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Williams v. Alston

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

February 22, 2017

Eunique Williams
v.
Chicara Alston et al.

         Providence County Superior Court (PC 13-5676) Associate Justice Bennett R. Gallo

          For Plaintiff: Ronald J. Resmini, Esq.

          For Defendant: Harry J. Hoopis, Esq. Faith A. LaSalle, Esq.

          Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.

          OPINION

          FRANCIS X. FLAHERTY, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE

         This case arose out of a two-vehicle collision that resulted in the plaintiff, Eunique Williams, sustaining severe bodily injuries when one of the automobiles involved struck her while she was standing at her post as a crossing guard. The plaintiff appeals from the Superior Court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Rick M. Ford, a co-defendant. The plaintiff argues that the hearing justice erred when he concluded that there were no genuine issues of material fact in dispute. The matter came before this Court for oral argument on February 10, 2017, pursuant to an order directing the parties to appear and show cause why this appeal should not summarily be decided. After considering the parties' oral and written arguments, and after thoroughly reviewing the record, it is our opinion that cause has not been shown and that this case should be decided at this time without further briefing or argument. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we vacate the judgment of the Superior Court.

         Facts and Travel

         August 31, 2012, was the Friday of the first week of a new school year, and plaintiff was working as a crossing guard at the intersection of Park and Wellington Avenues in Cranston. Just minutes before her shift was to be completed, plaintiff looked northward up Wellington Avenue and saw a black car speeding towards the intersection where she was working. The black car, which was being operated by co-defendant Chicara Alston, swerved to its left into the oncoming traffic lane, sped past one or two cars, and then turned back to the right, passing another vehicle between that vehicle and the guardrail. Despite being confronted with a red light, Alston continued into the intersection, striking Ford's pickup truck, which had entered the intersection under a green light as it was traveling eastbound on Park Avenue. At the time of the collision, it was estimated that Alston was driving thirty-five miles per hour. The force of the impact caused Ford's vehicle to spin 180 degrees and to careen into plaintiff. The plaintiff was violently knocked against the exterior wall of a building and suffered serious injuries.

         In November 2013, plaintiff filed suit against Alston[1] and Ford, alleging that each was negligent and that, as a result of their negligence, plaintiff was severely injured. After two years elapsed and discovery had been initiated, Ford moved for summary judgment with respect to the claim against him. In that motion, Ford argued that there was "not one shred of evidence that he was negligent in the operation of his motor vehicle at the time of the accident. As such, there [was] no genuine issue of material fact." The gravamen of Ford's argument was that it was undisputed that he entered the intersection with a green light and that Alston proceeded through the intersection against a red light; thus, Alston was the sole tortfeasor. The plaintiff contended that Ford proceeded through the intersection when it was unsafe to do so. She argued that there was conflicting testimony as to whether traffic had been backed up from Elmwood Avenue to Wellington Avenue, thereby creating a question as to whether Ford's automobile could safely enter the intersection.

         In March 2016, the hearing justice granted Ford's motion for summary judgment, saying that plaintiff's argument was "unsupported by anything in the record." After the hearing justice granted Ford's motion from the bench, plaintiff's counsel continued to argue that summary judgment was inappropriate at that time, saying:

"why wouldn't a deposition testimony of a witness or a party, it makes no difference who it is, who says that the individual proceeded through the intersection when it wasn't safe to do so, why wouldn't that be a question of fact. I'm not saying the jury might not agree with you down the road, but it's a question of fact."

         Nevertheless, an order granting Ford's motion entered in April 2016, and final judgment entered in May 2016 pursuant to Rule 54(b) of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure. The plaintiff timely appealed to this Court, asserting that the hearing justice erred when he concluded that there were no genuine issues of material fact in dispute.

         Standard of Review

         "We review a hearing justice's grant of summary judgment de novo." Tri-Town Construction Co. v. Commerce Park Associates 12, LLC, 139 A.3d 467, 474 (R.I. 2016) (citing Sullo v. Greenberg, 68 A.3d 404, 406 (R.I. 2013)). "Summary judgment is an extreme remedy and should be granted only when 'the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as [a] matter of law.'" Plunkett v. State, 869 A.2d 1185, 1187 (R.I. 2005) (quoting Wright v. Zielinski, 824 A.2d 494, 497 (R.I. 2003)). "Only when a review of the admissible evidence viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party reveals no genuine issues of material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, will this Court uphold the trial justice's grant of summary judgment." National Refrigeration, Inc. v. Standen Contracting Co., 942 A.2d 968, 971 (R.I. 2008) (quoting Carlson v. Town of Smithfield, 723 A.2d 1129, 1131 (R.I. 1999)). The party opposing "a motion for summary judgment carries the burden of ...


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