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Paroskie v. Rhault

Superior Court of Rhode Island, Kent

August 29, 2018

LINDA A. RHAULT, Defendant.

          For Plaintiff: Robert M. Paroskie, pro se

          For Defendant: Steven J. Hirsch, Esq.


          MCGUIRL, J.

         Defendant Linda A. Rhault (Defendant) seeks summary judgement in the above-entitled matter. Defendant asserts that there are no genuine issues of material fact, and that she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Plaintiff Robert Michael Paroskie (Plaintiff) objects to Defendant's motion arguing that there are genuine issues of material fact for trial. In the alternative, and in response to Defendant's motion, Plaintiff also filed a Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment against Defendant contending that there are no genuine issues of material fact, and that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.


         Facts and Travel

         The underlying claim stems from a romantic relationship between Plaintiff and Defendant. Plaintiff and Defendant were involved romantically for some time between October 2001 and February 2009-approximately seven (7) years-when Defendant ended the relationship.

         Plaintiff filed the underlying action against Defendant on May 31, 2017, alleging that Defendant falsely represented to Plaintiff that his life would be enhanced and secure if he remained with Defendant as a companion partner and that, but for this representation, Plaintiff would not have devoted his time, energy and expertise to Defendant.[1] Plaintiff also alleges that he provided financial advice[2] to Defendant at her behest that will someday result in a substantial positive tax impact for the Defendant and, therefore, it is now inequitable for the Defendant to retain the benefit without conferring the value of the lifetime security promised to the Plaintiff. As a result, Plaintiff's three-count Complaint alleges (1) fraud; (2) negligent misrepresentation; and (3) unjust enrichment against Defendant.

         The Court held a hearing on the dueling Motions for Summary Judgment on November 27, 2017, to entertain oral arguments and ascertain the positions of the parties on the issues now before the Court. At the conclusion of the hearing, this Court indicated that it did not find any basis for Plaintiff's claims of fraud and negligent misrepresentation but sought more information concerning the Plaintiff's claim for unjust enrichment.

         The Court scheduled a second hearing meant to address the issue of unjust enrichment as it pertains to this case. In the meantime, Defendant filed a supplemental memorandum addressing the issue of unjust enrichment with regard to her Motion for Summary Judgment and Plaintiff filed a supplemental affidavit in response. The Court held a second hearing on February 26, 2018 to determine the parties' positions on the issue of unjust enrichment only. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Court reserved on the instant motions.


         Standard of Review

         When deciding a motion for summary judgment, the trial justice must keep in mind that it '"is a drastic remedy and should be cautiously applied."' Steinberg v. State, 427 A.2d 338, 339-40 (R.I. 1981) (quoting Ardente v. Horan, 117 R.I. 254, 366 A.2d 162, 164 (1976)). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the preliminary question before the court is "whether there is a genuine issue as to any material fact which must be resolved." R.I. Hospital Trust Nat'l Bank v. Boiteau, 119 R.I. 64, 376 A.2d 323 (1977); O'Connor v. McKanna, 116 R.I. 627, 359 A.2d 350 (1976). However, "[i]f an examination of the pleadings, affidavits, admissions, answers to interrogatories, and other similar matters, viewed in the light most favorable to the opposing party, reveals no such issue, then the suit is ripe for summary judgment." R.I. Hospital Trust Nat'l Bank, 119 R.I. at 66, 376 A.2d at 324; Harold W. Merrill Post. No. 16 Am. Legion v. Heirs-at-Law Next-of-Kin and Devisees of Smith, 116 R.I. 646, 360 A.2d 110 (1976).

