Providence County P 13-1396 Family Court John E. McCann, III
Plaintiff: Cody Allen-Zab, Pro Se
Defendant: Katherine Zab, Pro Se
Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia,
case came before the Supreme Court for oral argument on
January 15, 2019, 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, Cody-Allen
Zab (plaintiff), appeals from a Family Court order that
denied his motion to "seal the record" of his prior
marriage. After reviewing the memoranda and the record before
us, we conclude that cause has not been shown and we proceed
to decide the appeal at this time. For the reasons set forth
herein, we affirm the order of the Family Court.
February 2, 2006, plaintiff set fire to the home of a
ninety-five-year-old man in an attempt to recoup a drug debt;
the man, who died as a result of the fire, was not
plaintiff's intended victim. The plaintiff was indicted
and subsequently entered pleas of guilty to one count of
first-degree murder, in violation of G.L. 1956 §
11-23-1; one count of first-degree arson, in violation of
G.L. 1956 § 11-4-2; and one count of fourth-degree
arson, in violation of § 11-4-5. On April 9, 2008, he
was sentenced to life imprisonment.
April 16, 2012, while he was serving a sentence of life
imprisonment at the Adult Correctional Institutions,
plaintiff married the defendant, Katherine Zab
(Katherine). It was a brief union, however, for on June
5, 2013, plaintiff filed for divorce. Katherine failed to
respond to the complaint for divorce and subsequently was
defaulted. On December 3, 2013, plaintiff was awarded an
absolute divorce. On May 25, 2017, plaintiff filed a
postjudgment motion seeking to "expunge/seal record of
marriage." At a hearing on the motion, he argued that
the marriage record should "be sealed as if it never
existed" because, in accordance with G.L. 1956 §
13-6-1, "all lifers are civilly dead" and, thus,
are prohibited from entering into the bond of matrimony.
After hearing plaintiff's argument, the hearing justice
first questioned whether the Family Court had jurisdiction to
seal the marriage record but nevertheless concluded that
plaintiff's marriage to Katherine was valid and denied
the motion. The plaintiff timely appealed the decision to
Court conducts a de novo review of a trial
justice's ruling concerning the interpretation of a
statute. Twenty Eleven, LLC v. Botelho, 127 A.3d
897, 900 (R.I. 2015). "In matters of statutory
interpretation our ultimate goal is to give effect to the
purpose of the act as intended by the Legislature."
Webster v. Perrotta, 774 A.2d 68, 75 (R.I. 2001).
"[W]hen the language of a statute is clear and
unambiguous, this Court must interpret the statute literally
and must give the words of the statute their plain and
ordinary meanings." Waterman v. Caprio, 983
A.2d 841, 844 (R.I. 2009) (quoting Iselin v. Retirement
Board of the Employees' Retirement System of Rhode
Island, 943 A.2d 1045, 1049 (R.I. 2008)).
this Court, plaintiff argues that the Family Court
misinterpreted § 13-6-1 and, thus, erred in denying the
motion to seal because his marriage to Katherine was
invalid. However, before we address plaintiff's
assignment of error, we must first determine whether
plaintiff, who, based upon the imposition of a sentence of
life imprisonment, is deemed "civilly dead" in
accordance with § 13-6-1, had the legal capacity to seek
relief in the Family Court. We conclude that the Family Court
had no authority to entertain any issue except whether
plaintiff is in fact civilly dead.
13-6-1, entitled "Life prisoners deemed civilly
"Every person imprisoned in the adult correctional
institutions for life shall, with respect to all rights of
property, to the bond of matrimony and to all civil rights
and relations of any nature whatsoever, be deemed to be dead
in all respects, as if his or her natural death had taken
place at the time of conviction. However, the bond of
matrimony shall not be dissolved, nor shall the rights to
property or other rights of the husband or wife of the
imprisoned person be terminated or impaired, except on the
entry of a lawfully obtained decree for divorce."
Gallop v. Adult Correctional Institutions, 182 A.3d
1137 (R.I. 2018), this Court declared that the language of
§ 13-6-1 is "clear and unambiguous[, ]" and
that its plain and ordinary language dictates that "most
commonly recognized civil rights" of an inmate are
extinguished by operation of law once the inmate's
conviction and life sentence become final. Gallop,
182 A.3d at 1141. In the case at bar, as in Gallop,
it is clear that the language employed by the Legislature in
§ 13-6-1, taken in its natural sense, intends to mandate
"that persons serving a life sentence are prohibited
from asserting civil actions." Id. at 1143.
Frankly, we are hard-pressed to discern under what authority
the parties were married in the first place. Nonetheless,
plaintiff had no legal right to seek to have the record of
his marriage sealed because he is deemed by statute to be
"civilly dead." Moreover, the appeal from the
Family Court also is not properly before us, because
plaintiff is civilly dead and therefore he has no right to
litigate this issue in the Supreme Court.
we affirm the Family Court's ruling. See John
Marandola Plumbing & Heating Company v. Delta Mechanical,
Inc., 769 A.2d 1272, 1275 (R.I. 2001) (explaining that
this Court has the "prerogative to affirm a
determination of a trial justice on grounds different from
those enunciated in his or her decision") (quoting
Ogden v. Rath, 755 A.2d 795, 798 (R.I. 2000)).
foregoing reasons, we affirm the order of the Family Court.
The papers ...