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Hall v. City of Newport

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

June 2, 2016

Joseph Hall et al.
v.
City of Newport et al.

         Newport County Superior Court, NC 07-243, Associate Justice Walter R. Stone

          For Plaintiffs: Sol Cohen, Pro Hac Vice Gordon P. Cleary, Esq.

          For Defendants: Lori C. Silveira, Esq., Kenneth M. Sambour, Esq. Marc Desisto, Esq.

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

          OPINION

          WILLIAM P. ROBINSON ASSOCIATE JUSTICE.

         The plaintiffs, Joseph Hall, his wife, Marilyn Hall, and their children, Jacob and Philomena Hall (the Halls), appeal from the April 16, 2015 entry of partial final judgment (entered pursuant to Rule 54(b) of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure) in favor of the defendant, Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA), [1] in Newport County Superior Court. The partial final judgment was entered as a result of the Superior Court's granting of the defendant's motion for summary judgment. This case came before the Supreme Court pursuant to an order directing the parties to appear and show cause why the issues raised in this appeal should not be summarily decided. After a close review of the record and careful consideration of the parties' arguments (both written and oral), we are satisfied that cause has not been shown and that this appeal may be decided at this time.

         For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we vacate the judgment of the Superior Court.

         I

         Facts and Travel

         According to plaintiffs' first amended complaint, in March of 2003, Leon Budlong, a bus driver in RIPTA's employ, claimed that he was assaulted while on his Ruggles Avenue bus route. Over a year after the assault, Mr. Budlong identified Mr. Hall as his attacker for the first time. Mr. Hall was ultimately acquitted by a jury in the Newport County Superior Court after appealing thereto for a de novo trial following his conviction in District Court. According to the first amended complaint in the instant case, Mr. Budlong's bus route went by the Halls' home on Ruggles Avenue in Newport "some thirty-two * * * times each day." Mr. Budlong was assigned to that bus route during all times pertinent to this case. The plaintiffs alleged, in their first amended complaint, that Mr. Budlong "embarked on a pattern of harassment of the Halls" in 2004, after identifying Mr. Hall as his alleged attacker.

         The plaintiffs' attorney sent two letters to RIPTA informing them of the alleged harassment by Mr. Budlong-one letter being dated September 22, 2005 and the second letter being dated November 14, 2005. In his first letter, the Halls' attorney stated the following:

"One of your trolley drivers, Leon Budlong has engaged in a long series of harassing actions against my clients. My clients have had to resort to the Superior Court to obtain a restraining order against Mr. Budlong, which remains in effect.[2]
"After an extended absence, Mr. Budlong returned to the route which includes Ruggles Avenue on September 1, 2005 and his harassment of the Halls has escalated.
"This all culminated on Saturday, September 17, 2005 when Mr. Budlong drove his trolley bus up to the Halls' residence, stopped, and took a picture of Mrs. Hall in her yard.
"The Halls have had it with Mr. Budlong and demand that you remove him from this route to prevent any further harassment of them by Mr. Budlong, which would have serious implications for RIPTA."

         After no response was received, Mrs. Hall herself then sent a letter to RIPTA (the third written communication to that entity) on November 28, 2005. In that letter she stated that she was "in fear" for her children, herself, and her husband. She added that Mr. Budlong had "devastated our family by his aggravated, out-of-control harassments." RIPTA's response came on December 9, 2005. It stated that RIPTA had investigated the matter, and then it provided as follows:

"You have indicated that you would like RIPTA to change Mr. Budlong's route. Please be advised that routes are assigned to drivers pursuant to a detailed process set forth in the collective bargaining agreement ...

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