Michelle Hall, individually and as the Natural Parent and Guardian of minor Kanasia Hall
Kim Hornby, R.N. et al.
County Superior Court (PC 15-3752) Richard A. Licht Associate
Plaintiff: David Morowitz, Esq.
Defendants: Michael G. Sarli, Esq. Mark P. Dolan, Esq.
Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and
Francis X. Flaherty Associate Justice.
plaintiff, Michelle Hall, appeals from a judgment of the
Superior Court granting the motion for summary judgment of
the defendants, Colleen Belmonte and Kim Hornby. This case
came before the Supreme Court pursuant to an order directing
the parties to appear and show cause why the issues raised in
this appeal should not summarily be decided. After
considering the parties' written and oral arguments, and
after reviewing the record, we conclude that cause has not
been shown and that this case may be decided without further
briefing or argument. The primary issue presented on appeal
is straightforward: whether G.L. 1956 § 10-6-2-which
provides, in pertinent part, "that a master and servant
or principal and agent shall be considered a single
tortfeasor"-means that the release of the master from
liability also releases the servant. For the reasons set
forth below, we hold that it does and therefore affirm the
judgment of the Superior Court.
Facts and Travel
salient facts in this case are not disputed. In March 2015,
plaintiff brought suit against Tavares Pediatric Center, Inc.
on behalf of herself and her daughter, alleging that her
daughter suffered serious injuries while in Tavares's
care. The complaint consisted of two counts: one alleging
negligence, and a second alleging loss of consortium. Shortly
thereafter, plaintiff and Tavares settled and the litigation
was dismissed. As part of the settlement, plaintiff executed
a Joint Tortfeasor Release, which released Tavares, its
insurer, and others from claims arising from the medical
treatment of plaintiff's daughter. However, the terms of
the Joint Tortfeasor Release specifically exempted "the
agents, employees, representatives, and/or medical staff of
Tavares * * *." Indeed, plaintiff also "reserve[d]
the right to make a claim against every other person, firm or
corporation, including, without limitation, Colleen
Belmonte[, ] and * * * the right to make claim that Colleen
Belmonte and not the Releasees are solely liable for alleged
injuries, losses and damages."
undisputed that, while she was in the care of Tavares,
plaintiff's daughter was treated by two nurses, Colleen
Belmonte and Kim Hornby. After settling with Tavares and
executing the Joint Tortfeasor Release, plaintiff brought a
second suit against nurses Belmonte and Hornby. In a
complaint nearly identical to the one that she had brought
against Tavares, plaintiff again asserted two counts: one for
negligence and a second for loss of consortium. Following
some limited discovery, Belmonte and Hornby moved for summary
their motion, defendants argued that plaintiff's claims
were barred because of the language set forth in §
10-6-2. Citing the language of the statute,
defendants maintained that, because they and Tavares stood in
a master-servant relationship, they "shall be considered
a single tortfeasor." It follows, defendants argued,
that plaintiff's release of Tavares from liability
required that they, too, were released from liability. The
trial justice agreed, finding that § 10-6-2 barred
plaintiff's claims, and he therefore granted
defendants' motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff
timely appealed to this Court.
Standard of Review
well settled that when we review the grant of a party's
motion for summary judgment, we do so de novo.
Van Hoesen v. Lloyd's of London, 134 A.3d 178,
181 (R.I. 2016). "In doing so, we 'examin[e] the
case from the vantage point of the trial justice who passed
on the motion for summary judgment, * * * view[ing] the
evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party,
and if we conclude that there are no genuine issues of
material fact and that the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law[, ] we will affirm the
judgment.'" Id. (quoting Sullo v.
Greenberg, 68 A.3d 404, 406-07 (R.I. 2013)). However, we
are ever mindful that "[s]ummary judgment is a drastic
remedy, and a motion for summary judgment should be dealt
with cautiously." Faber v. McVay, 155 A.3d 153,
156 (R.I. 2017) (quoting Cruz v. DaimlerChrysler Motors
Corp., 66 A.3d 446, 451 (R.I. 2013)).
we also review questions of statutory interpretation de
novo. GSM Industrial, Inc. v. Grinnell Fire
Protection Systems Co., 47 A.3d 264, 267-68 (R.I. 2012).
"In matters of statutory interpretation our ultimate
goal is to give effect to the purpose of the act as intended
by the Legislature." Id. at 268 (quoting
D'Amico v. Johnston Partners, 866 A.2d 1222,
1224 (R.I. 2005)). "In carrying out our duty as the
final arbiter on questions of statutory construction,
'[i]t is well settled that when the language of a statute
is clear and unambiguous, this Court must interpret the
statute literally and must give the words of the statute
their plain and ordinary meanings.'" Id.
(quoting D'Amico, 866 A.2d at 1224).