          In the face of summary judgment, the party opposing summary judgment cannot rest on mere allegations of pleadings alone but must submit specific, competent evidence. The party who opposes the motion "carries the burden of proving by competent evidence the existence of a disputed material issue of fact and cannot rest on allegations or denials in the pleadings or on conclusions or legal opinions." Accent Store Design, Inc. v. Marathon House, Inc., 674 A.2d 1223, 1225 (R.I. 1996); see also McAdam v. Grzelczyk, 911 A.2d 255, 259 (R.I. 2006). It is not sufficient "simply [to] show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Rather, Rule 56 "requires the nonmoving party to go beyond the [unverified] pleadings" and present some type of evidentiary material in support of its position. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). "Although inferences may be drawn from underlying facts contained in material before the trial court, neither vague allegations and conclusory statements, nor assertions of inferences not based on underlying facts will suffice." First Nat'l Bank of Boston v. Slade, 379 Mass. 243, 246, 399 N.E.2d 1047, 1050 (Mass. 1979).

         In the instant Motion, the non-movants must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial.[3] They bear "the burden of producing specific facts sufficient to deflect the swing of the summary judgment scythe." Mulvihill v. Top-Flight Golf Co., 335 F.3d 15, 19 (1st Cir. 2003). Rule 56 mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial; in such a situation, there can be no genuine issue as to any material fact, since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the non-moving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 317 (alteration in original).





         "To establish a prima facie fraud claim, 'the plaintiff must prove that the defendant made a false representation intending thereby to induce [the] plaintiff to rely thereon and that the plaintiff justifiably relied thereon to his or her damage.'" McNulty v. Chip, 116 A.3d 173, 182- 83 (R.I. 2015) (quoting Parker v. Byrne, 996 A.2d 627, 634 (R.I. 2010)). However, '"the general rule is that mere unfulfilled promises to do a particular thing in the future do not constitute fraud in and of themselves."' Cote v. Aiello, 148 A.3d 537, 548 (R.I. 2016) (quoting 37 Am. Jur. 2d Fraud and Deceit § 87 at 122 (2013)).

         "Deceit or fraudulent representation is a tort action, and requires some degree of culpability on the misrepresentor's part." Francis v. Am. Bankers Life Assur. Co. of Fla., 861 A.2d 1040, 1046 (R.I. 2004) (citing Prosser & Keeton, The Law of Torts § 105 at 728 (5th ed. 1984). "To recover on this claim, plaintiff had the burden of proving that defendant 'in making the statement at issue, knew it to be false and intended to deceive, thereby inducing [plaintiff] to rely on the statements to [her] detriment.'" Francis, 861 A.2d at 1046 (quoting Katz v. Prete, 459 A.2d 81, 84 (R.I. 1983)). Likewise, a prima facie case of negligent misrepresentation requires that plaintiff "establish the following elements: '(1) a misrepresentation of a material fact; (2) the representor must either know of the misrepresentation, must make the misrepresentation without knowledge as to its truth or falsity or must make the representation under circumstances in which he ought to have known of its falsity; (3) the representor must intend the representation to induce another to act on it; and (4) injury must result to the party acting in justifiable reliance on the misrepresentation.'" Id. at 1046 (quoting Zarrella v. Minnesota Mut. Life Ins. Co., 824 A.2d 1249, 1257 (R. I. 2003) (quoting Mallette v. Children's Friend and Service, 661 A.2d 67, 69 (R.I. 1995))).

         When assessing allegations regarding fraud, the Court's judgment is particularly tempered, and the Court finds it appropriate to hold the Defendant to a heightened pleading standard. Super. R. Civ. P. 9(b). Indeed, where the allegations of a complaint contain averments of fraud or mistake, courts have followed Rule 9(b)'s particularity requirements. See Powers v. Boston Cooper Corp., 926 F.2d 109, 111 (1st Cir. 1991). Although Rule 9(b) "does not require the pleadings of detailed evidentiary matter, but it does require identification of circumstances constituting fraud." Town of Hooksett Sch. Dist. v. W.R. Grace & Co., 617 F.Supp. 126 (D.N.H. 1984) (citing Trussell v. U.S. Underwriters, Ltd., 228 F.Supp. 757, 774 (D.C. Colo. 1964) (granting motion for more definite statement where plaintiff's complaint alleged insufficient particulars or circumstances in connection with fraud count)). Rule 9(b) provides: "In all averments of fraud or mistake, the circumstances constituting fraud or mistake shall be stated with particularity. Malice, intent, knowledge, and other condition of mind of a person may be averred generally." Super. R. Civ. P. 9(b).

