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Aubin v. MAG Realty, LLC

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

June 15, 2017

Joseph Aubin
v.
MAG Realty, LLC.

         Providence County Superior Court, PC 12-495, Associate Justice Patricia A. Hurst

          For Plaintiff: Richard C. Tallo, Esq., Kelly M. Fracassa, Esq.

          For Defendant: Richard A. van Tienhoven, Esq.

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

          OPINION

          Flaherty, Justice

         In this slip-and-fall case, we are called upon to determine whether the trial justice misstepped when she granted the defendant's motion for judgment as a matter of law. The plaintiff, Joseph Aubin, alleged that he slipped on a patch of "black ice" in the paved parking area adjacent to his apartment building, which was owned by the defendant, MAG Realty, LLC. The plaintiff claimed that his fall resulted in a torn rotator cuff that required surgery and caused the plaintiff to be unable to work for a period of several months. The plaintiff argues on appeal that the trial justice erred because issues of fact remained in dispute; and, when reviewing the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, it was possible for the plaintiff to prevail in his negligence action.

         This matter came before us for oral argument on April 27, 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

         During December 2010, plaintiff, Joseph Aubin, and his wife, Jennifer Aubin, were living at 208 Wood Avenue in Woonsocket. The apartment building was a "triple-decker" that was owned by defendant, MAG Realty, LLC, during the time relevant to this case. The Aubins had lived there for eight or nine years, and they occupied the second floor apartment.

         On December 25, 2010, the Aubins went to a family get-together to celebrate Christmas at William Gilman's home. Mr. Gilman is plaintiff's brother-in-law and also a member of MAG Realty, LLC. At that family gathering, plaintiff and Mr. Gilman made plans to go together to Lowe's the following morning to purchase plywood so that plaintiff could replace the flooring in his apartment.

         On the morning of the 26th, plaintiff went out to the parking lot adjacent to his apartment building to meet Mr. Gilman, as the two had planned. The plaintiff walked towards his truck to retrieve his wallet and keys, and, as he was doing so, he slipped and fell on a patch of black ice. The plaintiff landed with a thud on his left shoulder. The fall, according to plaintiff, resulted in a torn rotator cuff, which required surgery to repair. Also, while recovering from his injury, plaintiff contended that he required assistance with daily living activities and that he was unable to work for a period of five or six months.

         In February 2012, plaintiff brought a single-count suit against defendant, alleging that defendant negligently maintained the premises and that defendant's negligence was the direct and proximate cause of plaintiff's shoulder injury. In an amended complaint filed in January 2015, plaintiff added several counts, including allegations that defendant violated the Residential Landlord Tenant Act, G.L. 1956 chapter 18 of title 34, and specifically, § 34-18-22, by failing to keep the common areas of the premises in a clean and safe condition (counts 3 and 4).

         Eventually, the matter came to trial; a jury trial spanning three days took place in December 2015. At the close of plaintiff's case, defendant moved for judgment as a matter of law, pursuant to Rule 50 of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure. The defendant argued that plaintiff had presented no evidence that defendant was on notice of the black ice and, therefore, as a matter of law, plaintiff's claim must fail. The trial justice initially reserved on that motion. At the conclusion of defendant's case, defendant renewed its motion for judgment as a matter of law. Before sending the case to the jury, the trial justice granted defendant's motion from the bench. Judgment entered the same day, and plaintiff timely appealed to this Court.

         Standard of Review

         "Our review of a trial justice's decision on a motion for judgment as a matter of law is de novo." Giron v. Bailey, 985 A.2d 1003, 1007 (R.I. 2009) (quoting Gianquitti v. Atwood Medical Associates, Ltd., 973 A.2d 580, 589 (R.I. 2009)). "In reviewing a trial justice's decision on a motion for judgment as a matter of law, this Court is bound to follow the same rules and legal standards as govern the trial justice." Lemont v. Estate of Ventura, 157 A.3d 31, 36 (R.I. 2017) (quoting Roy v. State, 139 A.3d 480, 488 (R.I. 2016)). "The trial justice, and consequently this Court, must examine 'the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, without weighing the evidence or evaluating the credibility of witnesses, and draw[ ] from the record all reasonable inferences that support the position of the nonmoving party.'" Id. (quoting Roy, 139 A.3d at 488). "Thus, a trial justice should enter ...


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