Thomas Shannahan et al.
Charles D. Moreau et al.
Providence County PC 07-5714 Superior Court Sarah
Taft-Carter, Associate Justice
Plaintiffs: Philip E. Irons, Esq.
Defendants: Patrick K. Cunningham, Esq. Michael A. DeSisto,
Esq. Marc DeSisto, Esq. Elizabeth M. Noonan, Esq.
Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.
Gilbert V. Indeglia, Associate Justice
action, which involves various allegations against Charles D.
Moreau (Moreau), the former mayor of the City of Central
Falls, the plaintiffs, Thomas Shannahan (Shannahan), Thomas
Wilson (Wilson), Donald D. Twohig (Donald D.), and the Estate
of Donald P. Twohig (Donald P.) (collectively plaintiffs),
appeal from the grant of summary judgment in favor of the
defendant, The Rhode Island Interlocal Risk Management Trust
(the Trust). This matter came before the Court on
January 15, 2019, pursuant to an order directing the parties
to appear and show cause why the issues raised should not be
summarily decided. After considering the arguments set forth
in the parties' memoranda and at oral argument, we are
convinced that cause has not been shown. Thus, further
argument or briefing is not required to decide this matter.
For the reasons outlined below, we affirm the judgment of the
Facts and Travel
we close the book on what was a sad and scandal-plagued
chapter in the history of the City of Central Falls (the city
or Central Falls). The facts of this litigation, which has
persisted for over fifteen years, are as follows. In 2003,
Moreau ran as a candidate for mayor of Central Falls against
the then-incumbent mayor, Lee Matthews (Matthews). During his
campaign, Moreau stated several times that, should he win, he
would seek to remove Wilson from Wilson's position as the
chief of the Central Falls Police Department. Moreau also
became aware that plaintiffs had, in one form or another,
supported Matthews' re-election efforts. Eventually, the
campaign culminated in a victory for Moreau in November 2003,
and he was sworn in as the mayor of the city on January 5,
2004. Prior to Moreau taking office, however, in December
2003, in response to Moreau's previous threats, Wilson
filed for injunctive relief in the United States District
Court for the District of Rhode Island (the District Court)
to prevent Moreau from removing him from his position.
See Wilson v. Moreau, 440 F.Supp.2d 81, 86 (D.R.I.
2006). In a stipulation entered in that case on December 19,
2003, the parties agreed that "the [District Court] case
would be held in abeyance for 120 days, at which point the
case would be dismissed without prejudice if Moreau had not
taken any adverse employment action against Wilson during
that time period." Id.
the first few months of his troubled tenure, Moreau's
relationship with Wilson was tense. See Wilson, 440
F.Supp.2d at 86. On several occasions, Moreau, in his
capacity as the city public safety director, called meetings
with Wilson's subordinates without including Wilson.
Id. In March 2004, Moreau suspended Wilson, without
pay, for insubordination, publicly citing Wilson's abuse
of vacation and leave time as the rationale for such
suspension. Id. at 87. Moreau was quoted in several
newspapers at the time regarding this incident, faulting
Wilson for attending out-of-state conferences in Kansas and
Connecticut without permission from the city. Id. at
86-87. Later, Moreau ordered Wilson to bring his city-owned
vehicle to city hall because Moreau wanted to trade vehicles
with him. Id. at 87. Upon Wilson's arrival,
Moreau took possession of Wilson's car and told Wilson
that his replacement car was not yet ready. Id.
Wilson eventually received another vehicle-"a rusted old
in office, Moreau also engaged in public spats with
Shannahan, Donald P., and Donald D. See Wilson, 440
F.Supp.2d at 87-88. Shannahan and Donald D. were city
employees working at the Adams Library in Central Falls,
a librarian and a systems administrator, respectively; Donald
P. was not an employee of the city, but he worked at the
library as an independent contractor. Id. at 87, 88.
In January 2004, the city stopped all payments to Donald P.
for seven weeks, due to his purported failure to obtain the
proper registration card and insurance. Id. at 87.
