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Olsen v. DeMayo

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

June 13, 2019

Karl Olsen
v.
Anna L. DeMayo.

          Newport County Superior Court, ND 17-472 Brian Van Couyghen Associate Justice

          For Plaintiff: Attorney(s) on Appeal Kevin P. Gavin, Esq.

          For Defendant: Michael J. Richards, Esq.

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

          OPINION

          William P. Robinson III Associate Justice

         The plaintiff, Karl Olsen, appeals from a February 6, 2018 judgment in favor of the defendant, Anna L. DeMayo, in Newport County Superior Court. The Superior Court justice granted Mrs. DeMayo's motion for summary judgment on the ground that Mr. Olsen was not legally entitled to recover rent monies which he had paid to her over the extended period of time during which he was renting a waterfront condominium from her-even though Mrs. DeMayo had not complied with a statute that requires a landlord who is not a resident of this state to designate an in-state agent for service of process. On appeal, Mr. Olsen raises the following issues: (1) whether he had a right "to recover damages in the amount of the abated rent paid to [Mrs.] DeMayo while she was in violation of R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-18-22.3;" (2) whether he had a right to recover those asserted damages "under R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-1-2;" and (3) whether he had a right to recover those asserted damages under the equitable theory of unjust enrichment.

         For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.

         I

         Facts and Travel

         This case arises out of a landlord-tenant relationship that lasted for nearly ten years without incident. From November of 2005 until some time in 2015, Mr. Olsen rented a waterfront condominium in Newport from Mrs. DeMayo. (The parties do not agree on when exactly the tenancy was terminated, but that detail is immaterial.) After the termination of the tenancy, a dispute arose between the parties regarding the return of the security deposit. For the entire period of the tenancy, Mrs. DeMayo was a resident of the State of Connecticut.

         On July 7, 2017, nearly two years after the termination of the tenancy, Mr. Olsen filed a complaint in the Second Division District Court, alleging that, for the entire period of his tenancy, Mrs. DeMayo had been in violation of G.L. 1956 § 34-18-22.3, which statute requires landlords who reside outside of Rhode Island to "designate and continuously maintain an agent upon whom service may be made * * *."[1] Mr. Olsen argued in District Court that Mrs. DeMayo never properly filed such a designation with the Secretary of State and the City of Newport as required by the just-cited statute and that, for that reason, he was entitled to recover from her the entire amount of rent which he had paid over the years during which he had rented the condominium, as well as prejudgment interest. He argued that he was entitled to recover the rent monies on the basis of the following language in § 34-18-22.3: "If a landlord fails to comply with the requirements of this section, rent for the dwelling unit abates until designation of an agent is made * * *." Mr. Olsen also argued in District Court that he should be allowed to recover the rent monies on the basis of § 9-1-2, which provides for "civil liability for crimes and offenses." Finally, Mr. Olsen argued that Mrs. DeMayo was liable to him pursuant to the equitable theory of unjust enrichment.

         Mrs. DeMayo contended in response that § 34-18-22.3 does not allow for the retroactive recovery of rent already paid by a tenant prior to the termination of his or her tenancy; that § 9-1-2 was not a basis for recovery by the tenant because non-compliance with § 34-18-22.3 does not constitute criminal conduct triggering the applicability of § 9-1-2; and that the equitable theory of unjust enrichment did not apply in this case because Mr. Olsen had suffered no harm.

         The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment; and, on November 22, 2017, a judge of the District Court granted Mrs. DeMayo's motion and denied Mr. Olsen's motion. Mr. Olsen timely appealed to Superior Court. In the Superior Court, the parties again filed cross-motions for summary judgment, and a hearing was held on January 2, 2018 with respect to same. The arguments of the parties in the Superior Court were virtually identical to those which they had made in the District Court. The Superior Court reached the same conclusion as the District Court and granted summary judgment in favor of Mrs. DeMayo, while dismissing all three of Mr. Olsen's claims. Final judgment entered on February 6, 2018, from which Mr. Olsen timely appealed to this Court.

         II

         Standard of Review

         The Superior Court reviews an appeal from the District Court under the Residential Landlord and Tenant Act in a de novo manner. Warwick Housing Authority v. McLeod, 913 A.2d 1033, 1035 n.2 (R.I. 2007). This Court examines an appeal from cross-motions for summary judgment in the Superior Court in a de novo manner. Medical Malpractice Joint Underwriting Association of Rhode Island v. Charlesgate Nursing Center, L.P., 115 A.3d 998, 1002 (R.I. 2015). In conducting that review, we "view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and if we conclude that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, we will affirm the judgment." Sullo v. Greenberg, 68 A.3d 404, 406-07 (R.I. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted). This Court will "not hesitate to affirm a grant of summary judgment if the nonmoving party fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case * * *." Beauregard v. Gouin, 66 A.3d 489, 493 (R.I. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         We also review issues of statutory interpretation de novo. Town of Warren v. Bristol Warren Regional School District, 159 A.3d 1029, 1039 (R.I. 2017). If "a statute is clear and unambiguous we are bound to ascribe the plain and ordinary meaning of the words of the statute and our inquiry is at an end." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). "However, when a statute is susceptible of more than one meaning, we employ our well-established maxims of statutory construction in an effort to glean the intent of the Legislature." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted); see also State v. Graff, 17 A.3d 1005, 1010 (R.I. 2011) ("In our approach to [the] ...


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