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Pineda v. Chase Bank USA, N.A.

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

June 21, 2018

Moises Pineda
v.
Chase Bank USA, N.A., et al.

          Superior Court Providence County No. PC 08-7549 Richard A. Licht Associate Justice

          For Plaintiff: Douglas A. Pettis, Esq. Attorney(s) on Appeal

          For Defendants: Matthew J. Libby, Esq. Jennifer J. Normand, Esq.

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

          OPINION

          Paul A. Suttell, Chief Justice

         The plaintiff, Moises Pineda (Pineda), appeals from a Superior Court judgment granting the motion of the defendant, Chase Bank USA, N.A. (Chase), for summary judgment with respect to all claims asserted by Pineda against Chase. This matter 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 be summarily decided. After considering the parties' written and oral submissions and after reviewing the record, we conclude that cause has not been shown and proceed to decide the appeal at this time. For the reasons set forth herein, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.

         I

         Facts and Procedural History

         In 2008, Pineda attempted to refinance loans secured by mortgages on two properties that he owned in Providence. During the refinance proceedings, Pasquale Scavitti III (Scavitti), an attorney, acted as the settlement agent.[1] Scavitti and Pineda had been acquaintances, and in 2006, Scavitti assisted Pineda with a previous refinancing for those same two properties. It is undisputed that in connection with Pineda's 2008 refinancing, Scavitti defalcated funds disbursed by Chase that were intended to satisfy promissory notes secured by mortgages on Pineda's two properties.

         On November 26, 2008, Pineda filed a complaint in Superior Court naming both Chase and Scavitti as defendants.[2] Pineda claimed that Chase agreed to issue him two new loans, each in the amount of $195, 000, to pay promissory notes secured by mortgages on the properties, [3] but that Scavitti, whom Chase engaged as its closing agent, converted the loan proceeds for his own use and failed to disburse them. Specifically, Pineda alleged breach of fiduciary duty, civil liability for a crime pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 9-1-2, breach of contract, conversion, and unjust enrichment. Subsequently, Chase moved for summary judgment. Chase contended that it could not be held liable for Scavitti's tortious conduct under a theory of respondeat superior.

         At the hearing on the motion for summary judgment, Chase maintained that summary judgment was proper because Scavitti was not Chase's attorney during the closing and therefore was not an agent of Chase. In the alternative, Chase contended that, even if Scavitti was Chase's attorney, Scavitti's defalcation of the loan funds was not within the scope of any alleged agency relationship with Chase. Pineda, on the other hand, argued that Chase was liable for Scavitti's actions because Chase gave Scavitti the authority to receive and disburse the loan funds, and Scavitti's malfeasance was within that authority.

         In his bench decision, the hearing justice found that there was a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether Scavitti was acting as an agent of Chase at the time he absconded with the loan funds. However, the hearing justice ultimately determined that summary judgment was appropriate because, even if Scavitti were an agent of Chase, there was no genuine issue of material fact as to whether Scavitti's conduct was within the scope of the purported agency relationship with Chase. Specifically, the hearing justice relied on the Restatement (Second) Agency § 228(1)(c) at 504 (1958) for the proposition that a servant's conduct is only considered within the scope of an agency relationship for respondeat superior purposes if "it is actuated, at least in part, by a purpose to serve the master." He concluded that "there is no evidence, and none has been submitted by [Pineda], that the conduct of Mr. Scavitti would have been in any way, at least in part, for the purpose of serving the master, even if Chase was the master."

         Following the entry of summary judgment in favor of Chase, Chase filed a motion for the entry of final judgment under Rule 54(b) of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure, to which Pineda assented. Final ...


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