County Superior Court
Plaintiff Bernard A. Jackvony, Esq.; Samantha McCoy Clarke,
Esq.; Rebecca M. Murphy, Esq.
Defendant Joseph Avanzato, Esq.; Nicole J. Benjamin, Esq.
SILVERSTEIN, J. 
the Court is Defendants'-The Legion of Christ North
America, Inc., (Legion of Christ) et al. (Defendants)-Motion
to Dismiss Plaintiff Americans United for Life's
(Americans United for Life) Complaint pursuant to Rule 12 of
the Rhode Island Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure.
Americans United for Life advances several claims against
Defendants, including fraud, undue influence, tortious
interference with expectation of inheritance, and civil
conspiracy. The Court has jurisdiction pursuant to G.L. 1956
§§ 8-2-13 and 8-2-14.
18, 2008, Mrs. Gabrielle D. Mee, a devout Catholic, passed
away. Throughout her lifetime, Mrs. Mee was exceptionally
generous, specifically to organizations that she believed
were committed to advancing the moral teachings of her faith.
Two of those organizations-Americans United for Life and the
Legion of Christ-are currently before this Court. Americans
United for Life is a pro-life, nonprofit, public interest
organization located in Washington, D.C. The Legion of
Christ-one of the many named Defendants in this action-is an
order of the Catholic Church with which Mrs. Mee became
familiar in the late 1980s. In addition to giving substantial
gifts to these two organizations during her lifetime, Mrs.
Mee also sought to provide for them beyond her death,
bequesting different gifts to each as exhibited in the
several versions of her will. The apparent changes in Mrs.
Mee's testamentary intent, as reflected by the multiple
iterations of her will, form the basis of Americans United
for Life's claims. To provide context to this lawsuit,
the Court will briefly summarize other recent litigation
surrounding Mrs. Mee's estate.
1991, Mrs. Mee executed a will in which she directed that
ninety percent of her estate go to the Legion of Christ and
that the remaining ten percent go to Americans United for
Life. Compl. ¶ 44. However, in 1995, Mrs. Mee executed a
codicil that revoked her ten percent gift to Americans United
for Life and directed that her entire estate go to the Legion
of Christ. Id. at ¶ 45. In 2000, Mrs. Mee
executed her final will, which revoked the 1991 will and 1995
codicil, named Father Anthony Bannon, a member of the Legion
of Christ, as her estate's executor, and directed that
her entire estate go to the Legion of Christ. During this
period of time, Mrs. Mee also had several trusts, which she
used to benefit the Legion of Christ. Id. at
¶¶ 37, 39-42. In 2009, after Mrs. Mee's
passing, Father Bannon petitioned the Smithfield Probate
Court to admit the 2000 will that named the Legion of Christ
as the estate's sole beneficiary. A year later, the
Smithfield Probate Court admitted the 2000 will to probate.
The probate court's admission of the 2000 will to probate
culminated in the Rhode Island Supreme Court's decision
in Dauray v. Mee, 109 A.3d 832 (R.I. 2015)-a will
contest brought by Mrs. Mee's niece, Mary Lou Dauray,
which was dismissed for lack of standing.
December 2013, while the Dauray case was pending in
the Rhode Island Supreme Court, Americans United for Life
received a phone call from Ms. Dauray's attorney alerting
it to its interest as a ten-percent beneficiary of Mrs.
Mee's estate under the 1991 will. AUL I, 2016 WL
5957196, at *2. Based on that phone call, on March 14, 2014,
Americans United for Life moved to intervene in Ms.
Dauray's appeal. Id. However, the Rhode Island
Supreme Court denied the motion to intervene on May 21, 2014.
Rhode Island Supreme Court issued its decision in
Dauray on February 6, 2015. On August 19, 2015,
Father Bannon filed an affidavit with the Smithfield Probate
Court seeking to close Mrs. Mee's Estate. AUL I,
2016 WL 5957196, at *2. Less than one month later, on
September 3, 2015, the Smithfield Probate Court closed her
estate. Id. Subsequently, in a second effort to
contest the validity of Mrs. Mee's 2000 will, Americans
United for Life petitioned to reopen Mrs. Mee's estate
and probate the 1991 will entitling the organization to ten
percent of her estate. Id. at *3. The Smithfield
Probate Court denied that petition, a decision with which
this Court concurred in a reasoned decision. Id. at
case at bar, Americans United for Life asserts a bevy of
allegations against Defendants, which primarily focus on the
Legion of Christ's founder and former General Director,
Father Marcial Maciel Delgollado (Father
Maciel). Mrs. Mee was introduced to Father Maciel
sometime in the late 1980s after her husband passed away.
Compl. ¶ 19. After she met Father Maciel, Mrs. Mee began
making substantial gifts to the Legion of Christ.
Id. at ¶ 22. For example, in 1989 Mrs. Mee gave
the Legion of Christ a $1, 000, 000 gift, followed by a $3,
000, 000 gift in 1991. Id. at ¶ 22. In 1991-the
same year Mrs. Mee executed a will benefitting Americans
United for Life-Mrs. Mee expressed to Father Maciel that she
wanted to become a consecrated woman in Regnum Christi, an
organization under the control of the Legion of Christ.
