County Superior Court, PC 12-495, Associate Justice Patricia
Plaintiff: Richard C. Tallo, Esq., Kelly M. Fracassa, Esq.
Defendant: Richard A. van Tienhoven, Esq.
Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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 ...