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Quattrini v. Olsen

Superior Court of Rhode Island, Kent

March 29, 2019

DONNA M. QUATTRINI
v.
DAVID OLSEN, Alias in his official capacity as TREASURER FOR THE CITY OF WARWICK, STATE OF RHODE ISLAND DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION and GASPEE DAYS COMMITTEE

          For Plaintiff: Andrew S. Caslowitz, Esq.

          For Defendant: Kathleen Anne Hilton, Esq.; Alison Brittany Hoffman, Esq.; Kevin N. Rolando, Esq.

          DECISION

          MCGUIRL, J.

         Before this Court are individual motions for summary judgment by Defendants: David Olsen, Alias in his official capacity as Treasurer for the City of Warwick (City), State of Rhode Island Department of Transportation (State), and Gaspee Days Committee (Committee). The Plaintiff Donna M. Quattrini (Plaintiff) objects to the motions. Jurisdiction is pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 8-2-14.

         I Facts and Travel

         This action arises out of a slip and fall taking place on May 25, 2015 in the City of Warwick, Rhode Island. (Am. Compl. ¶ 9.) On that day, the Plaintiff was walking on Narragansett Parkway near its intersection with Grenore Street at the Gaspee Days Arts and Crafts Festival (Festival), which is organized and conducted by the Gaspee Days Committee. Id. While walking, Plaintiff inadvertently stepped into a pothole in the road, fell, and sustained injuries and has suffered pain of body and mind as a result. Id. ¶¶ 10, 20.

         The relevant area of Narragansett Parkway is a public road located in the City of Warwick, which is freely open to pedestrian and vehicular traffic. During the Festival, a distance of one mile from the intersection of Post Road to Canonchet Street is closed off to most vehicular traffic. (Peshka Dep. 28:2-19; 41:9-18, Jan. 24, 2018.) Within the barricaded one mile section, craft vendor tents are set up from Post Road and continue for approximately two-thirds of a mile in a southerly direction. Id. at 41:19-21. Sawhorse barricades are erected at each end of the street blocking vehicular access and are monitored by City of Warwick detail police officers at each end. Id. at 28:15-17. These detail officers are paid for by the Committee and are in addition to two regular patrol officers who monitor the remainder of the Festival. (Farias Dep. 22:18-23, Feb. 19, 2018.)

         On the date of the incident, Plaintiff parked at the southern barrier and proceeded past the detail officer on Narragansett Parkway. Subsequently, Plaintiff fell in a pothole after her "heel just fit right in [the pothole] and it was stuck." (Quattrini Dep. 42:2-4, Oct. 27, 2017.) Photographs taken days later and deposition testimony have been introduced in order to determine the size of the pothole; however, the exact size remains unclear. Moreover, it remains unclear what caused the pothole or how long it had existed prior to the incident.

         Plaintiff filed a one count Complaint on January 4, 2016 against the City alleging negligence. Plaintiff then filed a seven count Amended Complaint on November 28, 2016. The Amended Complaint brought claims of negligence against the City, the State, and the Committee. Subsequently, all Defendants moved for summary judgment, and a hearing was held on June 11, 2018. At that time, the Court reserved opinion, and a Decision is herein rendered.

         II Standard of Review

         '"Summary judgment is a drastic remedy, and a motion for summary judgment should be dealt with cautiously."' Cruz v. DaimlerChrysler Motors Corp., 66 A.3d 446, 451 (R.I. 2013) (quoting DeMaio v. Ciccone, 59 A.3d 125, 129 (R.I. 2013)). This Court can grant summary judgment only if it concludes, "after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, that there is no genuine issue of material fact to be decided and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Lacey v. Reitsma, 899 A.2d 455, 457 (R.I. 2006).

         '"The moving party bears the initial burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of fact."' McGovern v. Bank of Am., N.A., 91 A.3d 853, 858 (R.I. 2014) (quoting Robert B. Kent et al., Rhode Island Civil and Appellate Procedure § 56:5, (2018-19 ed.)). Once the moving party has satisfied its burden, however, "[t]he burden then shifts . . . and the nonmoving party has an affirmative duty to demonstrate . . . a genuine issue of fact." Id. "[T]he nonmoving party bears the burden of proving by competent evidence the existence of a disputed issue of material fact and cannot rest upon mere allegations or denials in the pleadings, mere conclusions or mere legal opinions." Mruk v. Mortg. Elec. Registration Sys., Inc., 82 A.3d 527, 532 (R.I. 2013). "[C]ompetent evidence[]' . . . is generally presented on summary judgment in the form of . . . '[]depositions, answers to interrogatories, . . . admissions on file, . . . [and] affidavits." Flynn v. Nickerson Cmty. Ctr., 177 A.3d 468, 476 (R.I. 2018) (internal citation omitted).

         III Analysis

         In Rhode Island, in order to succeed on "a claim for negligence, 'a plaintiff must establish a legally cognizable duty owed by a defendant to a plaintiff, a breach of that duty, proximate causation between the conduct and the resulting injury, and the actual loss or damage.'" Willis v. Omar, 954 A.2d 126, 129 (R.I. 2008) (quoting Mills v. State Sales, Inc., 824 A.2d 461, 467 (R.I. 2003)). "If no such duty exists, then plaintiff's claim must fail, as a matter of law." Selwyn v. Ward, 879 A.2d 882, 886 (R.I. 2005). It is well-settled that "[w]hether a defendant is under a legal duty in a given case is a question of law[]" to be resolved by the court. Willis, 954 A.2d at 129 (citing Martin v. Marciano, 871 A.2d 911, 915 (R.I. 2005)). "Only when a party properly overcomes the duty hurdle in a negligence action is he or she entitled to a factual determination on each of the remaining elements: breach, causation, and damages." Wyso v. Full Moon Tide, LLC, 78 A.3d 747, 750 (R.I. 2013).

         The Court will now examine the individual motions presented by the Defendants.

         A David Olsen, in his official capacity as Treasurer for the City of Warwick

         The City argues that because Plaintiff was injured on a state road-the portion of Narragansett Parkway between the intersections of Post Road and Spring Green Road-the duty to repair and maintain said street belongs to the State. Accordingly, the City argues that Plaintiff's negligence claim must fail as a matter of law because the City owed no duty to repair or maintain a state road.

         Conversely, the Plaintiff contends that state ownership of the road does not extinguish the City's duty because the City had a duty to protect the Plaintiff from all harm because it provided the necessary support and security for the Festival to operate. Moreover, the Plaintiff avers that the City exerted control over the state owned roadway and thus retained a duty to the Plaintiff by issuing a special license to the Committee, by issuing a police department operations order, and by determining placement of sawhorses to prevent certain vehicular traffic from entering the Festival.

         In Rhode Island, "municipalities themselves have a statutory duty to maintain at their expense all highways located within their borders as provided in G.L. 1956 § 24-5-1(a)." Town of Lincoln v. State, 712 A.2d 357, 358 (R.I. 1998). Section 24-5-1(a) provides in pertinent part:

"All highways . . . lying and being within the bounds of any town, shall be kept in repair and amended, from time to time, so that the highways . . . may be safe and convenient for travelers with their teams, carts, and carriages at all seasons of the year, at the proper charge and expense of the town, under the care and direction of the town council of the town, provided that the state shall be responsible ...

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