Edward F. St. Onge
USAA Federal Savings Bank et al.
Providence County Superior Court (PC 16-4227) Associate
Justice Melissa A. Long
Plaintiff: Edward St. Onge, Pro Se
Defendants: Kristin B. Petty, Esq. Dana M. Horton, Esq.
William M. Daley, Esq.
Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and
Gilbert V. Indeglia Associate Justice.
plaintiff, Edward St. Onge, appeals pro se from the
dismissal of his claims against the defendants, USAA Federal
Savings Bank (USAA) and Charles Baird (Baird), for lack of
personal jurisdiction. This case came before the Supreme
Court on November 6, 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. After
considering the parties' written and oral submissions and
reviewing the record, we conclude that cause has not been
shown and that this case may be decided without further
briefing or argument. For the reasons set forth in this
opinion, we affirm the orders of the Superior Court.
dispute arose from an alleged oral agreement between
plaintiff and Baird, with whom plaintiff was a long-time
friend. The plaintiff is a resident of Rhode Island, and
Baird is a resident of Florida. According to the complaint,
Baird sought plaintiff's help resolving a will dispute in
Florida. In the disputed will, which was handwritten, Baird
was named sole beneficiary. The plaintiff alleged that, after
Baird's repeated requests for his assistance, he finally
contracted with Baird on or about April 15, 2015, to perform
certain consulting and other services regarding the will
dispute. In return for his services, plaintiff
alleged, he would be reimbursed by Baird for expenses that
plaintiff advanced and the fair market value of his services,
should Baird prevail; plaintiff would earn nothing if Baird
did not prevail.
mid-April 2015 until May 31, 2016, plaintiff alleged, he
performed "numerous services" for Baird, which
included traveling to and from Florida, at plaintiff's
own expense. The plaintiff asserts that he assisted Baird in
"interview[ing], select[ing], secur[ing, ] and
oversee[ing] legal services from a Florida attorney."
After assisting Baird in securing an attorney, plaintiff
continued to work with Baird, he alleged, "to help him
successfully prevail in the [w]ill contest as well as
inventorying and evaluating claims of alleged creditors and
negotiating favorable settlement of numerous outstanding
debts of the [inherited] Estate." The plaintiff alleged
that he performed the work for Baird in both Rhode Island and
Florida, always traveling at plaintiff's own expense.
prevailing in the will dispute, and after the creditors'
window of time to file claims against the estate had expired,
Baird transferred $40, 000 from the estate to his personal
checking account at USAA. USAA is a bank that is incorporated
in Texas and based in San Antonio. The plaintiff alleges that
the bulk of that money, by agreement of Baird, was to be paid
to plaintiff for his services and, at Baird's direction,
plaintiff was authorized to pay an agreed-upon total of $25,
355.67 from Baird's USAA account to plaintiff's
credit-card accounts directly. Thereafter, the funds were
paid to five different national credit-card accounts
belonging to plaintiff. However, on June 28, 2016, USAA
rescinded all the credit-card payments, without notice to
plaintiff. Additionally, plaintiff alleges that Baird
executed a check from his USAA account to plaintiff in the
amount of $9, 644.33 and that the check was returned and
marked "Not Authorized."
plaintiff filed a complaint in Providence County Superior
Court on September 7, 2016, against both Baird and USAA,
seeking to recover the rescinded funds plus interest, costs,
and consequential damages. Baird filed a motion to dismiss
the case for lack of personal jurisdiction. An order granting
the motion was entered on January 28, 2017. A default
judgment was entered against USAA for failing to defend
against the action but was later vacated on the ground that
the Superior Court lacked personal jurisdiction over USAA.
USAA then moved to dismiss the claim against it for lack of
personal jurisdiction, which was granted. That order was
entered on June 29, 2018. The plaintiff filed a notice of
appeal on July 17, 2018.
reviewing a challenge to personal jurisdiction, "[w]e
examine the pleadings, accept the facts alleged by the
plaintiff as true, and view disputed facts in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff." Cassidy v. Lonquist
Management Co., LLC, 920 A.2d 228, 232 (R.I. 2007). The
question of personal jurisdiction presents a "mixed
question of law and fact[.]" Hawes v. Reilly,
184 A.3d 661, 665 (R.I. 2018) (quoting Cassidy, 920
A.2d at 232). While mixed questions of law and fact usually
require more deferential treatment to the trial justice's
findings of fact, "when deciding mixed questions of law
and fact that involve constitutional issues, our review is
de novo." Id. (quoting
Cassidy, 920 A.2d at 232). We therefore review a
challenge to personal jurisdiction de novo. See,