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Broccoli v. Manning

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

March 22, 2019

John Broccoli
v.
Walter Manning.

          Providence County PC 16-3059 Superior Court Maureen B. Keough Associate Justice

          For Plaintiff: John Broccoli, Pro Se

          For Defendant: Walter J. Manning, III, Pro Se

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

          OPINION

          Maureen McKenna Goldberg, Associate Justice

         This case came before the Supreme Court for oral argument on December 5, 2018, pursuant to an order directing the parties to appear and show cause why the issues raised in this appeal should not be summarily decided. The plaintiff, John Broccoli (plaintiff or Broccoli), a pro se litigant, appeals from the Superior Court's entry of summary judgment in favor of the defendant, attorney Walter Manning (Manning or defendant). 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.

         Facts and Travel

         On March 12, 2013, a mortgage broker named Richard Dion (Dion) contacted defendant and asked if he would assist plaintiff in obtaining a modification on his mortgage payments and try to stop a foreclosure sale that was scheduled to occur on March 15, 2013, for property located at 1483 Mineral Spring Avenue, North Providence, Rhode Island (the property). The defendant informed Dion that it was "highly unlikely" anything could be done "at such a late stage in the foreclosure proceedings[, ]" but he agreed to contact the mortgage company on plaintiff's behalf. That same day, at defendant's request, Dion obtained a signed "Authorization Form" executed by plaintiff at Manning Law Offices' satellite office. The form authorized Manning Law Offices to act as plaintiff's designated agent to discuss options with Bay View Loan Servicing (Bay View); according to plaintiff, "[t]he objective was to secure a more practical loan arrangement[.]" Specifically, the authorization form allowed Bay View "to work out the terms of [a] payment agreement with [defendant] and to cause to deliver requested documents to [defendant] that concerns a request for payment assistance." In addition, the authorization form stipulated that Bay View was to "immediately cease direct contact with [plaintiff] regarding [his] account" and required that all contact related to plaintiff's account be referred to defendant. Armed with the authorization, defendant contacted Bay View, only to discover that plaintiff was not the owner of the property. Bay View declined to speak to defendant in any detail because he did not have authorization from the true property owner and borrower, which was an entity named Brocco Development Corporation (Brocco).[1] Three days later, on March 15, 2013, the property was sold at a public foreclosure sale.

         More than three years later, on July 1, 2016, plaintiff filed a complaint, pro se, in the Superior Court against defendant alleging breach of contract and fraud, and sought over $875, 000 in damages.[2] The defendant, also acting pro se, filed an answer in which he denied the allegations and asserted several affirmative defenses, including lack of standing, insufficient service of process, and failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. On March 24, 2017, plaintiff moved for summary judgment and argued, in essence, that defendant breached his fiduciary duty owed to plaintiff. The defendant filed an objection and a cross-motion for summary judgment, in which he proffered four arguments in opposition to summary judgment and in support of his cross-motion. Specifically, defendant argued that: (1) any claim against defendant would arise from a claim for legal malpractice, which was barred by the three-year statute of limitations for such claims; (2) plaintiff lacked standing to assert a cause of action against defendant because plaintiff was not the owner or the mortgagor of the property; (3) there was no attorney-client relationship between plaintiff and defendant; and (4) plaintiff could not establish any damages.

         A hearing on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment was held on October 11, 2017.[3] The parties agreed to pass plaintiff's motion and address only defendant's motion for summary judgment.[4] After hearing argument from the parties, the hearing justice granted summary judgment in favor of defendant.[5] In doing so, the hearing justice stated that it was difficult "to suggest this was anything other than a relationship against a professional defendant" in light of the fact that "the complaint itself states that the defendant committed fraud as an attorney and utilized his skill to the detriment of the plaintiff." The hearing justice thus concluded that the complaint was "subject to the three-year statute of limitations for legal malpractice contained within * * * [§] 9-1-14.3." The hearing justice next considered when that statutory period began to run and concluded, based upon plaintiff's answers to defendant's requests for admission, that plaintiff "knew the moment the foreclosure took place about the alleged negligence[, ]" and therefore plaintiff "did not bring this cause of action in a timely fashion[.]" The plaintiff appealed.

         Standard of Review

         It is well settled that this Court reviews a hearing justice's grant of summary judgment de novo. See Credit Union Central Falls v. Groff, 966 A.2d 1262, 1267 (R.I. 2009). "We will affirm such a 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." Prout v. City of Providence, 996 A.2d 1139, 1141 (R.I. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted). Conversely, "if the record evinces a genuine issue of material fact, summary judgment is improper and we will accordingly reverse." Canavan v. Lovett, Schefrin and Harnett, 862 A.2d 778, 783 (R.I. 2004).

         Discussion

         We note at the outset that plaintiff has not provided this Court with any meaningful discussion of the issues on appeal as required by Article I, Rule 16(a) of the Supreme Court Rules of Appellate Procedure, which provides: "Errors not claimed, questions not raised and points not made ordinarily will be treated as waived and not be considered by the Court." In particular, plaintiff has failed to articulate how the hearing justice erred in granting defendant's motion for summary judgment. This Court generally deems an issue waived "when a party simply states an issue for appellate review, without a meaningful discussion thereof." A. Salvati Masonry Inc. v. Andreozzi, 151 A.3d 745, 750 (R.I. 2017) (brackets and deletion omitted) (quoting In re Jake G., 126 A.3d 450, 458 (R.I. 2015)). "A mere passing reference to an argument, * * * without meaningful elaboration, will not suffice to merit appellate review." State v. Day, 925 A.2d 962, 974 n.19 (R.I. 2007); see Wilkinson v. State Crime Laboratory Commission, 788 A.2d 1129, 1131 n.1 (R.I. 2002) ("Simply stating an issue for appellate review, without a meaningful discussion thereof or legal briefing of the issues, does not assist the Court in focusing on the legal ...


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