County Superior Court Appeal No. (ND 14-266)
Plaintiff: Richard D'Addario, Esq. For Defendant:
Kathleen M. Connell, Esq.
Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia,
R. Stone, Associate Justice
case came before the Supreme Court on May 4, 2016, pursuant
to an order directing the parties to appear and show cause
why the issues raised herein should not be summarily decided.
We conclude that cause has not been shown and that the appeal
may be decided at this time. For the reasons set forth
herein, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.
may be forever, but in-laws are not. On December 20, 1998,
the plaintiff, Jeffery Dieffenbach (Dieffenbach), then a
Connecticut resident, executed two promissory notes in favor
of his then-wife's parents, the defendants, J. Brian
Haworth and Jean Haworth (collectively, the Haworths). The
first promissory note contained Dieffenbach's promise to
pay Brian Haworth $15, 000 with interest to accrue annually
at a rate of 10 percent. The second promissory note was
executed in favor of Jean Haworth in the amount of $6, 000 at
10 percent interest per annum. Dieffenbach and the
Haworths' daughter subsequently divorced, and the now
former son-in-law defaulted on the promissory notes. The case
at bar is the most recent litigation in a protracted
dispute-spanning sixteen years, two states, and multiple
levels of the federal-court system- that stems from Dieffenbach's failure
to satisfy his payment obligations on the two promissory
notes. This order will discuss only the facts and travel that
are relevant to this appeal.
2000, when Dieffenbach failed to make any payments on the
notes, the Haworths filed suit in the Connecticut courts to
collect on the debt, plus accrued interest. On October 4,
2000, the parties stipulated to a judgment in which
Dieffenbach agreed to pay the Haworths $30, 000, unless, by
November 30, 2000, he paid them "$21, 000 with interest
at 10 percent per annum from December 20, 1998 to the date of
payment" (stipulated judgment). Dieffenbach failed to
honor the stipulated judgment, but, on February 26, 2001, he
paid $10, 000 in partial satisfaction.
2003, Dieffenbach had relocated to Rhode Island. On March 31,
2003, in an effort to secure the remaining $20, 000 pursuant
to the Connecticut stipulated judgment, the Haworths filed an
action in Newport County Superior Court against Dieffenbach.
In 2004, the hearing justice entered judgment for the
Haworths and against Dieffenbach in the amount of $20, 000
plus interest and costs. The judgment remained unsatisfied.
Six years later, on March 1, 2010, the Haworths filed a
notice and motion for the issuance of a writ of attachment
for Dieffenbach's wages with the Newport County Superior
Court. On November 19, 2010, in a bench decision, the hearing
justice granted the motion.
December 7, 2010, after the Superior Court justice issued his
bench decision but before an order was entered,  Dieffenbach filed a motion in the
Connecticut trial court, seeking, inter alia, a
protective order to bar enforcement of the stipulated
judgment on the ground that it was usurious as a matter of
Connecticut law. See Haworth v. Dieffenbach, 38 A.3d
1203, 1206-07 (Conn. App. Ct. 2012) (Haworth I). In
that action, he did not seek the return of the $10, 000 he
already had paid. See id. On February 28, 2012, the
Connecticut Appellate Court declared that "the
stipulated judgment is usurious as a matter of law and cannot
stand, " id. at 1209, and that "justice
requires that the court grant a protective order to bar the
enforcement of the illegal judgment against [Dieffenbach],
" id. at 1210.
brings us to this latest salvo. Flushed with victory in
Connecticut, on April 8, 2014, Dieffenbach filed a complaint
against the Haworths in Second Division District Court in
Newport. He alleged that, because the Connecticut Appellate
Court had declared the stipulated judgment to be usurious, he
was entitled to a refund of the $10, 000 payment that he made
to the Haworths on February 26, 2001 in accordance with the
stipulated judgment. The District Court dismissed the
complaint, and Dieffenbach appealed to the Superior Court in
Newport County on July 8, 2014. Both parties moved for
summary judgment. The trial justice denied Dieffenbach's
motion and, applying Connecticut law,  granted summary judgment for the Haworths.
Judgment entered on July 7, 2015, and Dieffenbach timely
doctrine of res judicata bars relief in this case,
and its application precludes this Court from hearing the
merits of this case on appeal. See Town of Richmond v.
Wawaloam Reservation, Inc., 850 A.2d 924, 932 (R.I.
2004) (invoking doctrine of res judicata where
neither party argued for its application on appeal and the
trial court decision rested on other grounds). To avoid the
waste of judicial resources and the potential for
contradictory judgments, id., the doctrine of
res judicata bars "the relitigation of
all the issues that were tried or might have
been tried in the original suit, " Plunkett v.
State, 869 A.2d 1185, 1188 (R.I. 2005) (quoting
Foster-Glocester Regional School Committee v. Board of
Review, 854 A.2d 1008, 1014 n.2 (R.I. 2004)). Res
judicata applies in cases where "there exists
identity of parties, identity of issues, and finality of
judgment in an earlier action." Id. (quoting
Beirne v. Barone, 529 A.2d 154, 157 (R.I. 1987)).
case at bar, despite already having paid $10, 000 in partial
satisfaction of the judgment, Dieffenbach did not demand its
return when he sought a protective order from the Connecticut
state courts to bar enforcement of the stipulated judgment or
otherwise seek a refund in that state's courts.
Dieffenbach could have litigated the issue of the refund at
that time but failed to do so. In spite of having received a
final judgment from the Connecticut Appellate Court,
Dieffenbach brought yet another action against the Haworths
in Rhode Island on an issue concerning the validity of the
stipulated judgment that was litigated in Haworth I.
Consequently, Dieffenbach was barred from bringing this
claim, which should have been made in the Connecticut courts
when he challenged the usurious nature of the stipulated
as an Order of this Court this 26th ...