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Bainum v. Coventry Police Department

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

March 27, 2017

Carel Bainum
Coventry Police Department.

         Kent County Superior Court (KC 13-878) Associate Justice Bennett R. Gallo

          For Plaintiff: Carel Bainum, Pro Se

          For Defendant: Michael DeSisto, Esq.

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



         The plaintiff, Carel Bainum (plaintiff or Bainum), no stranger to the elderly, or the courts for that matter, [1] appeals pro se challenging the motion justice's grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant, the Coventry Police Department (the department or defendant). This matter came before the Supreme Court on March 8, 2017, pursuant to an order directing the parties to appear and show cause why this Court should not summarily decide the issues raised by this appeal. After hearing the parties' arguments and reviewing the parties' memoranda, we conclude that cause has not been shown. Accordingly, we decide this matter at this time without further briefing or argument. For the reasons outlined below, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.

         I Facts and Travel

         This case stems from Bainum's allegedly unwelcomed visits to the Coventry Health and Rehabilitation Center (the center), a nursing home in Coventry, Rhode Island. At the crux of plaintiff's case is her relationship with Michael Koczan, now deceased, a former resident in the center's dementia ward. On or around October 16, 2009, Bainum was visiting then-ninety-seven-year-old Koczan, when Officer Ryan Desisto of the department asked her to leave, at the center's request. The plaintiff, after answering some of the officer's questions, eventually complied with his request and voluntarily departed the home.[2] The plaintiff was also notified at some point[3] by the center's employees that Koczan's daughter, Kristin Wild, sought to halt any future visits from Bainum with Koczan.

         Nonetheless, plaintiff, on more than one occasion, subsequently visited Koczan at the center. For example, on January 23, 2010, while disguised with a blonde wig to avoid recognition by the center's staff, she visited Koczan. A staff member eventually recognized Bainum, however, and informed the department of her presence. Because of her contact with Koczan, the department summoned plaintiff to appear at the Kent County District Court on a criminal charge of willful trespass pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 11-44-26. That action was later transferred to the Superior Court, where a jury found Bainum guilty. On September 15, 2010, a trial justice sentenced Bainum.[4] Although plaintiff appealed to this Court, she withdrew her appeal on April 21, 2014.

         Following her criminal conviction, on August 15, 2013, plaintiff brought a civil action against the department. In her complaint, she asserted that her willful-trespass conviction was the consequence of two "malicious acts" by defendant: (1) perjured testimony of Officer Desisto during plaintiff's criminal trial; and (2) altered police reports concerning Bainum's visits to the center. With respect to the false testimony allegation, plaintiff contended that Officer Desisto testified that he gave plaintiff a verbal no-trespass warning on October 16, 2009, at the direction of Earle Lerner, the center's then-administrator. The plaintiff referenced, however, an affidavit she obtained from Lerner just prior to pressing this claim. In it, Lerner contradicted Officer Desisto's testimony by stating that he did not request a no-trespass order or warning for Bainum on October 16 because he wanted to first discuss it with his supervisor, who was absent that day. Additionally, plaintiff alleged that members of the department inappropriately altered Officer Desisto's October 16 police report about Bainum. Based on these assertions, plaintiff submitted that members of the department including Officer Desisto colluded and conspired against her. She further declared that "[t]he perjured testimony of Ryan Desisto, along with other intentional malicious acts by him and other employees of the Coventry Police Department, were intended to harm the Plaintiff, and they did."

         On June 4, 2015, defendant moved for summary judgment on the grounds that: (1) plaintiff's criminal conviction defeated her malicious-prosecution claim; (2) collateral estoppel barred any false-arrest claim; (3) plaintiff's conspiracy claim must fail based on its inviable underlying tort claim; and (4) qualified immunity shielded defendant from liability. Before the motion justice, plaintiff asserted that: (1) "this is a case of collusion and conspiracy"; and (2) the doctrine of collateral estoppel is inapplicable because the department was not a party in prior litigation nor was a claim of collusion and conspiracy litigated in a prior case against it.

         In his bench decision on September 14, 2015, the motion justice found that plaintiff's complaint failed as a matter of law and deemed each of her claims, which he understood as false arrest, malicious prosecution, and collusion and conspiracy, to be meritless. The motion justice disposed of the false-arrest claim as he found that no arrest had occurred.[5] He also found that the malicious-prosecution claim turned on whether a prosecution was obtained without probable cause and reasoned that plaintiff's willful-trespass conviction "conclusively establishe[d]" the requisite probable cause, which resolved this claim as a matter of law. Finally, the motion justice noted that he had never heard of a claim for "collusion and conspiracy"; but, assuming that such a claim existed, he held that collateral estoppel barred it because it intermingled with the events underlying plaintiff's trespass charge, for which she was tried and convicted.

         On appeal, plaintiff urges the reversal of the motion justice's grant of summary judgment. She argues that a genuine issue of material fact exists on her claim of "[c]ollusion and [c]onspiracy" because she offered "specific, admissible facts in the records, through documentation and affidavits" that constitute prima facie evidence on this issue. In her papers before us, plaintiff, in spite of the above-mentioned affidavit, describes the catalyst of her claim to be a scheme by Lerner to "set [her] up" and "keep her out" of the center. She asserts that Lerner discovered that plaintiff knew of Medicare fraud occurring under his supervision.[6] She contends that this led Lerner to retaliate by persuading Officer Desisto and other department officers to ...

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