Newport County Superior Court, ND 17-472 Brian Van Couyghen
Plaintiff: Attorney(s) on Appeal Kevin P. Gavin, Esq.
Defendant: Michael J. Richards, Esq.
Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and
William P. Robinson III Associate Justice
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.
reasons set forth in this opinion, we affirm the judgment of
the Superior Court.
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.
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
* * *." 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.
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.
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.
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
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] ...