Donald P. alleges that Moreau had also placed a padlock on a
shed near the library where Donald P. had kept his work
tools. Around that same time, without informing
Wilson, Moreau ordered a police investigation into the
larceny of certain blank checks from Donald P.'s home in
Smithfield, Rhode Island, despite the fact that the
Smithfield police had already concluded that Donald P. was
the victim of that crime. Id. at 88. Moreau also
publicly questioned the library's payment of nearly $400,
000 to Donald P. for non-bid work over a six-year period, and
Moreau was quoted in the April 22, 2004 edition of The
Pawtucket Times as stating: "Tom Shannahan has done
a great job, but it appears the purchasing procedure has been
circumvented. We're bringing that to light. Policies have
to be followed." Id. at 87, 112.
April 12, 2004, citing the poor treatment of his staff under
the Moreau administration, Shannahan announced that he would
be stepping down from his position as librarian of the Adams
Library at the end of that month. Wilson, 440
F.Supp.2d at 88. Then, on April 20, 2004, acting on a tip
from a former mayor of Central Falls that Matthews had run
his campaign out of the Adams Library, Moreau ordered the
police department to conduct a search of the library.
Id. During this search, the police focused their
efforts on Donald D.'s computer, even going so far as to
delve into his personal email account. Id. When
Shannahan contacted Wilson to find out what was going on,
Wilson replied that he had not been informed of the raid.
Id. at 89. For his part, Wilson, as chief of police,
sought a determination from the Rhode Island Department of
the Attorney General regarding whether the raid was legal.
Id. After being informed that there was no basis for
a criminal investigation and finding no evidence of
criminality, and despite orders from Moreau to the contrary,
Wilson declined to pursue the library investigation further.
in early May 2004, Moreau sent a letter to Wilson explaining
that Moreau was considering removing Wilson from his position
as chief of police because of Wilson's failure to
investigate alleged violations of the city charter at the
Adams Library. Wilson, 440 F.Supp.2d at 89. In
response, Wilson obtained a temporary restraining order from
the District Court to delay any action in this regard, which
led Moreau to suspend Wilson, with pay, for an indefinite
period of time. Id. at 89-90. On May 12, 2004,
Wilson resigned in light of his ongoing contentious
relationship with Moreau. Id. at 90.
24, 2004, Wilson amended his complaint in the District Court
to include Shannahan, Donald P., and Donald D. as plaintiffs.
Wilson, 440 F.Supp.2d at 90. The complaint alleged
twelve counts, including constitutional claims for violations
of the right to substantive and procedural due process and to
equal protection, violations of the Charter of the City of
Central Falls, and claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for
violations of the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth
Amendments to the United States Constitution. Id. at
90, 92, 93, 101, 108-09, 110, 111. The plaintiffs also
brought Rhode Island state law claims for defamation,
invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional
distress, and computer trespass. Id. at 111. After
the grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants on
several counts, only two federal claims brought by Donald P.
and Donald D., as well as the state law claim for computer
trespass by Donald D., survived. Id. at 117.
However, the remaining federal claims were then resolved in
favor of the defendants at or after trial. Wilson v.
Moreau, 492 F.3d 50, 52 (1st Cir. 2007). Because the
federal claims by Wilson and Shannahan did not withstand
summary judgment review, the District Court declined to
exercise pendent jurisdiction over their claims brought under
state law, dismissing them without prejudice.
Wilson, 440 F.Supp.2d at 111-12. The District Court
judgment became final after the First Circuit heard and
denied plaintiffs' appeal on June 29, 2007.
Wilson, 492 F.3d at 54.
the dust had settled following the resolution of the federal
case, plaintiffs filed the instant action in Providence
County Superior Court on October 26, 2007. The complaint,
which was subsequently amended, alleged seven causes of
action against Moreau and the city under Rhode Island state
law: defamation (Count I); invasion of privacy based on false
light and public disclosure of private facts (Count II);
intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress
(Count III); intentional interference with contract/economic
advantage (Count IV); invasion of privacy based on intrusion
upon privacy and seclusion (Count V); civil conspiracy (Count
VI); and conversion (Count VII).
city filed for bankruptcy in 2011, and a state-appointed
receiver was designated to oversee the city's finances.