Id. at ¶ 25. One requirement to become a
consecrated woman is to take a vow of poverty. Id.
at ¶ 26. Regnum Christi specifically required that
consecrated women donate half of their assets to the Legion
of Christ after fifteen years, with all remaining assets
donated after twenty-five years. Id. Moreover, in
addition to having set requirements regarding age and years
of study, Regnum Christi required consecrated women to
promise that all of their future earnings would go to the
Legion of Christ. Id. at ¶¶ 26-27.
November of 1991, Mrs. Mee became a consecrated woman.
Id. at ¶ 27. She was able to do so after Father
Maciel waived the age and years of study requirements.
Id. She then moved to the Regnum Christi facility in
Wakefield, Rhode Island. Id. at ¶ 30. In 1996,
due in part to Mrs. Mee's donations, the Legion of Christ
bought a new facility in Smithfield, Rhode Island, where Mrs.
Mee and the other consecrated women moved. Id. at
¶ 32. According to the allegations in Americans United
for Life's Complaint, from the late 1980s to the time of
her passing in 2008, Father Maciel and Defendants exercised
significant influence over Mrs. Mee through a pattern and
practice of concealing from her communications from the
outside world, including restricting her from access to news
media. Id. at ¶ 33.
Maciel, who led the Legion of Christ from its founding in the
1940s until 2005, led a sordid life. Id. at
¶¶ 20-21. In the late 1990s, during the time when
Mrs. Mee was living in the Regnum Christi facility, a news
article and subsequent Vatican-led investigations publically
revealed that Father Maciel was, among other things, a serial
sexual abuser. Id. at ¶¶ 61-63, 83. In May
of 2010, after Father Maciel had died, the Vatican issued a
scathing report regarding his gross misconduct. Id.
at ¶ 86. Due to the influence of the Legion of Christ
and other Defendants, Mrs. Mee was unaware of these
allegations. Id. at ¶¶ 33, 76, 89. Based
on her varying testamentary wishes, however, had Mrs. Mee
known of Father Maciel's behavior, she may have severed
ties with the Legion of Christ-including removing the Legion
of Christ from the 2000 will. Id. at ¶¶
to Americans United for Life, Mrs. Mee placed a great deal of
trust in Defendants and their members, even giving to Father
Bannon power of attorney over her financial affairs. Based on
this trusting relationship, Americans United for Life alleges
that Mrs. Mee was induced into giving millions of dollars in
gifts to Defendants-namely the Legion of Christ-during her
lifetime and in her will. For Americans United for Life,
Defendants' long-term tortious efforts extinguished
Americans United for Life's ten percent interest in Mrs.
Mee's estate under the 1991 will and reduced the assets
in Mrs. Mee's estate.
22, 2016, Americans United for Life filed the present
II Standard of Review
'sole function of a motion to dismiss is to test the
sufficiency of the complaint.'" Martin v.
Howard, 784 A.2d 291, 297 (R.I. 2001) (quoting R.I.
Affiliate, ACLU, Inc. v. Bernasconi, 557 A.2d 1232, 1232
(R.I. 1989)). In testing the sufficiency of the complaint,
the "'Court assumes the allegations contained in the
complaint to be true and views the facts in the light most
favorable to the plaintiffs.'" Id. at
297-98 (quoting St. James Condo. Ass'n. v.
Lokey, 676 A.2d 1343, 1346 (R.I. 1996)); see also
Palazzo, 944 A.2d at 149. Our Supreme Court has long
adhered to the rule that "no 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 [its] claim.'"
Martin, 784 A.2d at 298 (quoting St. James
Condo. Ass'n, 676 A.2d at 1346).
Complaint, Americans United for Life, as a prior beneficiary
under Mrs. Mee's 1991 will, asserts claims of fraud,
undue influence, tortious interference with expectation of
inheritance, and civil conspiracy against Defendants.
Americans United for Life also requests injunctive relief in
the form of a constructive trust. Much of the argument in
this case has centered on Americans United for Life's
third count, tortious interference with expectation of
inheritance. Although the Rhode Island Supreme Court has not
yet addressed whether such a claim is cognizable under Rhode
Island law, see Henry v. Sheffield, 856 F.Supp.2d
345, 350 (D.R.I. 2012), Americans United for Life argues that
the Legion of Christ and other Defendants tortuously
interfered with its expected ten percent inheritance through
means of fraud and undue influence. Americans United for Life
includes those same means of fraud and undue influence as
separate causes of action in its Complaint. In addition,
Americans United for Life asserts that Defendants engaged in
a civil conspiracy to tortiously remove Americans United for
Life from Mrs. Mee's 1991 will and divert financial
assets from Mrs. Mee to Defendants during her lifetime.
moving to dismiss each of those claims, Defendants argue
that: (1) tortious interference is not a cognizable cause of
action under Rhode Island law; (2) even if this Court were to
recognize it, Americans United for Life has not pled or
alleged that it lacked an adequate remedy in the Probate
Court-a required showing by many courts that have recognized
this claim; (3) any claim of fraud against Defendants fails
as a matter of law because such a claim belonged to Mrs. Mee
not to Americans United for Life; (4) undue influence,
without more, is not an independent cause of action; and (5)
because each of those allegations fail to state a claim for
which the law provides relief, there is no tortious conduct
on which Americans United for Life can base its civil
conspiracy claim. In addition, Defendants ask this Court to
dismiss Americans United for Life's claim for injunctive
relief, because they argue that too does not assert an
independent cause of action.
Court will address each of Americans United for Life's
claims in turn.