RONALD N. RENAUD, Plaintiff,
GINA RAIMONDO, Alias, individually and in her Capacity as Governor of the State of Rhode Island; MICHAEL DIBIASE, Alias, individually and in his Capacity as Director, Department of Administration of the State of Rhode Island; and THE STATE OF RHODE ISLAND, Defendants.
County Superior Court
Plaintiff: Gerard M. DeCelles, Esq.
Defendant: Chrisanne E. Wyrzykowski, Esq. Jennifer S.
the Court is the Defendants'-Gina Raimondo, individually
and in her capacity as Governor of the State of Rhode Island;
Michael DiBiase, individually and in his capacity as Director
of the Department of Administration of the State of Rhode
Island; and the State of Rhode Island (Defendants)-Motion to
Dismiss Plaintiff Ronald N. Renaud's (Renaud) First
Amended Complaint pursuant to Rule 12 of the Rhode Island
Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure. The Court has
jurisdiction pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 8-2-14.
Facts and Travel
of 2007, Renaud was hired as the Executive Director of the
Department of Administration (DOA) of the State of Rhode
Island. First Am. Compl. at 2, ¶ 1. As DOA's
Executive Director, Renaud was a classified state employee
with permanent status. Id. at ¶ 3. Renaud
served as the DOA's Executive Director until March 20,
2015, when Defendant DiBiase informed him that his position
had been abolished and he had been laid off. Id. at
¶ 5. On February 29, 2016, Renaud initiated this lawsuit
asserting that he was unlawfully terminated.
Renaud's initial Complaint in February of 2016,
Defendants moved to dismiss. After several months, during
which the parties engaged in considerable motion practice,
Renaud filed his First Amended Complaint on September 1,
2016. Again, Defendants moved to dismiss. The Court heard
arguments on the Motion to Dismiss the First Amended
Complaint on October 5, 2016. After that hearing, the Court
accepted supplemental memoranda from both parties.
Standard of Review
sole function of a motion to dismiss is to test the
sufficiency of the complaint.'" R.I. Emp't
Sec. Alliance, Local 401 v. State, Dep't of Emp't
& Training, 788 A.2d 465, 467 (R.I. 2002)
(hereinafter R.I. Emp't) (per curiam)
(alteration in original) (quoting R.I. Affiliate, ACLU v.
Bernasconi, 557 A.2d 1232, 1232 (R.I. 1989)). In testing
a complaint's sufficiency, the Court "'assumes
the allegations contained in the complaint to be true and
views the facts in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff.'" Id. (quoting St. James
Condo. Ass'n v. Lokey, 676 A.2d 1343, 1346 (R.I.
1996)). "[N]o complaint will be deemed insufficient
unless it is clear beyond a reasonable doubt that the
plaintiff will be unable to prove his right to
relief[.]" Bragg v. Warwick Shoppers World,
Inc., 102 R.I. 8, 12, 227 A.2d 582, 584 (1967).
Accordingly, a motion to dismiss "should not be granted
'unless it appears to a certainty that the plaintiff
will not be entitled to relief under any set of facts which
might be proved in support of [his] claim.'"
R.I. Emp't, 788 A.2d at 467 (internal
alterations omitted) (quoting St. James Condo
Ass'n, 676 A.2d at 1346).
primary claim in his First Amended Complaint is that he was
wrongfully terminated due to his political affiliation. This
claim is listed as part 7(a) of Count I in his First Amended
Complaint. Defendants argue that the Court should dismiss
Renaud's First Amended Complaint because of his failure
to properly exhaust his administrative remedies under G.L.
1956 § 36-4-42, which pertains to state employees, such
as Renaud, who allege discrimination on the basis of
political beliefs. According to Defendants, Renaud's
claim should first have been brought to the Personnel Appeal
Board, not to this Court. Defendants contend that taking
Renaud's allegations as true-specifically that he was
laid off and his job was abolished due to his political
affiliation-he failed to first exhaust his administrative
remedies with the Personnel Appeal Board and that, as a
result, this Court should dismiss Renaud's claim for
responds to this contention with two arguments. First, Renaud
maintains that he did not have to bring his claim with the
Personnel Appeal Board; doing so was permissive, he avers,
not mandatory. Essentially, Renaud argues that after he was
laid off he had two distinct options: appeal to the Personnel
Appeal Board or bring suit in this Court. Renaud believes
that is the case because § 36-4-42 provides that
aggrieved state employees "may" appeal to the
Personnel Appeal Board for relief. Defendants contend that
the use of the word "may" does not allow Renaud to
circumvent the Personnel Appeal Board.
Renaud asserts that he did not need to seek a remedy with the
Personnel Appeal Board because doing so would have been
futile. According to Renaud, appealing to the Personnel
Appeal Board would have been futile because (a) the Personnel
Appeal Board, which is comprised of members appointed by the
Governor, was biased against him and would therefore be
incapable of rendering an impartial decision in his favor and
(b) the Personnel Appeal Board lacked the authority to
restore Renaud to a position that had been abolished. In
response, Defendants contend that the Personnel Appeal Board
was perfectly capable of rendering a decision in Renaud's
case. According to Defendants, the mere allegation of
potential bias against a government board made up of
appointees is insufficient to invoke the futility exception
to the requirement that a plaintiff first exhaust his
administrative remedies prior to seeking judicial relief.
Moreover, Defendants argue that the Personnel Appeal Board is
tasked with the authority to provide precisely the remedy
addition to maintaining that he did not need to first seek a
remedy with the Personnel Appeal Board, Renaud alleges myriad
claims throughout his First Amended Complaint. Although
divided into two counts that generally allege wrongful
termination, Renaud's First Amended Complaint also
contains allegations that Defendants violated numerous
constitutional provisions. Specifically, in the introductory
paragraph to his First Amended Complaint, Renaud states
violations of the First, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments of
the United States Constitution as well as violations of
Article I, Sections 5, 21, and 24, Article II, Section 7,
Article IX, Section 2 of the Rhode Island Constitution. With
a passing reference to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Renaud appears
to allege that Section 1983 is the mechanism that provides
him with relief for the alleged violations of the federal
constitution. These allegations all seem to be set alongside
Count II of his First Amended Complaint, which generally
alleges that Defendants violated Renaud's constitutional
right to continued employment.
in parts 7(b) through (d) of Count I, Renaud alleges various
forms of a civil conspiracy. According to Renaud, Defendants
conspired to lay him off and abolish the position of
Executive Director based on his political affiliation.
Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies
"a plaintiff first must exhaust his administrative
remedies before seeking judicial review of an administrative
decision." Almeida v. Plasters' & Cement
Masons' Local 40 Pension Fund, 722 A.2d 257, 259
(R.I. 1998) (per curiam) (citing Burns v. Sundlun,
617 A.2d 114, 117 (R.I. 1992)). "It is well settled that
a plaintiff aggrieved by a state agency's action first
must exhaust administrative remedies before bringing a claim
in court." R.I. Emp't, 788 A.2d at 467. The
exhaustion requirement "serves two purposes: '(1) it
aids judicial review by allowing the parties and the agency
to develop the facts of the case, and (2) it promotes
judicial economy by avoiding needless repetition of
administrative and ...