         "What constitutes sufficient particularity necessarily depends upon the nature of the case and should always be determined in the light of the purpose of the rule to give fair notice to the adverse party and to enable him to prepare his responsive pleading." Women's Dev. Corp. v. City of Cent. Falls, 764 A.2d 151, 161 (R.I. 2001) (quoting 1 Robert B. Kent et al., Rhode Island Civil and Appellate Procedure § 9:2 (West 2006)); see also Feinstein v. Resolution Trust Corp., 942 F.2d 34, 43 (1st Cir. 1991). Although neither the text of the rule, nor opinions of our Supreme Court, explicitly set forth the degree of particularity required, the First Circuit, when applying Rule 9(b), requires a pleader to specify the time, place, and content of the alleged false or fraudulent representations. Feinstein, 942 F.2d at 42-43 (citing New England Data Servs., Inc. v. Becher, 829 F.2d 286, 291-92 (1st Cir. 1987)); see also Powers, 926 F.2d at 111. Additionally, when faced with claims sounding in fraud, the First Circuit has found that "allegations based on 'information and belief' . . . do not satisfy the particularity requirement unless the complaint sets forth the facts on which the belief is founded." New England Data Servs., Inc., 829 F.2d at 288 (citing Wayne Inv., Inc. v. Gulf Oil Corp., 739 F.2d 11, 13 (1st Cir. 1984)). Further, the pleading of supporting facts is necessary "even when the fraud relates to matters peculiarly within the knowledge of the opposing party." Wayne Inv., Inc., 739 F.2d at 14.

         Here, based on the evidence presented-including Defendant's admissions and Plaintiff's affidavits-it appears that Plaintiff has failed to satisfy any of the elements of fraud. Plaintiff has seemingly provided no evidence beyond the fact that he was involved romantically with the Defendant and during their relationship performed common relationship duties (i.e., interacting with Defendant's children and spending quality time with Defendant). In fact, during the hearing held on November 27, 2017, Plaintiff made no attempt to argue in favor of his claim for fraud. There is virtually no mention of his fraud claim and as a result, the Court ultimately found the facts alleged confirmed "a long, loving and mutual beneficial relationship to [both Plaintiff and Defendant] that ended" and ultimately Plaintiff could not "make [Defendant] stay in a relationship if [she did] not wish to stay in a relationship." (Tr. 13-14, Nov. 27, 2017) (Tr. I.)

          There is no evidence to show that any false or misleading statements were made[4] or that the Defendant knew she was making any false or misleading statements. All that has been shown is that Plaintiff and Defendant were romantically involved and that said relationship ended. It should go without saying that there is no cause of action in Rhode Island for ending a personal, romantic relationship. Therefore, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment as to fraud is granted.


         Negligent Misrepresentation

         To establish a prima facie damages claim in a fraud case, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant "made a false representation intending thereby to induce plaintiff to rely thereon" and that the plaintiff justifiably relied thereon to his or her damage. Cliftex Clothing Co. v. DiSanto,88 R.I. 338, 344, 148 A.2d 273, 275 (1959); accord LaFazia v. Howe, 575 A.2d 182, 185 (R.I. 1990). A misrepresentation is '"any manifestation by words or other conduct by one person to another that, under the circumstances, amounts to an assertion not in accordance with the facts."' Halpert v. Rosenthal, 107 R.I. 406, 413, 267 A.2d 730, 734 (1970) (quoting Restatement (First) Contracts ยง 470 at 890-91 (1932)). The "justifiable reliance" element requires a plaintiff to ...

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