County Superior Court PC 12-6123 Richard A. Licht Associate
Plaintiff: Geoffrey M. Aptt, Esq. Michael Prew, Esq.
Defendants: Sean C. Joanis, Esq. Thomas A. Madden, Esq.
Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and
Suttell Chief Justice.
plaintiff, Adam Correia, was seriously injured when a
friend's High Standard Model 1911 .45-caliber handgun
accidentally discharged, causing a bullet to strike Correia
in the abdomen. At the time of the accident, the friends were
target shooting on property owned by the defendants, John
Bettencourt and Theresa Bettencourt (the Bettencourts). The
matter presently before us is Correia's appeal from a
final judgment entered pursuant to Rule 54(b) of the Superior
Court Rules of Civil Procedure in favor of the Bettencourts.
This case came before the Supreme Court sitting at Woonsocket
High School, pursuant to an order directing the parties to
appear and show cause why the issues raised in this appeal
should not be summarily decided. After considering the
parties' written and oral submissions and reviewing the
record, we conclude that cause has not been shown and that
this case may be decided without further briefing or
argument. For the reasons set forth herein, we affirm the
judgment of the Superior Court.
and Procedural History
November 28, 2012, Correia filed a complaint against the
Bettencourts and Edward Alexander in the Superior Court. The
complaint alleged that the Bettencourts "knowingly
allowed * * * Alexander to shoot firearms" on their
property, located in Warren, Rhode Island (the property);
that on or about August 7, 2011, Correia was invited to the
property by Alexander; and that he went to the property to
shoot firearms there. The complaint further alleges that
"Alexander negligently handled a firearm and shot * * *
Correia in the abdomen" and that Correia suffered
serious bodily injuries as a result.
of the complaint alleges negligence against
Alexander. Count 2 alleges that the
Bettencourts breached their duty to control Alexander
pursuant to Restatement (Second) Torts § 318
(1965).  Count 3 of the complaint
claims that the Bettencourts were negligent by failing to
protect Correia under § 314A of the Restatement (Second)
Torts (1965). Count 4 of the
complaint alleges that, under the ad hoc duty
analysis set forth in Banks v. Bowen's Landing
Corp., 522 A.2d 1222 (R.I. 1987), the Bettencourts
failed to exercise reasonable care. Count 5 is a claim of
premises liability against the Bettencourts, and count 6
alleges that their failure to supervise Alexander resulted in
March 23, 2016, the Bettencourts filed a motion for summary
judgment on all counts against them in Correia's
complaint. In their motion, the Bettencourts argued that no
duty of care existed which would entitle Correia to recovery
because they were not present at, nor were they informed of,
the dangerous activity and therefore they "had no
opportunity to control the actions of Alexander"-an
essential element under § 318 of the Restatement. They
further argued that Correia's allegations under common
law negligence and premises liability also must fail under
the general rule expressed in Gushlaw v. Milner, 42
A.3d 1245, 1253 (R.I. 2012) that "[t]here is * * * no
duty to control a third party's conduct to prevent harm
to another individual[.]"
filed an objection to the Bettencourts' motion for
summary judgment. In his objection, Correia alleged that the
Bettencourts leased a portion of the property to Alexander,
John Bettencourt's cousin,  "who kept cows, chickens, a trailer,
and other items on the [p]roperty" and allowed
Alexander's "friends to utilize [the] property as a
shooting gallery, " an activity in which Alexander had
engaged on the property in the past. Correia supported these
allegations with his own deposition testimony, as well as
that of Alexander and James Martitz, who was also present on
the property the day of the accident.
7, 2016, a hearing on the Bettencourts' motion for
summary judgment was held. The hearing justice summarized the
facts of the case, stating: "Three guys decided to go do
some shooting. They went out to the * * * Bettencourts'
property and fired some shots and * * * the pistol or rifle
jammed and a bullet was discharged accidentally and it went
into * * * Correia's stomach and he sued * * * the
landowners." The hearing justice cited to the general
rule applicable to negligence actions as set forth in
Willis v. Omar, 954 A.2d 126 (R.I. 2008) that
"a plaintiff must establish a legally cognizable duty
owed by a defendant to a plaintiff * * *." Id.
at 129 (quoting Mills v. State Sales, Inc., 824 A.2d
461, 467 (R.I. 2003)). The hearing justice also considered
§ 318 of the Restatement (Second) Torts and
Volpe v. Gallagher, 821 A.2d 699, 706-10 (R.I.
2003). The hearing justice determined
that "the presence of the landowner appears to be a key
factor, perhaps the key factor, when deciding if the duty
existed." He ruled that, because "[n]o competent
evidence ha[d] been introduced to suggest that the
Bettencourts were present on the property when Alexander
accidentally discharged his weapon and shot Correia[, ]"
no duty existed on the part of the Bettencourts to protect
Correia from harm due to the actions of Alexander.
9, 2016, the Superior Court issued an order granting summary
judgment to the Bettencourts. On June 23, 2016, Correia filed
a premature notice of appeal.