Later, in September 2013, the Superior Court entered a
consent order dismissing Moreau as a party defendant and
substituting the Trust as defendant on behalf of the city,
leaving "the City of Central Falls, through [t]he Trust
as a substituted Defendant * * * the only remaining Defendant
in the action[.]" The consent order also stated that the
Trust would retain "all defenses that would have been
available to the [city], both statutorily and
February 26, 2016, the Trust filed two motions for summary
judgment, one pertaining to the old claims, while the other
focused on the new claims. In opposition to the motions,
plaintiffs submitted fourteen volumes of depositions, along
with a memorandum of law in support of their opposition. A
hearing on the summary-judgment motions was held on December
1, 2016. The Trust first argued that the new claims were
barred by the doctrine of res judicata or, in the
alternative, that they were barred by the statute of
limitations for tort actions against cities and towns
contained in G.L. 1956 § 9-1-25. The Trust
asserted that it had not waived the statute of limitations
defense because the Trust had raised the defense in its
answers to both the original and amended complaints in
Superior Court and had pressed the statute of limitations
issue prior to trial.
regard to the old claims, the Trust first averred in support
of summary judgment that plaintiffs had not put forth any
admissible evidence that Moreau had committed the alleged
torts within the scope of his employment with the city. The
Trust further contended that these acts, as alleged by
plaintiffs, were born out of a "personal political
vendetta" propagated by Moreau and therefore could not
be imputed to the city. Turning to plaintiffs' claim of
negligent infliction of emotional distress, the Trust argued
that plaintiffs did not fall into either of the two classes
of persons who may maintain a cause of action for that tort.
On the claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress,
the Trust averred that plaintiffs had failed to prove that
Moreau's conduct was extreme and outrageous. The Trust
next asserted that the defamation claims failed as a matter
of law because: (1) plaintiffs failed to submit admissible
evidence in support of the claims; (2) the statements were
not false or defamatory; (3) some of the statements were made
before Moreau was inaugurated; (4) plaintiffs were public
figures; and (5) Moreau was entitled to absolute and
plaintiffs replied, in opposition to summary judgment, that
the Trust's statute-of-limitations and res
judicata arguments should have been litigated at an
earlier time, and that summary judgment was not appropriate
at that moment. While being peppered with questions from the
hearing justice, plaintiffs proclaimed that the
statute-of-limitations defense had been waived because, even
though the limitations defense had been included in
defendants' answers to plaintiffs' original and
amended complaints, the city had not pressed the defense
during the entirety of the case. The plaintiffs then
claimed that, even if not required by the Superior Court
Rules of Civil Procedure, the Trust should have included an
undisputed statement of facts with its motions for summary
judgment. The hearing justice replied, stating that it was
plaintiffs' burden to show an issue of material fact and
that all that plaintiffs had offered was "a stack of
depositions about two-feet high with a memo that said because
this case is so complicated, summary judgment should not
issue." The plaintiffs replied that the depositions of
Moreau and the newspaper articles, as a whole, created issues
of material fact; but, when pressed, they could not recite
which portions of those documents supported their
claims. Furthermore, plaintiffs claimed that
Moreau's statements and actions were made in the course
of his employment because, as mayor, he set the policy of the
city. In conclusion, plaintiffs requested that the court look
at the totality of the evidence to find that genuine issues
of material fact existed as to their claims.
hearing justice issued a bench decision on August 1,
2017. The hearing justice first noted that
plaintiffs had simply offered a blanket objection to the
motions for summary judgment, in which they stated generally
that there were genuine issues of material fact that should
prevent the entry of summary judgment. The hearing justice
found at the outset that plaintiffs' lack of objection
alone provided a basis for her to grant summary judgment, but
she nevertheless reviewed the substance of the motions. In
doing so, she went on to decide each of plaintiffs'
claims individually. The hearing justice determined that the
new claims of Donald P. and Donald D. in Counts IV through
VII were barred by res judicata because the federal
courts had fully adjudicated the claims by those plaintiffs,
and the new claims could have been brought by Donald P. and
Donald D. in the federal case but were not. However, she
decided that the claims brought by Wilson and Shannahan were
not barred by res judicata, because the District
Court had dismissed their claims without prejudice.
