial, ordered defendants to file any dispositive motions no later than October 11, and gave Albanese until November 8 to file her objection with supporting memorandum to defendants' dispositive motions (September 6 order). On September 20, Albanese, by letter to the court, alleged that she recently had been diagnosed with a medical condition and that surgery was imminent; she requested a continuance until after the surgery. One week later, at a status hearing on September

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27, Albanese informed the court that her surgery had not yet been scheduled. The trial justice denied Albanese's request to postpone the November 8 filing deadline but agreed to revisit the issue at the next status hearing.

         On October 10, 2013, in accordance with the September 6 order, defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. In support of the motion, defendants provided the initial police report and Albanese's responses to defendants' interrogatories.[3] The parties reconvened on October 18 for a status hearing. Albanese told the court that her surgery still had not been scheduled but that she intended to meet with her surgeon on November 8. The trial justice slated November 15 as the date for the next status hearing and extended the deadline for Albanese's response to the motion for summary judgment to November 29.

         At the status hearing on November 15, 2013, Albanese notified the court that the surgery had been performed on November 4. She requested an extension of the November 29 filing deadline because, she contended, that she had been too ill to work on her objection. Although the trial justice stressed the need for the nearly eight-year-old case to proceed, she granted Albanese a new deadline of December 13. The trial justice cautioned, " There will be no further continuances."

         On December 6, Albanese filed a written objection to the motion for summary judgment which indicated that a memorandum and supporting documentation were forthcoming. With her objection, she filed an " Emergency Motion for an Extension of Time/Continuance in which to Complete [Plaintiff's] Answer to Summary Judgment and a Continuance for Hearing on Summary Judgment." Albanese stated that she needed more time because she had learned that " no discovery[] [was] even asked for by her previous attorney, no [depositions], no affidavits, no interrogatories[,] absolutely nothing was done." Notwithstanding the order that had cut off discovery six months earlier, Albanese averred that she had attempted to request discovery materials from defendants but that they had refused because the deadline had passed.

         The trial justice denied the request to reopen discovery but granted another extension to January 17, 2014 for Albanese to file her objection.[4] In so doing, she cautioned Albanese: " [Y]ou have one last opportunity to file your objection to the motion for summary judgment. One last opportunity. I absolutely am not even going to entertain anything more on the record until the date of the hearing." Albanese did not comply; she peppered the court with a series of filings, including a letter addressed to the trial justice, seeking more time. The January 17 deadline passed without Albanese filing additional materials in objection to defendants' motion for summary judgment.

         The parties reassembled in Superior Court on January 31, 2014. The trial justice denied the multiple motions Albanese had filed since the previous hearing and indicated that she would hear the parties on the issue of summary judgment. She explained that, although Albanese had not

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provided written documentation in support of her opposition to the motion, the pro se litigant still had the opportunity to provide an oral response. After hearing from both parties, the trial justice granted summary ...

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