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Rompf v. International Tennis Hall of Fame, Inc.

Superior Court of Rhode Island

August 25, 2016

MARY C. ROMPF, Plaintiff
v.
INTERNATIONAL TENNIS HALL OF FAME, INC., alias Defendant

         Newport County Superior Court

          For Plaintiff: Gregory S. Inman, Esq.

          For Defendant: Craig M. Scott, Esq., Rebecca F. Briggs, Esq.

          DECISION

          STONE, J.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant International Tennis Hall of Fame's (ITHF or the Hall) Motion to Dismiss (the Motion) Plaintiff Mary C. Rompf's (Rompf) Complaint. ITHF filed the Motion on March 16, 2016, and, on June 6, 2016, the Court heard arguments from the parties. After hearing the arguments of the parties and examining the memoranda that they submitted, the Court does not believe that ITHF has shown beyond a reasonable doubt that Rompf is not entitled to relief. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, the Hall's Motion is denied. Jurisdiction is pursuant to Super. R. Civ. P. 12 and G.L. 1956 §§ 9-1-28 and 9-1-28.1.

         I

         Facts and Travel

         The ITHF is located at 194 Bellevue Avenue in Newport, Rhode Island. A part of the ITHF's mission is to encourage the growth of the game, which it accomplishes through adult and junior educational and instructional tennis programs. In furtherance of that goal, the Hall employs a Head Tennis Professional to oversee the programs. Rompf served in that role until she was terminated by the Hall on November 6, 2014.

         Following the termination of Rompf's employment, the Hall continued to identify Rompf in her previous role and used photographs of her on its website until the middle of May 2015. Rompf alleges that the ITHF made use of her name and likeness for its own purposes and benefit without her permission or approval.

         As a result thereof, on February 5, 2016, Rompf filed a two-count Complaint against the Hall in the Newport County Superior Court. In Count I, Rompf alleges that the ITHF misappropriated her image and name which caused her to suffer various harms; namely, emotional and mental distress, embarrassment, and loss of reputation. That Count cites "applicable common and state laws" as its basis. In Count II, Rompf further claims that the misappropriation of her name, picture, photograph, or the like was for commercial purposes and therefore in violation of § 9-1-28.

         On March 16, 2016, pursuant to Super. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), the ITHF filed a Motion to Dismiss the Complaint and corresponding memorandum, arguing various reasons in support. In response, Rompf filed an objection and memorandum of her own on April 22, 2016. Finally, the Hall filed a reply memorandum on April 29, 2016. On June 6, 2016, the Court heard oral arguments from the parties as a part of the civil motion calendar. At the close of the hearing, the Court indicated to the parties that it was denying the ITHF's Motion and that it would issue a written decision on the matter. In accord with that, decision is herein rendered in favor of Rompf.

         II

         Standard of Review

         "The sole function of a motion to dismiss is to test the sufficiency of the complaint." Palazzo v. Alves, 944 A.2d 144, 149 (R.I. 2008) (citation omitted). Looking at the four corners of a complaint, this Court examines that pleading and assumes that the allegations contained in the plaintiff's complaint are true, viewing them in a light most favorable to the plaintiff. Barrette v. Yakavonis, 966 A.2d 1231, 1234 (R.I. 2009). Our Supreme Court has noted that there is a policy to interpret the pleading rules liberally so that "cases in our system are not . . . disposed of summarily on arcane or technical grounds." Konar v. PFL Life Ins. Co., 840 A.2d 1115, 1118 (R.I. 2004) (citation omitted). While the pleading does not need to include the ultimate facts to be proven or the precise legal theory upon which the claims are based, the complaint is required to provide the opposing party with fair and adequate notice of any claims being asserted. Barrette, 966 A.2d at 1234. The goal is to give defendants sufficient notice of the type of claim being asserted against them. See Konar, 840 A.2d at 1119; see also Berard v. Ryder Student Transp. Servs., Inc., 767 A.2d 81, 85 (R.I. 2001) (noting that the requisite notice under Rule 8 of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure requires plaintiff to allege what acts committed by defendant entitle plaintiff to legal or equitable relief). ...


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