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Pelumi v. City of Woonsocket

Superior Court of Rhode Island

May 9, 2016

HAKEEM PELUMI
v.
CITY OF WOONSOCKET, alias John Doe; THOMAS BRUCE, alias John Doe in his official capacity as Treasurer for the City of Woonsocket; THOMAS S. CAREY, alias John Doe, individually and in his official capacity as the Chief of Police for the City of Woonsocket; RICHARD FINNEGAN, alias John Doe, individually and in his official capacity as the Bail Commissioner for the State of Rhode Island; EDWARD DOURA, alias John Doe, individually and in his capacity as Patrol and Arraigning Officer for the City of Woonsocket; JOHN DOE (1), alias John Doe, individually and in his official capacity as a Patrol Officer for the City of Woonsocket

Providence County Superior Court

For Plaintiff: Hakeem Pelumi, pro se.

For Defendant: Krista J. Schmitz, Esq., Arthur M. Read, II, Esq.

DECISION

VAN COUYGHEN, J.

Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants City of Woonsocket; Thomas Bruce, in his official capacity as Treasurer of the City of Woonsocket; Thomas S. Carey, in his official capacity as Chief of Police for the City of Woonsocket; and Edward Doura, in his capacity as Patrol and Arraigning Officer for the City of Woonsocket (collectively, Defendants or Woonsocket Defendants).[1] Plaintiff Hakeem Pelumi (Plaintiff), a self-represented litigant, objects to the Motion. Jurisdiction is pursuant to Super. R. Civ. P. 56 and G.L. 1956 § 8-2-14.

I

Facts and Travel

On July 3, 2007, the Woonsocket police arrested Plaintiff and charged him with disorderly conduct in violation of G.L. 1956 § 11-45-1.[2] On the following day, July 4, 2007, Plaintiff was released on bail after appearing before Bail Commissioner Richard Finnegan (Mr. Finnegan) at the Woonsocket Police Station. (Dep. of Hakeem Pelumi (Pelumi Dep.) at 27; Aff. of Richard Finnegan at 2.) On July 23, 2007, Plaintiff pled nolo contendere to the underlying charge and received a six-month suspended sentence, with probation. See Crim. Compl. He also was ordered to pay court costs. Id.

Thereafter, Plaintiff embarked on a number of lawsuits in the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island. In those cases, he accused Mr. Finnegan of willfully and intentionally stealing money from him at the July 4, 2007 bail hearing. He asserted that such actions violated his civil rights-both federal and state.

In the Amended Complaint of his first federal action, Plaintiff filed suit against Mr. Finnegan, individually and in his official capacity as Bail Commissioner for the City of Woonsocket, the City of Woonsocket, and the Woonsocket Police Department. Ultimately, the First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's dismissal of his 42 U.S.C. § 1983 allegations for failure to state a viable claim. It also affirmed the dismissal of Plaintiff's state claim for lack of diversity jurisdiction.

In his second federal suit, Plaintiff realleged his 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims against essentially the same defendants as in the first suit. The First Circuit Court of Appeals again affirmed the District Court's dismissal of his federal claims, with prejudice-this time, under the doctrine of res judicata.

On July 1, 2010, Plaintiff filed the instant action. His subsequent Amended Complaint contained six counts: Negligence (Count I); Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (Count II); Larceny (Count III); and various violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Counts IV-VI). The Woonsocket Defendants were named in all six counts; whereas, Mr. Finnegan was only named in the first three counts.

On April 8, 2014, Mr. Finnegan filed a Motion to Dismiss and a Motion for Summary Judgment. The Woonsocket Defendants then filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on April 10, 2014. Mr. Finnegan joined in Defendants' Motion. After conducting a hearing on the motions and after reviewing all of the evidence, this Court issued a written Decision on January 12, 2015.

In its Decision, the Court dismissed all of the claims against Mr. Finnegan based upon the doctrine of judicial immunity. With respect to the Woonsocket Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, the Court dismissed the negligence claim for failure to state a claim (Count I) and dismissed the 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims under the doctrine of res judicata (Counts IV-VI). However, it denied the Motion with respect to the claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count II) and for larceny (Count III). The Defendants now move to dismiss those claims pursuant to Super. R. Civ. P. 56.

Additional facts will be provided, as needed, in the Analysis portion of this Decision.

