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Rinaldo v. Green Mountain Self Storage

Supreme Court of Vermont

January 9, 2015

Michael Rinaldo
v.
Green Mountain Self Storage and Jim O'Dell

Editorial Note:

This decision has been designated as "Supreme Court of Vermont Appeals Disposed of Without Published Opinion or Memorandum Decision." table in the Atlantic Reporter

Appeal from: Superior Court, Benn. Civ. Division. DOCKET NO. 332-8-13 Bncv. Trial Judge: John P. Wesley.

Dooley, Beth Robinson, and Eaton, Jr., J.J.

OPINION

ENTRY ORDER

In the above-entitled cause, the Clerk will enter:

Plaintiff appeals pro se from the trial court's order granting summary judgment to defendants and dismissing his complaint with prejudice. We affirm as to defendant Green Mountain Self Storage (" Green Mountain" ), but reverse and remand as to defendant Jim O'Dell.

The record indicates the following. In August 2013, plaintiff sued Green Mountain alleging that it had illegally sold his personal property from several storage units and that it was scheduled to sell more of his property at an auction on August 17, 2013. Plaintiff asserted that certain storage units were " his" although they had been rented by others. O'Dell apparently purchased the contents of a storage unit that had been rented by someone other than plaintiff. Plaintiff suggested that he had an agreement with O'Dell to recover his belongings, and that according to O'Dell's girlfriend, O'Dell was not going to turn over plaintiff's belongings. Plaintiff also alleged that Green Mountain violated his constitutional rights. He claimed to have suffered $12.5 million in damages.

In conjunction with his complaint, plaintiff also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order, seeking to prevent his property from being sold at the August 17 auction. The court denied plaintiff's request. It found that plaintiff failed to establish a clear right to relief because the evidence showed that plaintiff had been given notice by Green Mountain of unpaid storage fees and the potential sale of the property if payments were not made, and Green Mountain had published notice in the newspaper concerning the sale of plaintiff's property.[1]

On April 2, 2014, Green Mountain moved for summary judgment. It argued that plaintiff could not sustain a claim for the illegal sale of his property because plaintiff's property had not in fact been sold; plaintiff had no standing to challenge the sale of property from other storage units; and plaintiff could not sue Green Mountain for violating his due process rights because Green Mountain was not a state actor. The court found that plaintiff did not challenge any of the undisputed facts identified by Green Mountain.[2]

In a June 2014 decision, the court granted Green Mountain's motion for summary judgment. It found that Green Mountain did not violate 9 V.S.A. § 3905 because it was undisputed that Green Mountain did not sell property from the storage units rented by plaintiff. See 9 V.S.A. § § 3904, 3905 (stating that owner of self-storage facility has possessory lien upon all personal property located in storage space at self-storage facility, and providing procedure by which lien may be enforced). In fact, Green Mountain indicated that it wanted plaintiff to retrieve his belongings and that it would forgive plaintiff's unpaid debts. This claim therefore failed.

The court found that plaintiff's second claim failed as well. Plaintiff asserted that he owned some of the property in storage units rented by other individuals and that Green Mountain sold this property at auction. The court explained that 9 V.S.A. § 3905 provided protections to lienholders but did not require a storage unit owner to give notice to a third party who claimed ownership without proof.

Finally, the court found that plaintiff could not show that Green Mountain violated his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Plaintiff did not allege that Green Mountain was a state actor or that it acted on behalf of the State. As the court recognized, parties may not sue private individuals or organizations for constitutional violations unless they act on behalf of a state or government. See Edmonson v. Leesville Concrete Co., 500 U.S. 614, 620, 111 S.Ct. 2077, 114 L.Ed.2d 660 (1991) (discussing test for when private party functions as state actor). In this case, plaintiff could not maintain his suit because Green Mountain acted as a private party. The court thus concluded that Green Mountain was entitled to summary judgment, and it dismissed plaintiff's complaint with prejudice. This appeal followed.

Plaintiff makes numerous arguments, setting forth his version of events and complaining about various actions by defendants and by the court. We emphasize that the only question before this Court is whether the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to defendants. We review the court's decision using the same standard as employed below. Richart v. Jackson, 171 Vt. 94, 97, 758 A.2d 319 (2000). Summary judgment is appropriate when, " taking all allegations made by the nonmoving party as true, there are no genuine issues of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Id.; V.R.C.P. 56(a). We ...


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