Sousa v. Roy, 011921 RISC, 2019-140-Appeal

Docket Nº2019-140-Appeal
Opinion JudgePAUL A. SUTTELL, CHIEF JUSTICE
Party NameTammi Sousa et al. v. Gilbert Roy, Jr., individually and as Trustee of The Gilbert F. Roy, Jr. Residence Trust-2005.
AttorneyFor Plaintiffs: Robert J. Ameen, Esq. For Defendant: Christopher M. Lefebvre, Esq.
Judge PanelPresent: Suttell, C.J., Flaherty, and Robinson, JJ. Justice Goldberg, Justice Lynch Prata, and Justice Long did not participate. Justice Flaherty
Case DateJanuary 19, 2021
CourtSupreme Court of Rhode Island

Tammi Sousa et al.

v.

Gilbert Roy, Jr., individually and as Trustee of The Gilbert F. Roy, Jr. Residence Trust-2005.

No. 2019-140-Appeal

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

January 19, 2021

Providence County PC 13-5564 Superior Court Sarah Taft-Carter, Associate Justice

For Plaintiffs: Robert J. Ameen, Esq.

For Defendant: Christopher M. Lefebvre, Esq.

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

OPINION

PAUL A. SUTTELL, CHIEF JUSTICE

The plaintiffs, Tammi Sousa (Sousa) and Charles G. Thibeault III (Thibeault) (collectively plaintiffs), appeal from the grant of judgment as a matter of law in favor of the defendant, Gilbert F. Roy, Jr., individually and as trustee of The Gilbert F. Roy, Jr. Residence Trust-2005 (defendant). This case came before the Supreme Court 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 judgment of the Superior Court.

I

Facts and Travel

Prior to their respective deaths, Flora I. Roy and Gilbert Roy, Sr., owned a house located at 44 Ashburne Street in Pawtucket (the property).1 In approximately 1989, the couple's daughter, Linda Mary Roy, contributed funds to build an addition onto the property. After the addition was built, Linda lived at the property with her children, who are the plaintiffs in this matter. Gilbert, Sr., died in 1997, and, in 1998, Flora signed a quitclaim deed conveying the property to defendant, who is Linda's brother, with a reserved life estate for herself. Flora also executed a will, bequeathing to Linda her car and $25, 000, bequeathing to defendant her kitchen set, and bequeathing the rest and residue of her estate to Linda and defendant in equal shares. Flora then gave the will to defendant, enclosed in an envelope. In 2005, defendant conveyed his legal ownership in the property to himself, as trustee of the Gilbert F. Roy, Jr. Residence Trust-2005.

Flora lived on the property until her death in 2010. Following Flora's death, defendant and his wife moved onto the property, where Linda continued to live. The plaintiffs allege that in 2011 defendant signed a statement acknowledging that Linda was "entitled to 50% of the proceeds, at the time of a sale and minus all expenses that [defendant had] incurred for the property" (the statement). The plaintiffs further allege that, following Linda's death in 2012, they asked defendant to sell the property and to distribute the sale proceeds, but defendant refused to do so and continued to live at the property.

The plaintiffs thereafter filed a complaint in Providence County Superior Court, asking for a declaratory judgment that defendant was holding the property in a constructive trust for their benefit, with plaintiffs having "the right upon the sale of the real estate to $25, 000.00 of the sale proceeds plus one-half of the balance of the sale proceeds[, ]" and asking the court to order defendant to convey a co-tenancy interest to them. The plaintiffs further asked that, if defendant refused to sell the property, the court appoint a commissioner to do so. They also asked for monetary damages and asserted claims of promissory estoppel and unjust enrichment.

According to plaintiffs' amended complaint, after Gilbert, Sr.'s death, Flora conveyed the property to defendant, "but with the family intention and understanding that Linda owned one-half of the house and that upon the eventual sale of the house either at her direction or following her death that she or plaintiffs would be due $25, 000.00 to compensate Linda for her contribution of the funds for the house addition, and that the balance of the sale proceeds would be equally shared, one-half to Linda or her children if Linda died before the sale, and one-half to defendant or as he might designate if he died before the sale."

The plaintiffs called five witnesses at the jury trial: defendant; Sousa; Thibeault; defendant's wife; and Edward Stachurski, a licensed real estate broker and certified general appraiser.

The defendant testified that, although Flora gave him an envelope containing her will, he did not open the envelope until 2005, when he met with his attorney to execute his own will. The defendant also testified that, until that day in 2005, he was not aware that he owned the property; according to defendant, his mother had not discussed the conveyance with him. He testified that he did not make any statements to his mother to influence her to sign the deed to the property over to him in 1998, nor did he discuss with her any issue concerning ownership of the property or the distribution of any proceeds upon its eventual sale.

The defendant additionally testified that, due to Linda's "nagging[, ]" he wrote the statement, dated March 9, 2011, that acknowledged that his sister was "entitled to 50 percent of the proceeds, at the time of sale minus all the expenses that I have incurred for the property[, ]" and that, if she did not survive defendant, plaintiffs would be given her share. He described it as "a proposal" and his "offer to her[, ]" and that he was "waiting for her to sign it so as to make some kind of a deal." He testified that Linda altered the statement by inserting the words "after your death[, ]" meaning Linda's death, handed it back to him, and said it was "[n]ot acceptable" because she did not want her children to have to pay any expenses. According to defendant, there were no further discussions about the statement. He testified that, after Linda died, he denied possession of the property to plaintiffs because "it was [his] house."

Sousa testified that, at some point in 1990 or 1991, there was a family conversation involving Linda, Flora, and Gilbert, Sr., about the money Linda had contributed to the addition on the property. She testified that her grandparents told Linda that she would get extra money, approximately $25, 000, from the sale of the property for her contribution, and that "they'd split the house." Sousa testified that defendant was not part of these discussions and would not have known about the understanding. Additionally, Sousa testified that Gilbert, Sr., said that her stepfather, Linda's husband, "was no good, he was a drunk and a gambler," and that "they didn't want him to be able to take anything of my mother's."

Sousa further testified that she encouraged Linda to get something in writing about her partial ownership of the property, after defendant moved in, so that her mother would be protected. Sousa thereafter identified the statement, which was given to her by Linda on March 10, 2011. Sousa testified that Linda thought she and her children were "all set" after defendant signed the statement "acknowledg[ing Linda's] interest in the house[, ]" "[e]xcept for the $25, 000 that wasn't on it."

Similar to Sousa, Thibeault testified that his grandfather stated that his stepfather was "not getting any of this property because the way he is, so your mom's name is not going on anything." He testified that defendant was not present at any family conversations between 1990 and 1998 regarding the property and Linda's interest in the property. He also testified that he remembered defendant, between 2010 and 2012, saying to Thibeault and Linda: "I will take care of you guys, you guys get 50 percent of the house, an extra 25, 000, and I'm not even interested in the house because I'm retiring and moving to Florida because I own seven properties there." He further testified that defendant told him, "The only reason why your mom is not on here is because of" his stepfather.

Edward Stachurski was qualified as "an expert in the field" of real estate appraisal. He testified that in 2018 plaintiffs asked him to appraise the fair rental value of the property, which he estimated was $1, 800 per month between 2012 and 2018. The plaintiffs' attorney then asked Stachurski whether they had also requested the fair...

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