II

Standard of Review

It is "long recognized that '[s]ummary judgment is a drastic remedy, and a motion for summary judgment should be dealt with cautiously.'" Laplante v. R.I. Hosp., 110 A.3d 261, 264 (R.I. 2015) (quoting Beauregard v. Gouin, 66 A.3d 489, 493 (R.I. 2013)). The moving party "bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of questions of material fact." Mills v. State Sales, Inc., 824 A.2d 461, 467 (R.I. 2003). To satisfy its burden, the moving party must "submit[] evidentiary materials, such as interrogatory answers, deposition testimony, admissions, or other specific documents, and/or point[] to the absence of such items in the evidence adduced by the parties." Id.

It is only when "the moving party satisfies this initial burden[] [that] the nonmoving party then must identify any evidentiary materials already before the court or present its own evidence demonstrating that factual questions remain." Id. Thus, after the movant's initial burden is satisfied, "'[t]he burden rests upon the nonmoving party to prove the existence of a disputed issue of material fact by competent evidence; it cannot rest on allegations or denials in the pleadings or on conclusions or legal opinions.'" Laplante, 110 A.3d at 264 (quoting Mut. Dev. Corp. v. Ward Fisher & Co., LLP, 47 A.3d 319, 323 (R.I. 2012)).

The Court will grant the motion "if the nonmoving party 'fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case * * *.'" Beauregard, 66 A.3d at 493 (quoting Lavoie v. Ne. Knitting, Inc., 918 A.2d 225, 228 (R.I. 2007)); see also Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986) ("When the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56(c), its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts."). It follows, therefore, that "a '[c]omplete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.'" Beauregard, 66 A.3d at 494 (quoting Lavoie, 918 A.2d at 228).

III

Analysis

A

Preliminary Matters

In its previous Decision, the Court found that although the Amended Complaint was "not the most artfully drafted document, " Count II sounded in a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress and Count III sounded in a claim for larceny. See Pelumi v. City of Woonsocket, C.A. No. PC 2010-3875, **19-20 and 23 (filed Jan. 12, 2015). It then denied Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on those claims for failure to meet their burden of proving that there existed no genuine issues of material fact. Id. at 22 and 26. After expanding the record through discovery, Defendants now have renewed their Motion for Summary Judgment.

Ordinarily, the law of the case doctrine would preclude the Court from entertaining successive motions for summary judgment. See Ferguson v. Marshall Contractors, Inc., 745 A.2d 147, 151 (R.I. 2000) (observing that law of the case doctrine is "particularly applicable when the rulings under consideration pertain to successive motions for summary judgment . . ."). However, said doctrine '"is a flexible rule that may be disregarded when a subsequent ruling can be based on an expanded record."' Berman v. Sitrin, 101 A.3d 1251, 1262 (R.I. 2014) (quoting Lynch v. Spirit Rent–A–Car, Inc., 965 A.2d 417, 424 (R.I. 2009)); see also Kirby v. P. R. Mallory & Co., 489 F.2d 904, 913 (7th Cir. 1973) ("If good reason is shown why a prior denial of a motion for summary judgment is no longer applicable or should be departed from, the trial court may, in the exercise of sound discretionary power, consider a renewed motion for summary judgment, particularly when the renewed motion is based on an expanded record.").

In the instant matter, the Court finds that there has been a sufficient expansion of the record such that the law of the case doctrine would not preclude its consideration of Defendants' renewed Motion for Summary Judgment. Consequently, the Court will exercise its discretion and consider Defendants' Motion.

However, before considering the merits of the parties' arguments, the Court first will discuss the significance of Mr. Finnegan's dismissal from the suit as it pertains to the surviving claims. Although not specifically alleged in his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff appears to suggest that Defendants should be held vicariously liable for Mr. Finnegan's alleged wrongful conduct. However, considering that Mr. Finnegan was not employed by the City of Woonsocket, any such argument would be misplaced.

Our Supreme Court has declared that "[a]n employer, such as a municipality, can be held liable for an employee's intentional tort committed against a third party only if the misconduct falls within the scope of employment." Cruz v. Town of North Providence, 833 A.2d 1237, 1240 (R.I. 2003) (emphasis added) (citing Drake v. Star Market Co., 526 A.2d 517, 519 (R.I. 1987)). Clearly, a threshold requirement is that the alleged tortfeasor must be employed by the municipality before any liability can attach.

In this case, however, the City of Woonsocket did not employ Mr. Finnegan. Rather, he was appointed by the Chief Judge of the District Court, pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 12-10-2(a)(1), to "serve an important function in controlling the District Court's caseload by accepting [misdemeanor] pleas [of not guilty] as authorized by § 12-10-2 outside of the normal court day." City of Warwick v. Adams, 772 A.2d 476, 479 (R.I. 2001). Thus, assuming, arguendo, that Plaintiff is seeking to hold the City of Woonsocket vicariously liable for Mr. Finnegan's alleged wrongful conduct, the fact that Mr. ...


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