County (PC 11-586) Superior Court Richard A. Licht Associate
Plaintiff: James Costantino, Pro Se.
Defendants: Adam A. Larson, Esq. Christopher Howe, Esq.
Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia,
plaintiff, James Costantino, appeals from a judgment of the
Superior Court granting summary judgment in favor of the
defendants, Ford Motor Company and Tasca Automotive Group.
This appeal came before the Court for oral argument on
November 1, 2017, 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 a close review of the
record and careful consideration of the parties'
arguments (both written and oral), we are satisfied that
cause has not been shown and that the appeal may be decided
at this time. For the reasons set forth herein, we affirm the
judgment of the Superior Court.
February 1, 2011, plaintiff filed a pro se complaint
alleging that defendants were liable for the injuries that he
allegedly sustained in a motor vehicle accident on February
7, 2008. The plaintiff alleged that defendants
"defectively designed and/or manufactured" the
airbags in his 2006 Ford F-150 pickup truck and that, as a
result, the airbags failed to deploy at the time of the
accident; he further alleged that this purported failure
caused him to suffer "a severe head injury."
defendants twice moved for summary judgment. On July 29,
2013, a justice of the Superior Court denied without
prejudice defendants' first joint motion for summary
judgment on the basis of the justice's view that
defendants' expert had failed to include certain material
information in the affidavit setting forth his expert
opinion, which affidavit had been submitted in support of
defendants' motion. After expressly acknowledging
plaintiff's pro se status, the hearing justice
explained to plaintiff the nature of his burden in litigation
of this sort: "[I]n order to pursue this case you need
to have evidence to support your case." He further
advised plaintiff that he would need "an expert
[witness] to testify on [his] behalf" as well as
evidence to rebut the opinion of defendants' expert.
Subsequent to this hearing, plaintiff indicated that he had
retained an expert witness, one Stephen Benanti.
December 2, 2015, defendants again jointly moved for summary
judgment, and a hearing was conducted as to that motion on
April 12, 2016 before a different justice of the Superior
Court. In ruling on the December 2 motion, the hearing
justice noted that "plaintiff ha[d] not presented any
evidence that the air bags were defective" so as to
rebut the new affidavit of defendants' expert, which
stated that plaintiff's pickup truck had "performed
properly in the subject accident and d[id] not exhibit any
design or manufacturing defects." The plaintiff averred
at the April 12 hearing that his expert, Mr. Benanti, was not
able to submit rebuttal evidence with respect to the
affidavit of defendants' expert because Ford had
"refused to answer [certain] questions." The
plaintiff contended that Mr. Benanti would need those
questions to be answered so as to be able to prepare his own
expert opinion. The hearing justice noted that, despite
the fact that he had been provided with "more than
sufficient time" within which to conduct discovery,
plaintiff had never moved to compel defendants to respond to
any questions. Citing the lack of evidence supporting
plaintiff's claims, the hearing justice concluded that
plaintiff had not demonstrated the existence of a genuine
issue of material fact as to whether the airbags were
defective and that, therefore, defendants were entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. Accordingly, he granted
defendants' joint motion for summary judgment.
well established that this Court reviews the grant of a
motion for summary judgment in a de novo manner,
applying the same standards and rules as did the hearing
justice. Beauregard v. Gouin, 66 A.3d 489, 493 (R.I.
2013). It is also a basic principle that "[t]he party
opposing summary judgment has a duty to establish that a
genuine issue of material fact exists and may not rest solely
upon allegations and denials in the pleadings."
CACH, LLC v. Potter, 154 A.3d 939, 943 (R.I. 2017)
(internal quotation marks omitted). We will affirm the trial
court's grant of summary judgment "only if, after
reviewing the admissible evidence in the light most favorable
to the nonmoving party, we conclude that no genuine issue of
material fact exists and that the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law." Great American E &
S Insurance Co. v. End Zone Pub & Grill of Narragansett,
Inc., 45 A.3d 571, 574 (R.I. 2012) (internal quotation
thorough review of the record, it is clear that the plaintiff
failed to submit competent evidence sufficient to raise a
genuine issue of material fact as to whether the airbags in
his truck were defective. See Moura v. Mortgage
Electronic Registration Systems, Inc., 90 A.3d 852, 856
(R.I. 2014). We are aware that the plaintiff has been
proceeding pro se; however, "[e]ven if a
litigant is acting pro se, he or she is expected to
familiarize himself or herself with the law as well as the
rules of procedure." CACH, LLC, 154 A.3d at 942
n.3 (internal quotation marks omitted). In the instant case,
the plaintiff failed to submit an affidavit from his expert,
Mr. Benanti, to rebut the opinion of the defendants'
expert that the airbags in the truck functioned properly on
the day of the accident and that their failure to deploy was
not due to any defect in the airbags. Moreover, the plaintiff
failed to present any other competent evidence that would
create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the
airbags were defective. Accordingly, it is our view that the
hearing justice did not err in granting summary judgment in
favor of the defendants.
foregoing reasons, we affirm the Superior Court's grant
of summary judgment. The record may be returned to that
 The record reflects that the
"questions" referred to by plaintiff had been filed
by plaintiff in the Superior Court on March 7, 2016 in a
document entitled ...