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Darling v. Citizens Financial Group, Inc.

Superior Court of Rhode Island, Providence

February 26, 2019

JENNIFER DARLING, Plaintiff,
v.
CITIZENS FINANCIAL GROUP, INC., D/B/A CITIZENS BANK, THE RHODE ISLAND BANKERS ASSOCIATION, INC., THE RHODE ISLAND STATE POLICE and COLONEL ANN CLAIRE ASSUMPICO, in her capacity as Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police, GREGORY DEMARCO, individually and in his capacity as a Detective in the Rhode Island State Police, Defendants.

          For Plaintiff: Joseph A. Keough, Jr., Esq.

          For Defendant: Geoffrey W. Millson, Esq.; J. Richard Ratcliffe, Esq.; Sean Lyness, Esq.

          DECISION

          GIBNEY, P.J.

         Before this Court is a motion by Jennifer Darling (Plaintiff) to strike Defendant Rhode Island State Police's (RISP) objections to Interrogatories Nos. 1-4 of Plaintiff's second set of interrogatories and to compel further answers if any information was withheld by the RISP based upon improper objections. Plaintiff additionally moves to strike Defendant Rhode Island State Police Detective Gregory DeMarco's (DeMarco) objection to Interrogatory No. 1 of Plaintiff's first set of interrogatories, and to compel DeMarco's further answer, if any information was withheld based upon an improper objection. Finally, Plaintiff moves to compel DeMarco's further response to Request No. 2 of Plaintiff's request for production of documents. The RISP and DeMarco object to Plaintiff's motions. This Court exercises jurisdiction pursuant to Super. R. Civ. P. 37.

         I Facts and Travel

         In January 2017, the RISP and Citizens Financial Group, Inc., d/b/a Citizens Bank (Citizens) opened investigations into a series of fraudulent checks cashed at Citizens. One such check was cashed at a Citizens branch in Providence, Rhode Island on January 4, 2017. On January 26, 2017, Citizens forwarded information to the RISP about several individuals Citizens believed to have cashed the fraudulent checks, including the name and Rhode Island driver's license number of the individual who allegedly cashed the fraudulent check on January 4, 2017. Citizens subsequently provided the RISP with a copy of this check, along with surveillance photographs of what Citizens believed at the time to be the January 4, 2017 transaction.

         Plaintiff was the individual in the photographs Citizens sent to the RISP, although her name, physical description and fingerprints did not match the information on the driver's license of the individual who cashed the check on January 4, 2017. Moreover, the photographs were from January 3, 2017, the day before the check at issue was cashed. DeMarco posted these surveillance photographs on the "Rhode Island Most Wanted" website on February 3, 2017, accompanied by a statement from the RISP.[1] On February 6, 2017, WPRI-TV televised the story along with the surveillance photographs of Plaintiff. On February 7, 2017, Citizens informed DeMarco that it had provided the wrong photographs.

         On February 13, 2018, Plaintiff filed this action including counts of defamation and deprivation of privacy. On November 7, 2018, Plaintiff moved to strike the RISP's objections and to compel further answers to Plaintiff's second set of interrogatories, to strike DeMarco's objections and to compel further answers to Plaintiff's first set of interrogatories, and to compel DeMarco's further response to Plaintiff's request for production of documents. The RISP and DeMarco object to the motions.

         II Standard of Review

         Underlying the rules of discovery is the principle "that prior to trial, all data relevant to the pending controversy should be disclosed unless the data is privileged." Cabral v. Arruda, 556 A.2d 47, 48 (R.I. 1989) (citing 8 Wright & Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure: Civil § 2001 at 15 (1970)). Accordingly, trial courts have broad discretion over discovery matters and may sanction recalcitrant litigants. Martin v. Howard, 784 A.2d 291, 296 (R.I. 2001) (citing Colvin v. Lekas, 731 A.2d 718, 720 (R.I. 1999)); Super. R. Civ. P. 37(b). This discretion extends to motions to compel discovery, which will be disturbed by the Supreme Court only in the event it finds "an abuse of that discretion." Colvin, 731 A.2d at 720 (citing Corvese v. Medco Containment Servs., Inc., 687 A.2d 880, 882 (R.I. 1997)). In reviewing discovery orders, the Supreme Court has adopted a test "to determine relevancy . . . [that examines] 'whether the material sought is relevant to the subject matter of the suit, not whether it is relevant to the precise issues presented by the pleadings.'" Cardi v. Med. Homes of R.I., Inc., 741 A.2d 278, 279 (R.I. 1999) (quoting DeCarvalho v. Gonsalves, 106 R.I. 620, 627262 A.2d 630, 634 (1970)). "It is not ground for objection that the information sought will be inadmissible at the trial if the information sought appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." Super. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1).

         III Analysis

         A Plaintiff's Motion to Strike the RISP's Objections and to Compel Further Answers to Plaintiff's Second Set of Interrogatories

         The RISP object to Interrogatories Nos. 1-4 of Plaintiff's second set of interrogatories. Plaintiff moves to strike these objections and to compel further responses if any information was withheld on an improper basis. Interrogatory No. 1 states:

"describe, in detail, any and all policies and procedures for the posting of information and photographs on the Rhode Island Most Wanted website by any person, including, but not limited to Rhode Island Most Wanted Staff members, Rhode Island Fusion Center members, members of the Rhode Island State Police and their collective agents, representatives and employees."

         The RISP argue that this interrogatory is overly broad because Plaintiff has not specified a timeframe. The RISP state that "[w]ithout waiving said [o]bjection, there is no formal promulgated policy . . . [but] the established procedure on how to post . . . onto the website is set forth in the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section of the website."

         According to the Supreme Court, the proper timeframe for a discovery request is the time relevant to the controversy. DeCarvalho, 106 R.I. at 627, 262 A.2d at 634. Here, Plaintiff has requested "all policies and procedures for the posting . . . on the Rhode Island Most Wanted website . . ." With respect to Interrogatory No. 1, the Court finds relevant the timeframe when DeMarco posted the photographs of Plaintiff on the Rhode Island Most Wanted website: February 2017. The Court therefore grants Plaintiff's motion with the aforementioned time ...


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