County Superior Court
Plaintiff: Johanna Harris, Pro Se
Defendant: Dennis E. Carley, Esq.; James D. Cullen, Esq.
Harris (Ms. Harris or Plaintiff), brings this motion to
compel further deposition testimony from Samuel Zurier (Mr.
Zurier) and to seek sanctions for the conduct of Mr.
Zurier's attorney at his initial deposition. For the
reasons set forth herein, Plaintiff's motions are denied.
underlying claim has an extended procedural history, and
stems from the City of Providence's (the City) alleged
failure to defend or otherwise indemnify a City official in
legal proceedings brought against her.
February 6, 2014, Johanna Harris (Ms. Harris) was sworn in as
Commissioner of the Board of Licenses for the City of
Providence (the Board), and was subsequently elected Chairman
of the Board. (Am. Compl. ¶ 2). Ms. Harris immediately
initiated a series of changes to the procedures of the Board.
Subsequently-and apparently as a direct result of those
changes-Attorney Peter Petrarca (Mr. Petrarca) sustained
several adverse decisions against his clients, and filed a
complaint with the Rhode Island Ethics Commission against Ms.
Harris on August 22, 2014. Id. at ¶ 3.
Additionally, Mr. Petrarca filed suit in the Superior Court
on October 8, 2014, seeking a preliminary injunction to
compel Ms. Harris to recuse herself in all cases before the
Board in which Mr. Petrarca represented a client due to the
alleged conflict of interest that he argued existed.
Id. at ¶ 4.
October 28, 2014, the Superior Court denied Mr.
Petrarca's motion for a preliminary injunction, and his
complaint was ultimately dismissed on March 31, 2015.
Id. at ¶¶ 6-7. Furthermore, the Rhode
Island Ethics Commission also dismissed Mr. Petrarca's
complaint against Ms. Harris on July 21, 2015. Id.
at ¶ 9. As a result of the expenses incurred in
defending against these matters, Ms. Harris avers that on
April 7, 2015 she submitted a request with the City for
indemnification of her legal expenses in accordance with G.L.
1956 § 45-15-16, but that her request was denied.
Id. at ¶¶ 8, 10.
the denial of her request-and apparently after settlement
talks with the City were unsuccessful-on September 1, 2015
Ms. Harris filed a petition for a writ of mandamus with the
Superior Court, seeking indemnification for her legal
expenses (totaling $17, 983) resulting from her defense
against Mr. Petrarca's claims.
Harris brought a motion for judgment on the pleadings before
the Court on January 26, 2016. At that hearing, the Court
denied Ms. Harris' motion and further informed her that
her petition seeking a writ of mandamus was improper.
However, because the City conceded that Ms. Harris properly
filed a claim with the City Council (pursuant to §
45-15-16), the Court allowed her leave to amend her pleadings
to a complaint seeking damages pursuant to that statute.
While Ms. Harris would eventually file an amended complaint,
she continued to seek a writ of mandamus, despite the
Court's earlier ruling. Having already determined that a
petition for a writ of mandamus was improper, the Court (on
May 3, 2016) granted Defendants' motion to dismiss the
portion of her action seeking mandamus. As such, what remains
before the Court is Ms. Harris' complaint seeking damages
pursuant to § 45-15-16.
Harris originally began conducting the deposition of Mr.
Zurier on February 23, 2016. See Pl.'s Mot.
Compel ¶ 1, Feb. 25, 2016. At that time, counsel for Mr.
Zurier suspended the deposition after conveying his belief
that the questions being asked by Ms. Harris were
inappropriate and not relevant to the merits of the instant
action. Id. at ¶¶ 3, 6. Ms. Harris then
moved to compel Mr. Zurier's attendance for his continued
deposition, and is seeking sanctions based on Defendants'
alleged bad faith tactics in suspending or otherwise
interfering with Mr. Zurier's deposition. At a hearing
for this motion held on March 10, 2016, the Court sua
sponte raised the possible issue of Mr. Zurier's
legislative immunity, and asked both parties for further
briefing on this issue. See Hr'g Tr. 25; 38,
Mar. 10, 2016.
questions of legislative immunity and sanctions for
suspending the deposition are the issues presently before the
motion to compel is governed by Super. R. Civ. P.
37(a)(2). "When a party or deponent refuses to
answer a question, the proponent may apply to the court for
an order compelling an answer." Fremming v.
Tansey, 626 A.2d 219, 220 (R.I. 1993) (internal citation
omitted). "The burden is upon the party seeking the
discovery to show that the 'denial of production or
inspection will result in an injustice or undue
hardship.' The determination of this issue is vested in
the sound discretion of the trial justice, who should look at
the facts and circumstances of each case in ...