Michael A. Willner, individually and as guardian, son, and/or next friend of Joyce C. Willner
South County Hospital et al.
Providence County Superior Court Associate Justice Sarah
Taft-Carter (WC 15-199)
Plaintiff: Michael Willner, Pro Se
Defendants: Michael Messore IV, Esq. Rajaram Suryanarayan,
Esq. Dennis S. Baluch, Esq. John R. Mahoney, Esq. Jeffrey G.
Latham, Esq. Christine A. Stowell, Esq.
Present: Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.
case came before the Supreme Court on November 7, 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, Michael Willner
(plaintiff), appeals from a Superior Court judgment in favor
of the defendants, South County Hospital, Home & Hospice
Care of Rhode Island (Home & Hospice Care), and Emmy A.
Mahoney, M.D. (Dr. Mahoney) (collectively defendants). After
hearing the arguments of counsel and examining the memoranda
filed by the parties, we are of the opinion that cause has
not been shown, and we proceed to decide the case at this
time. For the reasons stated in this opinion, the judgment of
the Superior Court is affirmed.
April 2012, plaintiff's mother, Joyce Willner (Joyce),
admitted to South County Hospital for complications stemming
from pneumonia. Her health quickly deteriorated, and she was
transferred to general inpatient hospice, located in South
County Hospital and operated by Home & Hospice Care.
After Joyce was admitted to hospice, a disagreement arose
between plaintiff, who misrepresented himself to hospital
staff as holding Joyce's durable power of attorney for
health care, and Joyce's husband, Kurt Willner (Kurt),
over the plan of care for Joyce. This led to Kurt presenting
a valid durable power of attorney for health care document to
hospital staff, who, at that point, recognized Kurt as the
controlling authority to make decisions about Joyce's
care. Indeed, plaintiff did not hold Joyce's medical
power of attorney, and did not become Joyce's guardian
until later, in 2014. Undaunted, plaintiff continued to
oppose the medical care that was provided to Joyce, and he
became increasingly aggressive and disruptive, to the point
where hospital staff informed him that he would be removed
from the premises if his behavior continued. In turn, Kurt
instructed hospital staff to withhold all information
regarding Joyce's medical care from plaintiff.
Joyce's health eventually and unexpectedly improved, and
she was discharged from hospice in May 2012.
April 23, 2015, plaintiff filed a pro se complaint
against South County Hospital and Home & Hospice Care.
The plaintiffs were listed as "Michael A. Willner,
individually and as guardian and next best friend of Joyce C.
Willner, and Joyce C. Willner[.]" On August 18, 2015,
plaintiff filed an eight-count first amended complaint
against defendants, including Dr. Mahoney, who was
Joyce's attending physician. The plaintiff was listed as
"Michael A. Willner, individually and as guardian, son,
and/or next friend of Joyce C. Willner[.]"
pretrial discovery, it became clear that plaintiff was the
key witness who would testify in support of the claims
alleged in the amended complaint. The defendants deposed
plaintiff on April 29, 2016. At a hearing on November 20,
2017, the trial justice learned that plaintiff was
representing himself pro se, as well as the
Guardianship of Joyce C. Willner (the Guardianship).
Accordingly, on November 27, 2017, the trial justice issued
an order disqualifying plaintiff from representing the
interests of the Guardianship and allowing him to continue to
represent himself pro se. Because plaintiff was an
attorney and member of the District of Columbia Bar, he then
filed a motion to represent the Guardianship pro hac
vice on December 14, 2017. That motion was denied on
January 22, 2018.
the trial justice's order denying plaintiff's motion
to appear pro hac vice on behalf of the
Guardianship, plaintiff did not retain counsel and continued
to act as counsel for the Guardianship. For example,
plaintiff deposed the representative of South County Hospital
and noticed the deposition of Dr. Mahoney. As a result, in
April 2018, Dr. Mahoney and Home & Hospice Care filed
motions to disqualify plaintiff from acting as attorney for
the Guardianship and to hold him in contempt for failing to
comply with the trial justice's January 22, 2018 order.
The defendants also filed a joint motion to strike the
pleadings filed on behalf of the Guardianship. The trial
justice granted the motion to disqualify and denied the
motion to hold plaintiff in contempt on April 30, 2018, and
granted the motion to strike on May 2, 2018. The trial
justice also ordered plaintiff to obtain counsel for the
Guardianship within thirty days. The plaintiff failed to meet
Dr. Mahoney filed a motion to dismiss the claims brought by
plaintiff in his capacity as Joyce's guardian (and son)
and a motion for summary judgment as to the claims brought
against her by plaintiff individually. South County Hospital
and Home & Hospice Care also moved for summary judgment
as to all eight claims alleged in the first amended
complaint. The trial justice granted the motion to dismiss
and the motions for summary judgment, and dismissed all
claims alleged by plaintiff individually and on behalf of the
Guardianship. Final judgment entered on December 12, 2018,
and plaintiff appealed.
passing on a Rule 12(b) motion to dismiss, 'this Court
applies the same standard as the trial justice.'"
Dent v. PRRC, Inc., 184 A.3d 649, 653 (R.I. 2018)
(quoting Narragansett Electric Company v. Minardi,
21 A.3d 274, 278 (R.I. 2011)). "We thus are confined to
the four corners of the complaint and must assume all
allegations are true, resolving any doubts in plaintiff's
favor." Id. (quoting Minardi, 21 A.3d
at 278). "[A] motion to dismiss may be granted only if
it appears beyond a reasonable doubt that a plaintiff would