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Gallop v. Adult Correctional Institutions

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

May 8, 2018

Dana Gallop
v.
Adult Correctional Institutions et al.

          Providence County Superior Court Associate Justice Sarah Taft-Carter (PC 10-6627)

          For Plaintiff: Ronald J. Resmini, Esq.

          For Defendants: Ariele Yaffee Special Assistant Attorney General Michael Field Assistant Attorney General

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

          OPINION

          MAUREEN MCKENNA GOLDBERG ASSOCIATE JUSTICE

         This case came before the Supreme Court on February 14, 2018, on appeal by the plaintiff, Dana Gallop (plaintiff or Gallop), from an order entered in the Superior Court granting the State defendants' (defendants or the State) motion to dismiss based on G.L. 1956 § 13-6-1, Rhode Island's civil death statute.[1]

         Before this Court, plaintiff argues that: (1) the trial court erred in ruling that the civil death statute required dismissal of the complaint; (2) the trial court erred because the civil death statute in Rhode Island, to the extent that it impairs a person's capacity to sue under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, is invalid under the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution; (3) any state law that precludes access to state remedies available to litigate claims for alleged violations of any federal rights under color of law is invalidated by § 1983; and (4) the trial court erred in ruling that this case was not a civil rights action and in failing to address plaintiff's motion for leave to file a second amended complaint. For the reasons set forth herein, we affirm in part and reverse in part, and vacate the judgment of the Superior Court.

         Facts and Travel

         The plaintiff has alleged that, on or about April 26, 2010, while he was being held as a pretrial detainee at the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI), he was attacked by a fellow inmate, Ian Rosado (Rosado). As a result of this attack, plaintiff suffered lacerations and permanent scarring on his face. In his complaint, plaintiff alleges that Rosado, on the day before the attack, told defendant Matthew Galligan (Galligan), a correctional officer at the ACI, that he was going to attack plaintiff. The plaintiff has also alleged that Galligan informed various John Doe defendants of Rosado's planned attack, and that Galligan abandoned his post for eighteen minutes on April 26, 2010, in order to provide Rosado with an opportunity to assault plaintiff.[2]

         On May 12, 2010, plaintiff was convicted of the following crimes, for which he was being detained: first-degree murder, felony assault, using a firearm when committing a crime of violence, carrying a pistol without a license, and possession of arms by a person convicted of a crime of violence or who is a fugitive from justice. He was subsequently declared a habitual offender. The trial justice sentenced plaintiff to two consecutive life sentences, plus an additional twenty-year sentence to be served consecutively to the second life sentence, two ten-year sentences to run concurrently with the first life sentence, and, as a habitual offender, to an additional twenty-five-year sentence, to be served after the other sentences and to be served without the possibility of parole. Thereafter, on November 10, 2010, plaintiff filed an initial civil complaint alleging negligence on the part of defendants for the April 26, 2010 attack. The plaintiff then filed an amended complaint on April 12, 2013. The plaintiff timely appealed his conviction, and this Court affirmed the conviction. State v. Gallop, 89 A.3d 795 (R.I. 2014). Final judgment of conviction entered on May 2, 2014. The civil action proceeded in the ordinary course.

         The day before trial was scheduled to commence, the trial justice sua sponte raised the issue of the civil death statute, in light of plaintiff's sentences of life imprisonment. The defendants immediately responded with a motion to dismiss the case in accordance with § 13-6-1, arguing that plaintiff was deemed civilly dead and that, therefore, his civil rights and property rights effectively were terminated. On July 12, 2016, plaintiff filed a motion for leave to file a second amended complaint, which proposed to add a claim for violations of plaintiff's constitutional rights under color of law. The defendants objected, arguing that it would cause undue delay, futility, and prejudice to defendants. The plaintiff also objected to defendants' motion to dismiss the case based on § 13-6-1, arguing that: (1) the civil death statute was not applicable to this case; (2) the civil death statute in Rhode Island is invalid under the Supremacy Clause to the extent that it impairs plaintiff's capacity to sue under § 1983; and (3) § 1983 invalidates any state law that precludes access to state remedies.

         On July 28, 2016, the trial justice granted defendants' motion to dismiss based on the civil death statute, declaring that the Superior Court had "no jurisdiction to hear this case. Therefore, the complaint is dismissed." The trial justice did not address plaintiff's motion for leave to file a second amended complaint. The plaintiff timely appealed. Before this Court, plaintiff argues that § 13-6-1 does not require dismissal of his complaint, and that the trial justice erred in failing to address his motion to file a second amended complaint.

         Standard of Review

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure "questions a court's authority to adjudicate a particular controversy before it." Boyer v. Bedrosian, 57 A.3d 259, 270 (R.I. 2012). This Court reviews a trial justice's decision on a Rule 12(b)(1) motion de novo. Id. In this instance, the Court "is not limited to the face of the pleadings. A court ...


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