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LLC v. Safety Educators, Inc.

Superior Court of Rhode Island, Providence

July 24, 2017

LABONTE'S AUTO SCHOOL, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
SAFETY EDUCATORS, INC., Defendant.

          For Plaintiff: John B. Harwood, Esq., David S. Francazio, Esq.

          For Defendant: William R. Grimm, Esq.

          DECISION

          SILVERSTEIN, JUSTICE.

         Before the Court is Defendant Safety Educators, Inc.'s (Defendant) Super. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff Labonte's Auto School, LLC's (Plaintiff) Complaint. Whether Defendant will prevail on its Motion to Dismiss depends on the interpretation of the word "program" in G.L. 1956 § 31-10-20(b).[1] The Court exercises jurisdiction pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 9-30-1.

         I

         Facts and Travel

         According to the allegations set forth in Plaintiff's Complaint, Plaintiff-a Massachusetts limited liability company whose principal place of business is in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts-and Defendant-a Rhode Island corporation whose principal place of business is similarly located in Massachusetts-are in the driver's education business. Compl. ¶¶ 1-4. As a prerequisite to obtaining limited instruction drivers' permits or drivers' licenses, Rhode Islanders must complete a driver's education course of instruction that meets certain statutory requirements. Prospective drivers under the age of eighteen can fulfill their statutorily-prescribed thirty-three hours of classroom education in two ways: either they successfully complete the course offered by the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) as outlined in § 31-10-19-or one similar to it, see § 31-10-20(a)-or they successfully complete "a similar course of instruction in another state recognized by the [Rhode Island Board of Education][2] as equivalent to it." Sec. 31-10-20(b). To qualify as a "similar course of instruction" that is offered in another state, the course must satisfy four minimum requirements, the fourth of which is at the center of the present dispute-i.e., "that the program does not offer outside the classroom road test instruction or driving lessons to Rhode Island students." Sec. 31-10-20(b).

         In this case, both Plaintiff and Defendant offer such courses of instruction to Rhode Island's prospective drivers. However, Defendant's sister company, AAA Driver Training School, which is located at the same location as Defendant, also offers "on the road" driving lessons. Compl. ¶¶ 5-6. Plaintiff alleges that, at the same location, Defendant and AAA Driver Training School separately offer both the in-class course of instruction mandated by § 31-10- 20(b) and "on the road" driving lessons. According to Plaintiff, Defendant and AAA Driver Training School share more than a location: they purportedly share the same president and treasurer as well as another corporate officer. Comp. ¶¶ 7-8, 10.

         In March of 2017, Plaintiff filed its Complaint alleging the foregoing facts. Plaintiff charges that while Defendant and AAA Driver Training School may be distinct in form, they exist as separate entities for the principal purpose of evading § 31-10-20(b)'s requirement "that the program does not offer outside the classroom road test instruction or driving lessons to Rhode Island students." In support of this position, Plaintiff reads § 31-10-20(b)'s language as preventing a driving school-or "program"-from offering both in-class instruction and outside the classroom instruction. In other words, as Plaintiff puts it, Defendant and AAA Driver Training School-through the use of a corporate fiction-offer a "one stop shop" for Rhode Island's prospective drivers in violation of § 31-10-20(b).

         In its Complaint, Plaintiff seeks two forms of relief from this Court: (1) a declaratory judgment that Defendant is a corporate fiction set up to evade what Plaintiff purports is § 31-10-20(b)'s requirement that Defendant not offer on-road instruction or driving lessons to Rhode Island students; and (2) injunctive relief prohibiting Defendant from providing classroom driver education courses going forward. In early April 2017, Defendant moved to dismiss Plaintiff's two-count Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of our Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure. Defendant denies that it is a corporate fiction set up to allow AAA Driver Training School to essentially offer both in-class and on-road driving instructions. In moving to dismiss, Defendant assumes arguendo-but continues to deny as a matter of fact-that it and AAA Driver Training School are a single entity. Defendant maintains that even if it and AAA Driver Training School are treated as one, § 31-10-20(b) does not prevent a single entity from offering both in-class and on-road instruction.

         II

         Standard of Review

         "'[T]he sole function of a motion to dismiss is to test the sufficiency of the complaint[.]'" Audette v. Poulin, 127 A.3d 908, 911 (R.I. 2015) (quoting Ho-Rath v. R.I. Hosp., 115 A.3d 938, 942 (R.I. 2015)). In testing the complaint's sufficiency, the Court's "review is confined to the four corners of that pleading, " id. (citation omitted), and the Court "'assumes the allegations contained in the complaint to be true and views the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff[].'" R.I. Emp't Sec. All., Local 401 v. State, Dep't of Emp't & Training, 788 A.2d 465, 467 (R.I. 2002) (hereinafter R.I. Emp't) (per curiam) (quoting St. James Condo. Ass'n v. Lokey, 676 A.2d 1343, 1346 (R.I. 1996)). Phrased another way, "'[w]hen ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the [Court] must look no further than the complaint, assume that all allegations in the complaint are true, and resolve any doubts in a plaintiff's favor.'" Pellegrino v. R.I. Ethics Comm'n, 788 A.2d 1119, 1123 (R.I. 2002) (quoting R.I. Affiliate, ACLU v. Bernasconi, 557 A.2d 1232, 1232 (R.I. 1989)); see also Palazzo v. Alves, 944 A.2d 144, 149 (R.I. 2008). Accordingly, a motion to dismiss "should not be granted 'unless it appears to a certainty that the plaintiff[] will not be entitled to relief under any set of facts which might be proved in support of [its] claim.'" R.I. Emp't, 788 A.2d at 467 (internal alterations omitted) (quoting St. James Condo Ass'n, 676 A.2d at 1346).

         III

...


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