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Main v. Citizens Financial Group, Inc.

Superior Court of Rhode Island

May 18, 2016

KATHLEEN I. MAIN, Individually, as legal beneficiary and on behalf of all legal beneficiaries of DAVID D. MAIN, MICHAEL D. MAIN, BONITA I. MAIN; and DAVID M. MAIN

         Providence County Superior Court

          For Plaintiff: Mark B. Decof, Esq.; Donna M. DiDonato, Esq.; Mark J. Brice, Esq.

          For Defendant: David A. Wollin, Esq.


          PROCACCINI, J.

         This matter came to be heard on May 9, 2016 before the Superior Court, Procaccini, J., on Defendant Citizens Financial Group, Inc.'s (Citizens or Defendant) Motion for Summary Judgment. Defendant seeks summary judgment on the basis that it did not owe a duty of care to provide additional security at its Walnut Hill Branch in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. Defendant also seeks summary judgment on the basis that Defendant was not the cause of David D. Main's (Mr. Main) fatal injuries. Jurisdiction is pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 8-2-14.

         I Facts and Travel

         On September 20, 2010, Mr. Main, the manager of a local Shell Station (Shell Station), was shot and killed while attempting to make a deposit for his employer at a Citizens Bank branch in Woonsocket, Rhode Island (Walnut Hill Branch). Mr. Main was the victim of a targeted and planned attack by co-conspirators, Jason Pleau (Mr. Pleau), Jose Santiago (Mr. Santiago), and Kelley Lajoie (Ms. Lajoie) (collectively, Co-Conspirators). The Co-Conspirators received inside information regarding the Shell Station's bank deposit practices. On the date of the attack, Mr. Pleau hid on property adjacent to the Walnut Hill Branch owned by the City of Woonsocket. Ms. Lajoie stood watch at the Shell Station and alerted Mr. Pleau when Mr. Main left for the Walnut Hill Branch with the weekend deposit in tow. Mr. Santiago was waiting nearby with a getaway vehicle.

         Mr. Pleau confronted Mr. Main in the parking lot of the Walnut Hill Branch pointing a loaded gun and demanding that Mr. Main give him the "dough." Mr. Main did not comply with the demand and ran towards the entrance of the Walnut Hill Branch. Mr. Pleau fired several shots, one of those shots fatally wounding Mr. Main. Mr. Pleau took the bank bag and ran toward the back of the bank, hopped a fence, and fled to where Mr. Santiago was waiting. The Co-Conspirators were later apprehended. All three Co-Conspirators pled guilty to their respective charges.

         In 2011, Kathleen I. Main, Mr. Main's wife, filed a single-count Complaint against Citizens on behalf of all the legal beneficiaries of Mr. Main (collectively, Plaintiffs), alleging that Citizens failed to maintain adequate security at its Walnut Hill Branch. Defendant now moves for summary judgment on the basis that it satisfied its duty to provide security under the Bank Protection Act and industry standards. Defendant continues that it does not owe a duty to provide additional security measures. Specifically, Defendant argues that the prior robberies at the Walnut Hill Branch did not trigger an additional duty to provide heightened security, as it was not foreseeable that an armed robbery turned murder would occur at the Walnut Hill Branch. Defendant also posits that it did not cause Mr. Main's fatal injuries because both Mr. Pleau and Mr. Main's actions broke the causal chain. In response, Plaintiffs contend that the issues in this case are purely one of fact-that being, whether Defendant met its duty to provide adequate security. Additionally, Plaintiffs maintain that the Rhode Island Supreme Court has already held that prior acts of violence need not be in the exact manner of the injury causing act to make it foreseeable that the injury causing act will occur. Finally, Plaintiffs contend that whether Mr. Main's flight from Mr. Pleau was so unreasonable that it broke the causal chain is a question of fact for the jury to resolve.

         II Standard of Review

         Before granting a motion for summary judgment, the trial court is required to review the pleadings, as well as affidavits, admissions, answers to interrogatories, and other appropriate evidence from a perspective most favorable to the nonmoving party. Steinberg v. State, 427 A.2d 338, 340 (R.I. 1981). The question before the Court is whether there is a genuine issue as to any material fact which must be resolved. See R.I. Hosp. Trust Nat'l Bank v. Boiteau, 119 R.I. 64, 66, 376 A.2d 323, 324 (1977). If an examination of the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the opposing party, reveals no such issue, then the petition is ripe for summary judgment. See id. When the moving party sustains its burden, the opposing party must then prove "by competent evidence the existence of a disputed material issue of fact and cannot rest on allegations or denials in the pleadings or on conclusions or legal opinions." Accent Store Design, Inc. v. Marathon House, Inc., 674 A.2d 1223, 1225 (R.I. 1996). The trial justice must keep in mind that summary judgment "is a drastic remedy and should be cautiously applied." Steinberg, 427 A.2d at 339–40 (quoting Ardente v. Horan, 117 R.I. 254, 256-57, 366 A.2d 162, 164 (1976)) (internal quotation marks omitted). The purpose of summary judgment "is not to cull out the weak cases from the herd of lawsuits waiting to be tried . . . only if the case is legally dead on arrival should the court take the drastic step of . . . granting summary judgment." Mitchell v. Mitchell, 756 A.2d 179, 185 (R.I. 2000).

         III Analysis

         "Whether a duty of care is owed is a question of law for the court and not the jury." Bucki v. Hawkins, 914 A.2d 491, 495 (R.I. 2007). Under Rhode Island law, having abolished the common law categories of premise liability, "courts must determine whether landowners have satisfied their affirmative duty to exercise reasonable care for the safety of all people reasonably expected to be upon the premises." Id. Whether a duty exists depends on the particular facts and circumstances of each case. See Berardis v. Louangxay, 969 A.2d 1288, 1291 (R.I. 2009). Courts are directed to consider:

"(1) the foreseeability of harm to the plaintiff, (2) the degree of certainty that the plaintiff suffered an injury, (3) the closeness of connection between the defendant's conduct and the injury suffered, (4) the policy of preventing future harm, and (5) the extent of the burden to the defendant and the consequences to the community for imposing a duty to exercise care with resulting ...

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