Barbara A. Voccola and Edward R. Voccola, in their capacities as Co-Executors of the Estate of Edward E. Voccola
Patricia A. Forte et al.
County (PC 08-1467), (PC 08-6628), (PC 08-1467) Superior
Court Associate Justice Sarah Taft-Carter
Plaintiffs: Lauren E. Jones, Esq. Robert S. Thurston, Esq.
Defendants: Barry J. Kusinitz, Esq. Michael J. Kiselica, Esq.
JUSTICES: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and
William P. Robinson III Associate Justice
Forte and Red Fox Realty, LLC (Red Fox) (the defendants)
appeal from a March 12, 2013 final judgment entered in two
consolidated Providence County Superior Court actions in
favor of Barbara Voccola and Edward R. Voccola, in their
capacities as co-executors of the Estate of Edward E. Voccola
(the plaintiffs). In these actions, filed on March 12, 2008
and October 17, 2008, Edward E. Voccola sought to recover
his property which he alleged Patricia had wrongfully
transferred. On appeal, the defendants contend as follows:
(1) that the trial justice erred when she held that Mr.
Voccola's signatures authorizing the transfer of the
properties at issue to Patricia's company, Red Fox, were
not genuine because, according to the defendants, the
plaintiffs failed to present sufficient evidence to rebut the
presumption that Mr. Voccola's signatures were genuine;
(2) that the trial justice erred as a matter of law in using
"her independent analysis and opinion" of Mr.
Voccola's signatures as a basis for concluding that his
signatures on the documents at issue were not authentic; (3)
that the trial justice erred in refusing to admit into
evidence testimony concerning two of the documents at issue;
(4) that the trial justice erred in finding the
defendants' handwriting expert not to be credible; (5)
that this Court should review the testimony of the
plaintiffs' handwriting expert de novo and then
reject her credibility; (6) that the trial justice erred as a
matter of law when she held that the omission of a referenced
exhibit to the documents which Mr. Voccola allegedly signed
allowing the transfer of the properties at issue rendered
those documents legally ineffective; and (7) that the trial
justice erred in holding in the plaintiffs' favor on the
defendants' claim that Mr. Voccola gifted the properties
at issue to Patricia.
plaintiffs filed a cross-appeal from the decision of the
trial justice awarding Patricia $82, 000 pursuant to her
counterclaim. They contend on appeal that the trial justice
erred in making that award because: (1) in her counterclaim,
Patricia did not seek reimbursement for paying Mr.
Voccola's criminal fines, which payment was the act that
formed the basis of the trial justice's $82, 000 award;
and (2) any "claim of damages as to the criminal
fines" was settled in a 2007 Settlement Agreement
between various parties, including Mr. Voccola and Patricia.
reasons set forth in this opinion, we affirm the judgment of
the Superior Court.
case is, at its core, a family dispute involving Mr. Voccola
and his five adult children-Edward, Stephen, Paul, Barbara,
and Patricia. On July 11, 2012, prior to trial, the parties
entered into an Agreed Statement of Facts. That document
establishes the following facts. Mr. Voccola was the sole
shareholder of three Rhode Island corporations-Capital City
Investments, Inc. (CCI), City View Realty, Inc. (CVR), and
West Side Investments, Inc. (WSI). Patricia was the President
of all three corporations at the times at issue in this case.
Patricia was also the sole member and manager of Red Fox. In
2005, Mr. Voccola filed suit in Providence County Superior
Court against Stephen and Barbara seeking to revoke a
purported gift of stock in a corporation called Redbrook
Investments, Inc. (Redbrook). In March of 2007, a Settlement
Agreement, occasioned by Mr. Voccola's suit against
Stephen and Barbara, was executed by Mr. Voccola, Barbara,
Stephen, Paul, and Patricia. The action commenced by Mr.
Voccola against Barbara and Stephen was subsequently
dismissed by stipulation. The Settlement Agreement, which was
entered as an exhibit at trial, stated in relevant part as
follows: "[Patricia, Stephen, Paul, and Barbara] agree
forthwith upon the signing of this agreement to discharge
and/or release all mortgages and promissory notes which
reference [Mr. Voccola], Jere Realty, Inc., Lakeview Realty,
Inc., [CCI, WSI, and/or CVR]."
to the Agreed Statement of Facts, on or about June 4, 2007,
"three documents were signed purporting to be Waivers of
Notice of Minutes of a Special Joint Meetings [sic]
of the Stockholders and Board of Directors of [CCI, CVR, and
WSI] respectively" (hereinafter the CCI waiver, the CVR
waiver, and the WSI waiver, or the waivers collectively).
Those waivers purported to memorialize a meeting and vote
that allegedly took place on May 29, 2007 and are all
supposedly signed by Mr. Voccola. On May 31, 2007, pursuant
to the waivers to be signed a few days later, Patricia, as
President of CCI, CVR, and WSI, signed three warranty deeds
conveying the real estate of all three of those corporations
to Red Fox. The waivers, which were entered as
exhibits at trial, all state that the transfer of property
was "in exchange for the assumption of the two mortgages
on the property." At the time of the supposed May 29
meeting, at the time of the purported signing of the waivers,
and at the time of the transfer of the properties, Patricia
still held undischarged mortgages on properties owned by Mr.