hearing justice next turned to the Trust's
statute-of-limitations argument. She stated that the old
claims of Wilson and Shannahan were timely because the
statute of limitations was tolled during the pendency of the
District Court litigation. Nevertheless, the hearing justice
noted that there was no tolling for their new claims, Counts
IV through VI. Next, the hearing justice reviewed the new
claims and determined that the last actionable event (Donald
D.'s termination) occurred on August 10, 2004, and that,
therefore, the statute of limitations under § 9-1-25 had
run on August 10, 2007. She concluded that, because they had
not filed their action until October 26, 2007, the new claims
by Wilson and Shannahan were barred by the statute of
hearing justice indicated that the discovery materials that
plaintiffs had provided demonstrated that Moreau may have
been acting within the scope of his employment with the city.
Even though the hearing justice noted that it was
plaintiffs' obligation to draw the hearing justice's
attention to specific evidence to counter the Trust's
motions for summary judgment, she performed an exhaustive
review of the fifty-one newspaper articles, as well as a
cable television program transcript, that plaintiffs had
submitted along with their memorandum in support of their
objection to the motions for summary judgment. She found that
twelve of the articles referred to statements that Moreau had
made before his inauguration, all of which therefore could
not be imputed to the city. The hearing justice concluded,
after looking at the alleged defamatory statements that
occurred during Moreau's tenure as mayor that, as a
matter of law, none qualified as being defamatory. She also
reasoned that Moreau had qualified immunity when he made
those statements because they were all regarding matters of
public concern. The hearing justice noted that plaintiffs had
failed to meet their burden of establishing that Moreau had
acted with malice, which was a requirement to overcoming the
qualified privilege that Moreau enjoyed. Because she
determined that none of Moreau's statements could be
construed as defamatory, the hearing justice granted the
Trust's summary-judgment motion as to Count I.
hearing justice likewise granted summary judgment as to Count
II because plaintiffs had not demonstrated a material issue
of fact as to how Moreau had placed them in a false light.
The hearing justice further decided that summary judgment was
also appropriate as to Count III. She found that the claim of
negligent infliction of emotional distress was unavailing
because Wilson and Shannahan were not within the two classes
of persons who may maintain an action for that tort under
Rhode Island law. Furthermore, the hearing justice reasoned
that Wilson and Shannahan could not recover on a claim for
intentional infliction of emotional distress because they had
not proven that Moreau's conduct went beyond the bounds
of conduct tolerated in a civilized society and also because
plaintiffs had not alleged physical injury.
September 6, 2017, an order entered granting summary judgment
in favor of the Trust on all counts, and final judgment
entered in favor of the Trust. The plaintiffs timely appealed
to this Court on September 25, 2017.
motion for summary judgment 'is designed to decide in an
expeditious fashion cases presenting groundless
claims.'" Hexagon Holdings, Inc. v. Carlisle
Syntec Incorporated, 199 A.3d 1034, 1038 (R.I. 2019)
(deletion omitted) (quoting Gallo v. National Nursing
Homes, Inc., 106 R.I. 485, 487, 261 A.2d 19, 21 (1970)).
"When we review a hearing justice's grant of a
motion for summary judgment, we conduct our analysis de
novo." Id. "If we determine that
'there exists no genuine issue of material fact and the
moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law,'
then we will affirm the grant of the motion."
Id. (alteration omitted) (quoting Sisto v.
America Condominium Association, Inc., 68 A.3d 603, 611
(R.I. 2013)). "In this endeavor, 'we view the
evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving
party.'" Id. (alteration omitted) (quoting
Narragansett Indian Tribe v. State, 81 A.3d 1106,
1109 (R.I. 2014)). "However, once the moving party
establishes 'the absence of a material factual issue, the
party opposing the motion has an affirmative duty to
establish either by affidavit or by other means the material
issue of fact to be decided.'" Id. (quoting
Grissom v. Pawtucket Trust Co., 559 A.2d 1065, 1066
(R.I. 1989)). "The party opposing the motion cannot
establish a genuine issue of fact merely by resting on
denials in its pleadings. Id. Rather, the opposing
party must 'respond with specific facts that would
constitute a genuine issue for trial.'" Id.
(quoting Volino v. General Dynamics, 539 A.2d 531,
533 (R.I. 1988)).