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Hall v. Hornby

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

December 8, 2017

Michelle Hall, individually and as the Natural Parent and Guardian of minor Kanasia Hall
Kim Hornby, R.N. et al.

         Providence County Superior Court (PC 15-3752) Richard A. Licht Associate Justice.

          For Plaintiff: David Morowitz, Esq.

          For Defendants: Michael G. Sarli, Esq. Mark P. Dolan, Esq.

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


          Francis X. Flaherty Associate Justice.

         The 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.

         I Facts and Travel

         The 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."

         It is 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 judgment.

         In their motion, defendants argued that plaintiff's claims were barred because of the language set forth in § 10-6-2.[1] 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.

         II Standard of Review

         It is 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)).

         Similarly, 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).

         III ...

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