Voccola or by one of his corporations.
verified complaint, Mr. Voccola alleged that his signature on
the WSI waiver had been forged and that the warranty deeds
were therefore void. He further stated that the warranty
deeds were also void because they were not supported by
adequate consideration. The validity of Mr. Voccola's
signatures on the waivers and the corresponding conveyance of
the properties at issue was the major factual issue to be
resolved at trial,  and it forms the basis of this appeal. The
defendants also filed a counterclaim seeking
"reimbursement for all sums expended [by the defendants]
for taxes, maintenance, insurance and other charges on the
properties which are the subject of [the] action, "
which is also an issue on appeal.
trial was conducted over seven days in July of 2012. We
relate below the salient aspects of what transpired at trial.
Testimony of Paul Voccola
Voccola testified that Mr. Voccola and Patricia had "the
best relationship between father and daughter that you can
imagine for * * * a good 25, 30 years." He further
testified that Mr. Voccola said that "Patricia was the
only one in his life that has ever done anything for him and
that he was leaving all his property to her." By
contrast, when asked about his father's relationship with
Edward, Paul stated: "Well, for the past 35 years or so,
there was actually no relationship at all." He added
that "they were not on speaking terms." Moving on
to the relationship between Barbara and Mr. Voccola, Paul
testified that they had a contentious relationship due to
what Paul claimed was the fact that Mr. Voccola gave
"all the attention to his mistress's daughter,
" who was the same age as Barbara. He added that Barbara
"really hated [Mr. Voccola] * * * through her whole life
because of it."
indicated in his testimony that the signature on all three
waivers was his father's signature, but he also stated
that he was not present when those waivers were signed. He
further stated that it was his understanding that under the
2007 Settlement Agreement "various mortgages"
"were supposed to be released." He also
acknowledged that, in his role as a licensed real estate
broker, he had received the "listing" for two
properties from Patricia during the pendency of the instant
Testimony of Patricia Forte
testified that she opened a business named West Fountain Auto
Body and Sales, Inc. (West Fountain) in June of 1997. It was
her testimony that her boyfriend, Kenneth Salvatore, was the
general manager of West Fountain.
acknowledged during her testimony that she signed the
Settlement Agreement because her brother, Stephen, told her
to sign it. However, she testified that she did not read the
document before she signed it. She further stated that, at
the time of trial, she understood that she was required,
under the Settlement Agreement, to release mortgages
"held by [her] or Redbrook given by [her] father."
She stated that, when she realized that she was supposed to
release the mortgages, she did not do so because her
"father told [her] not to release them" due to the
fact that he intended to "give [her] the property
anyway." She did acknowledge in her testimony that she
held mortgages from her father, CVR, CCI, and WSI which had
not been discharged at the time of the transfer of the
properties at issue in this appeal.
respect to a mortgage which her father gave to one Joe
Tosoni, Patricia testified that her father was motivated to
give the mortgage to Mr. Tosoni so as to obtain the money
that he needed to pay some criminal fines. It was her further
testimony that she "believe[d]" that she paid Mr.
Tosoni $82, 000 on her father's behalf and that Mr.
Tosoni was, thus, "paid in full." She added that
the mortgage was assigned to her and had not been released.
When Patricia was asked at trial where she obtained the money
to pay Mr. Tosoni she stated: "I think that was when I
took the mortgage out on my house * * *." The mortgage
deed given by Mr. Voccola to Mr. Tosoni and the Assignment of
Mortgage from Mr. Tosoni to Patricia were both entered as
exhibits at the trial.
testimony then turned to the day on which her father
purportedly signed the waivers. She stated that, on June 4,
2007, Mr. Voccola came to West Fountain, as he did every day,
and that on that day he told her he was "going to sign
the property over to [her]." She testified that on that
day she saw her father read (or have read to him) all three
of the waivers and she saw him sign all three waivers. She
further stated that she, Raphael Fernandez, Mr. Salvatore,
and an individual by the name of James Levitt, who prepared
the waivers, were present when the waivers were signed. She
specifically identified her father's signature on each of
the waivers at trial. Patricia added that the Exhibit A
referenced in the waivers was not attached to them and she
had not, at the time of trial, located Exhibit A.
Patricia's further testimony that she executed the
warranty deeds transferring the properties at issue from CVR,
CCI, and WSI to Red Fox in her capacity as President of CVR,
CCI, and WSI. According to her testimony, her father told her
"on a million occasions" that she was getting all
of his property, and she said that she remained close to him
until his death, despite the instant actions. She indicated
that he had conflicts with his other children. However, she
did read a portion of her father's 2008 will at trial,
which provided that she would not inherit since she would be
deemed to have predeceased her father unless she transferred
back to him the properties conveyed to Red Fox.
videotape of a will signing from January of 2004 was played
before the jury at trial. In the video, Mr. Voccola was seen
signing his January 2, 2004 will; and, in the course of the
videotape, he disparaged each of his children, with the
exception of Patricia. The videotape revealed him stating
that "Patricia [was] going to be the sole owner of
Testimony of Barbara Voccola
Voccola testified that in December of 2007 her father tried
to obtain from Patricia "all his corporate records"
regarding his properties, but that Patricia resisted
providing them for several weeks. She stated that it was only
by being told by Paul that Mr. Voccola found out that
Patricia had transferred his properties to Red Fox. It was
Barbara's further testimony that Mr. Voccola asked
Patricia to "give him back all his property" and
that, when she did not do so, Mr. Voccola retained an
attorney to commence litigation against Patricia. Barbara
stated in her testimony that her father knew that "his
property had been illegally transferred." It was her
testimony on cross-examination that she had an "on and
off relationship" with her father "over the