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Cancel v. City of Providence

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

June 22, 2018

Tara J. Cancel, as Administratrix of the Estate of Ira Lukens
v.
City of Providence et al.

          Providence County Superior Court (PC 15-4204) Associate Justice Maureen B. Keough

          For Plaintiff: Andrew O. Resmini, Esq. Ronald J. Resmini, Esq.

          For Defendants: Jillian H. Barker, Esq.

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

          OPINION

          SUTTELL, CHIEF JUSTICE

         The plaintiff, Tara J. Cancel (Cancel), as Administratrix of the Estate of Ira Lukens (Lukens), appeals from a Superior Court summary judgment entered in favor of the defendants, the City of Providence and various city officials (collectively the city).[1] Cancel asserts that there remain genuine issues of material fact regarding whether the city knew of the dangerous condition of a pothole on a street in Roger Williams Park (the park) and whether it "willfully and/or maliciously failed to warn" of the pothole, which would strip the city of the protection against liability afforded under Rhode Island's Recreational Use Statute, G.L. 1956 chapter 6 of title 32 (RUS). 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 be summarily decided. After considering the parties' written and oral submissions and reviewing the record, we conclude that cause has not been shown and that this case may be decided without further briefing or argument. For the reasons set forth herein, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         On June 9, 2014, Lukens was thrown from his bicycle after striking a pothole on a road in the park.[2] Cancel filed a complaint on September 28, 2015, wherein she alleged that Lukens suffered serious personal injuries as a result of the city's negligence in maintaining the park. Cancel subsequently filed an amended complaint alleging, in addition to negligence, willful and/or malicious failure to warn, inspect, and/or repair the roadway within the park. The amended complaint further asserted that the city's conduct was a direct and proximate cause of Lukens' injuries.

         On January 20, 2017, the city filed a motion for summary judgment. The matter was argued in the Superior Court on April 19, 2017, after which the hearing justice deferred her ruling so that Cancel could depose the Superintendent of the City of Providence's Department of Parks. The matter was heard again on July 17, 2017, and the hearing justice thereafter granted the city's motion for summary judgment. Judgment entered on August 11, 2017. Cancel filed a timely notice of appeal.

         II. Standard of Review

         "This Court will review the grant of a motion for summary judgment de novo, employing the same standards and rules used by the hearing justice." Newstone Development, LLC v. East Pacific, LLC, 140 A.3d 100, 103 (R.I. 2016) (quoting Daniels v. Fluette, 64 A.3d 302, 304 (R.I. 2013)). "We will affirm a [trial] court's decision 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." Id. (quoting Daniels, 64 A.3d at 304). "Furthermore, 'the nonmoving party bears the burden of proving by competent evidence the existence of a disputed issue of material fact and cannot rest upon mere allegations or denials in the pleadings, mere conclusions or mere legal opinions.'" Id. (quoting Daniels, 64 A.3d at 304). "[S]ummary judgment should enter against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case * * *." Id. (quoting Lavoie v. North East Knitting, Inc., 918 A.2d 225, 228 (R.I. 2007)).

         III. Discussion

         Cancel argues that genuine issues of material fact exist as to whether the city "knew of the dangerous condition and willfully and/or maliciously failed to warn against it." Under § 32-6-3,

"an owner of land who either directly or indirectly invites or permits without charge any person to use that property for ...

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