Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Rhode Island Supreme Court
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In September 2019, Eleticia Garcia hired Ponagansett 2 LLC, doing business as Peter Bibby Heating & Air, to perform mechanical work on her property. The parties signed two contracts, one for the installation of gas lines, water heaters, and boilers, and another for the installation of baseboards. However, Garcia failed to make the agreed-upon payments, leading Ponagansett to file a mechanics' lien against her property. When Garcia did not respond to the complaint, the Superior Court entered a default judgment in favor of Ponagansett.The Superior Court denied Garcia's subsequent motions to vacate the entry of default, to file a counterclaim out of time, to quash the mechanics' lien, and to file an oral proof of claim. Ponagansett then filed a motion for entry of default judgment against Garcia and a petition for attorneys' fees. The Superior Court granted Ponagansett's request to enforce the mechanics' lien, awarded Ponagansett $20,000 plus interest, and granted attorneys' fees of $12,310.27.On appeal to the Supreme Court of Rhode Island, Garcia argued that the mechanics' lien was unenforceable because Ponagansett failed to provide notice of a possible mechanics' lien as required by law. She also contended that the decisions of the hearing justice to award Ponagansett the full payment of $20,000 and exclude the admission of a mechanical permit were reversible errors. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court, holding that Garcia had waived her enforceability argument by failing to timely respond to Ponagansett's complaint. The court also found no error in the hearing justice's award of damages and exclusion of the mechanical permit. View "Ponagansett 2 LLC v. Eleticia Garcia" on Justia Law

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This case concerns a foreclosure proceeding related to a property in Bristol, Rhode Island. The plaintiff, Steven Serenska, obtained a mortgage from Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. and defaulted on his payments. Wells Fargo and HSBC Bank USA, National Association as Trustee, initiated foreclosure proceedings. The plaintiff filed a complaint, alleging that there was an ambiguity in the mortgage document and that he had not received proper notice before the foreclosure.The Supreme Court of Rhode Island held that there was no ambiguity in the mortgage contract. The court found that the notice of default sent to the plaintiff strictly complied with the requirements of the mortgage agreement. The court noted that the plaintiff's alleged prejudice (claiming he would have paid the sum due had he received notice of the deadline for reinstating the mortgage) was irrelevant in this context. The court also found that an issue raised by the plaintiff on appeal (concerning additional language in the notice of default) was not properly presented before the lower court and was therefore waived.The court thus affirmed the order of the Superior Court granting the defendants' motions to dismiss the plaintiff's complaint. View "Serenska v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A." on Justia Law

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In this case, the plaintiff, Jordan Nissensohn, as the administrator of the Estate of Michael Nissensohn, filed a suit against University Medical Group (UMG), Dr. Alan Epstein, and Dr. Steven Sepe, alleging numerous claims including defamation, breach of contract, tortious interference with contractual relations, conversion, and violations of the Rhode Island Whistleblowers’ Protection Act (RIWPA). The Superior Court entered a judgment in favor of the defendants, granting summary judgment.The plaintiff, Dr. Michael Nissensohn, had been employed as a gastroenterologist by UMG and was supervised by Dr. Epstein. The plaintiff had a series of disagreements and conflicts with Dr. Epstein over teaching responsibilities and alleged discrepancies in teaching compensation. The plaintiff also claimed that Dr. Epstein had disclosed his mental health information to another staff member, and had spread a rumor about his mental health. Additionally, the plaintiff claimed that Dr. Epstein interfered with his prospective business relations with patients and his contract, and converted his personal laptop.The Supreme Court of Rhode Island affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court. The court held that the plaintiff did not demonstrate that he engaged in protected conduct under the RIWPA because he did not report actual violations of the law. The court also ruled that the plaintiff's defamation claim abated upon his death and therefore did not survive. Regarding the breach of contract claim, the court found that the plaintiff failed to provide evidence of a breach of the written agreement. The court further held that the plaintiff failed to show that Dr. Epstein intended to harm his contract, which was an essential element of his claim for tortious interference. Lastly, the court found that the plaintiff failed to provide any non-hearsay evidence to prove his demand and refusal, thus failing to establish his claim for conversion. View "Nissensohn v. CharterCARE Home Health Services" on Justia Law

