Sona Stevens et al.
County Superior Court (KC 07-1411) Allen P. Rubine, Associate
Plaintiff: David J. Strachman, Esq.
Defendant: Carel Bainum, Pro Se
case involves the Sisyphean efforts of the defendant, Carel
Bainum, to avoid the imposition of prejudgment interest. In a
tortuous civil action filed over a decade ago, the plaintiff,
Sona Stevens, sought monetary damages arising from
Bainum's failure to pay a loan from Stevens's elderly
father, Vartan Baligian. In the complaint, Stevens also sought
to enjoin Bainum from involvement in any further financial
transactions with Baligian, who was then ninety-seven years
old. Stevens first obtained the injunctive relief she
requested; she then obtained a default judgment for the
amount that Bainum admitted to owing Baligian on the loan. It
was not until the Superior Court added the statutorily
mandated prejudgment interest to that amount that Bainum
embarked on her present endeavor.
case came before the Supreme Court on February 14, 2018,
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 submissions 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.
Unfortunately for Bainum, she cannot reach the top of the
hill because she has failed to present any articulable legal
argument to this Court. We thus affirm the judgment of the
one of multiple mid-litigation trips to this Court-all
initiated by Bainum, who appears pro se-we remarked
that "[t]he facts in this case present a troubling
scenario of money, deceit, and financial abuse of an elderly
person." Baligian v. Bainum, 983 A.2d 271, 271
(R.I. 2009) (mem.). We briefly summarize those facts that are
pertinent to this appeal.
case began in 2002, when Vartan loaned defendant $120, 000,
at 8 percent interest, unsecured and with no payments due
until 2007." Baligian, 983 A.2d at 271.
According to the complaint, which was filed in 2007, Bainum
did not timely repay that loan when it came due, despite
repeated demands by Baligian and Stevens for payment. Rather,
at a time when Stevens was traveling out of state, and
despite her having directed Bainum to have no financial
discussions with her father while she was away, Bainum then
"visited Vartan, purportedly for an outing for ice
cream, but drove to her attorney's office, where they
executed a document entitled 'Loan Modification
Agreement.'" Id. This was notwithstanding
Bainum's knowledge that Stevens, Vartan's primary
caregiver, was unhappy with the outstanding debt and wanted
to collect it, working with her father to do so. Id.
at 271 n.4. In fact, Stevens was not notified that Bainum
would even be seeing Vartan, let alone that she would ask him
to refinance the loan. Id. By the terms of the
ensuing modification agreement, any debt repayment would be
delayed until 2018-with no interest accruing. Id. at
271. "[H]ad he lived to finally collect this long
overdue debt, Vartan would have been 107 years old."
result of the nonpayment of the 2002 debt and the execution
of the 2007 loan modification agreement, Baligian and Stevens
initiated the instant action against Bainum, seeking
injunctive relief as well as compensatory and punitive
damages for fraud, breach of contract, and conversion. In
2008, a justice of the Superior Court granted an injunction
barring Bainum from contacting Vartan and "enjoining
defendant from spending or transferring any assets beyond her
normal and usual personal living expenses."
Baligian, 983 A.2d at 272. On review, this Court
"It was the trial justice's finding of undue
influence by defendant that led to the grant of preliminary
injunctive relief. The trial justice found that defendant not
only crafted new documents and hoodwinked Vartan into signing
them, but that it was her intention 'to encumber all of
her properties in the hope [of creating] highly speculative
businesses, ' such that 'the Court must step in to
preserve the status quo.' We decline to disturb this
returned the case to the Superior Court for trial.
Id. at 273.
this procedural morass continued for years. In January 2012,
plaintiff filed a motion for sanctions against defendant
alleging her failure to comply with discovery because she had
repeatedly failed to appear for scheduled depositions. As a
sanction, plaintiff asked the Superior Court to strike and
dismiss defendant's answer and counterclaim. A Superior
Court justice ordered Bainum to appear at the next scheduled
deposition; if she did not, the sanctions requested by
plaintiff would be imposed. Bainum did not appear, and
another justice of the Superior Court imposed the sanctions
in accordance with the prior order.
defendant's answer was stricken, plaintiff then sought to
enter default against her. In a March 10, 2014 order, yet
another justice of the Superior Court granted plaintiff's
motion to enter default on plaintiff's claims of fraud,
breach of contract, conversion, and declaratory relief. The
defendant filed a notice of appeal from that order. This
Court dismissed defendant's appeal as interlocutory on
January 12, 2015. See Stevens v. Bainum, 105 A.3d
98, 98 (R.I. 2015) (mem.).
3, 2016, a hearing was held before a Superior Court justice
on plaintiff's motion to enter default judgment. At that
hearing, defendant conceded that she owed plaintiff $96, 869
on the outstanding loan. She objected, however, to the
addition of prejudgment interest to the principal amount. The
defendant argued that plaintiff's counsel was responsible
for delaying the case and that the loan was interest-free.
The defendant also asserted that the hearing justice had
discretion whether to award prejudgment interest. On the
contrary, plaintiff argued that the imposition of prejudgment
interest is mandatory. The plaintiff indicated that
prejudgment interest should run from May 9, 2009-the date of
the last payment made by defendant on the loan. The hearing
justice ruled that default judgment would enter on the
principal amount, and that statutory 12 percent prejudgment
interest would begin to accrue from May 2009. On June 15,
2016, final judgment was entered in favor of plaintiff in the
amount of $179, 207.65 ($96, 869 in damages, $82, 338.65 in
prejudgment interest), plus costs of $358.
prebriefing statement to this Court, the defendant bases her
appeal first on thirteen "issues" framed as
rhetorical questions, then later on six "issues"
that really constitute factual assertions. She proceeds to
simply recite facts without any legal support; there is not a
single case or rule of law cited in support of her
claims. There are only two identifiable arguments
that the defendant makes: (1) the hearing justice should have
exercised his discretion and not added prejudgment interest
to the principal amount; and (2) because she made payments on
the loan until May 2009, there was no breach of contract when
the complaint was filed in 2007. Beyond that, we can discern
no cognizable legal argument. Yet "[s]imply stating an
issue for appellate review, without a meaningful discussion
thereof or legal briefing of the issues, does not assist the
Court in focusing on the legal questions raised, and
therefore constitutes a waiver of that issue."