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In a case before the Supreme Court of Rhode Island, plaintiffs Mark Quillen and Dawn Quillen entered into a Purchase and Sales Agreement (P & S Agreement) with defendant Clint Cox to purchase a property for a total sale price of $632,000, which included a $31,000 deposit. An issue arose when the parties' chosen escrow agent, Beycome Brokerage Realty, refused to accept the deposit, leading to an amendment in the agreement that allowed the plaintiffs to submit the deposit to a different brokerage firm, Trusthill. This amendment led to a dispute with the defendant claiming the plaintiffs failed to meet the deposit requirement, thereby breaching the contract.The trial justice in the Superior Court found that the defendant had prevented the plaintiffs from effectuating delivery of the deposit, thereby eliminating the condition precedent. The court also found that the plaintiffs were ready, willing, and able to purchase the property. Despite the defendant's claims, the court concluded that plaintiffs had met all their obligations under the contract. The court ordered specific performance, directing the defendant to transfer the property to the plaintiffs. The defendant's counterclaims for breach of contract, declaratory judgment, and damages were dismissed.On appeal, the Supreme Court of Rhode Island affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court. The court held that the trial justice correctly determined that the plaintiffs timely and properly delivered the deposit in accordance with the amended agreement. The court also agreed with the trial justice's finding that the plaintiffs were ready, willing, and able to purchase the property. The court rejected the defendant's argument that the trial justice failed to apply the clear and convincing standard in her factual findings, noting that the defendant failed to raise this issue in the lower court. The court also dismissed the defendant's contention that he was entitled to the deposit as damages, as the court found no evidence of breach on the part of the plaintiffs. View "Quillen v. Cox" on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute between Griggs & Browne Pest Control Co., Inc. (plaintiff), and its former employee, Brian Walls (defendant). Upon hiring Walls in 2011, the parties entered into a noncompetition agreement, which was updated in 2020. The agreement stipulated that, in return for his training and access to the company's client list, Walls would refrain from soliciting business from or performing services for the company's current or former customers for 24 months after ending his employment with the company.In 2021, the company introduced a new policy requiring all employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccination or terminate their employment. Walls vocally opposed the policy and was told he could no longer resume his employment. A month later, the company discovered that Walls was contacting their former clients and performing pest-control services for them, in violation of the noncompetition agreement. The company initiated a lawsuit to prevent Walls from further violating the agreement.The Superior Court of Rhode Island granted a preliminary injunction in favor of the plaintiff, which Walls appealed. The Supreme Court of Rhode Island affirmed the lower court's decision, determining that the noncompetition agreement was valid and enforceable. The court rejected Walls' argument that he had been improperly terminated due to his refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, noting that the circumstances surrounding his departure were immaterial to the enforcement of the noncompetition agreement. The court also found that the plaintiff would suffer irreparable harm due to loss of customer goodwill if Walls were allowed to continue servicing the company's clients. The balance of equities favored the plaintiff, and the injunction was necessary to uphold the status quo. Therefore, the court affirmed the lower court's decision to grant a preliminary injunction in favor of the plaintiff. View "Griggs & Browne Pest Control Co., Inc. v. Walls" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part the judgment of the superior court in favor of Plaintiffs following the court's grant of summary judgment on counts one (declaratory judgment) and three (anticipatory repudiation) of the complaint, holding that the grants of specific performance and attorneys' fees were improper.After a real estate action soured, Plaintiffs filed a complaint alleging eight counts. On summary judgment, the hearing justice granted a declaratory judgment for Plaintiffs, entered summary judgment for them on their anticipatory repudiation claim, ordered specific performance, and awarded attorney fees. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment in part, holding (1) the hearing justice's grant of specific performance was premature; and (2) Plaintiff raised justiciable issues of fact that impelled this Court to reverse the award of attorneys' fees. View "Bennett v. Steliga" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court in favor of Plaintiff and declaring that the City of Woonsocket improperly terminated Plaintiff's employment with the Woonsocket Police Department in violation of R.I. Gen. Laws 42-28.6-4 of the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights (LEOBOR), holding that there was no error.The order appealed from declared that the city's termination of Plaintiff's employment was unlawful in violation of section 42-28.6-4 of the LEOBOR and that the City must comply with LEOBOR's procedural requirements if it wished to terminate Plaintiff's employment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial justice properly determined that the City improperly terminated Plaintiff's employment and improperly deprived him of the requisite notice and hearing. View "Sosa v. City of Woonsocket" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court quashed the decision of the superior court granting Defendant's motion to compel production of a complete, unreacted copy of a settlement agreement between Plaintiffs and the former codefendants who settled Plaintiffs' claims, holding that the trial justice abused her discretion in granting Defendant's motion.In granting Defendant's motion to compel production, the trial justice concluded that the amount paid in accordance with the settlement agreement was not discoverable "pursuant to Rhode Island and federal law." When Plaintiffs failed to comply with the order the superior court granted Defendant's motion to dismiss. The Supreme Court quashed the decision below and remanded the case, holding that the trial justice abused her discretion in granting Defendant's motion to compel production of a complete, unreacted copy of the settlement agreement. View "Noonan v. Sambandam" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the superior court granting Verizon New England Inc.'s motion to dismiss this complaint related to a billing dispute over a particular telephone service contract, holding that the hearing justice erred in granting Defendant's motion to dismiss, which had been converted sub silentio to a motion for summary judgment.Plaintiff filed a complaint against Verizon alleging false representation and breach of contract stemming from a billing dispute. Verizon filed a motion to dismiss under Sup. Ct. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The hearing justice dismissed Plaintiff's complaint in its entirety with prejudice. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment below, holding that that issues of genuine material fact existed precluding summary judgment. View "Resmini v. Verizon New England Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of Supreme Court in favor of Plaintiff Wilmington Savings Fund Society, FSB in this case involving a dispute over payments due under a promissory note relating to Defendants' mortgage, holding that summary judgment was improperly granted under the terms of this case.Plaintiff's predecessor filed a complaint against Defendants alleging breach of contract. The hearing justice granted summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff. Defendants appealed, arguing that the issue of whether Plaintiff complied with the note's notice provisions was a question of material fact precluding summary judgment. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment below, holding that Plaintiff's failure to send the notice of default to the property address referred to in the note was not in accordance with the terms of the note, and therefore, summary judgment should not have been granted. View "Wilmington Savings Fund Society, FSB v. Cavalloro" on Justia Law