Singer v. Antonopoulos

cyber security case reporter

C.A. No. PC 06-3346
Date: September 18, 2012



        In December 2003, Defendant Sotirios Antonopoulos was employed as a dance host at a function in Newport, Rhode Island. For this dancing event, he was assigned to dance with women who did not appear to have partners. He introduced himself to Rita Singer, the Plaintiff, and danced with her during one event. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Antonopoulos was hired by Ms. Singer as a private dance instructor. For $600, he initially agreed to provide ten private lessons to Ms. Singer for one hour each. As these lessons continued, the parties agreed to more extended lessons. Mr. Antonopoulos instructed Ms. Singer in the garage of her home in Cranston, and on occasion he would escort her to dancing events and charge her as if these were lessons.

        Through 2005, their relationship continued to evolve. Ms. Singer received instruction from other instructors, sometimes with Mr. Antonopoulos present. Mr. Antonopoulos would then assist her in practicing what the other instructors taught. Ms. Singer commenced paying some of Mr. Antonopoulos' personal bills. She made a personal loan to Mr. Antonopoulos of $6000, though the payment terms were never firm to either party. As Ms. Singer objected to Mr. Atonopolous' traveling from Newton, Massachusetts to give her lessons, she requested he use the guestroom at her home. She later paid for his local gym fee and personal trainer, and they discussed entering into various businesses together. Curiously, in July of 2005, Ms. Singer began paying Mr. Antonopoulos' personal bills, rather than writing checks to him. (Ex. L.)

        During the same period, Mr. Antonopoulos began to do work for Ms. Singer around her home. He performed minor repairs, assisted with gardening projects, installed shelves in a shed and painted portions of the exterior of her house. While it was agreed that he would be paid for the carpentry and painting, the amounts and payment dates were never firmly established.

        Mr. Antonopoulos grew concerned that the relationship was becoming more strained as Ms. Singer was becoming more demanding. He stayed in the guestroom on December 1, 2005 so he could teach additional lessons to Ms. Singer on December 2. When he awoke early on December 2, he used his computer, left some of the computer's 'windows' open, and then went to the gym for exercise. Oddly, one of the items left open was a note describing his strained relationship with Ms. Singer, which he had prepared with Amy Mestancik, a friend of his. During the time that Mr. Antonopoulos was at the gym, Ms. Singer entered his room, viewed the computer in part, and forwarded the email from Amy to herself, including the attached note.

        When Mr. Antonopoulos returned about two hours later, he noticed that the windows were closed, and that Ms. Singer was not acting normal. During the dancing lessons of that morning, Ms. Singer seemed unfocused and was unable to cooperate with even basic steps. Not knowing that she had read the email, Mr. Antonopoulos became more and more frustrated and eventually informed Ms. Singer that he was leaving.

        Ms. Singer was concerned about Mr. Antonopoulos and did not want him to leave. She urged him to stay, and fearlessly held him as he left the garage and moved toward the guestroom. Mr. Antonopoulos continued to try to move away from her, and used some force to "peel her off." Eventually, he grabbed her hair, her arms became trapped in the guestroom door, and they continued to struggle. Ms. Singer was significantly bruised, so she went upstairs to her bedroom. Mr. Antonopoulos then moved the cars around to begin to load his materials in the car. When he went outside, Ms. Singer and her housekeeper locked all of the doors, preventing him from coming back in. Nevertheless, Mr. Antonopoulos damaged a steel entry door from the garage, entered the home, retrieved his laptop and other belongings, and then departed. He did not damage any pictures.

        Ms. Singer's housekeeper called the police. On recommendation of the police, Ms. Singer went to the hospital to document her injuries. Later that day, when Ms. Singer visited her hairdresser, the hairdresser noticed damage to her scalp and informed the police.

        As a result of the struggle, Ms. Singer suffered abrasions to her scalp, bruises on her hands and arms, a scratch on her neck, and became apprehensive for several days. Though she claimed sleeplessness and some anxiety, she had similar symptoms prior to December 2.

        Mr. Antonopoulos tracked how much money he charged Ms. Singer for the dance instruction, the work he did for her, and the monies received from her. See Exhibit L.


        The high court encourages hearing tribunals to "articulate [their] assessment of the witnesses' credibility." State v. Forbes, 925 A.2d 929, 935 (R.I. 2007).

        Ms. Singer's credibility is limited. Her testimony included a number of inconsistencies from earlier testimony and documentary evidence. At trial, Ms. Singer acknowledged viewing Mr. Antonopoulos' emails in the guestroom. She denied this in her deposition. In her deposition, Ms. Singer also denied having any criminal history, though her criminal record clearly shows some old misdemeanor charges (Ex. G). Even when asked directly about them at the trial, she denied them. It is important to note that Ms. Singer presented herself (to her credit) as an intelligent, accomplished, self-sufficient, confident woman throughout her testimony. The Court perceived no indication of memory lapses, and these facts were significant and memorable. While she appeared to be authoritative, to the extent that she was strong in controlling her own life and attempted to control her environment, the inconsistencies in her testimony force the Court to conclude that she could be manipulative at times, even attempting to redirect her own attorney's inquiry.

        These inconsistencies leave the Court to focus on others. While Ms. Singer claims, at trial, that the garage door was locked, she told the police that the door was unlocked (Ex. D). She did not mention that it broke, nor did she provide documentary evidence (such as a bill or photograph) that it broke.1 She told her personal physician, Dr. Brex, that she planned to end her relationship with Mr. Antonopoulos that morning (Ex. 1), a fact she did not reveal to the police, or at trial. She claimed, at trial, that she missed work. Ms. Singer never documented this at trial and Dr. Brex's records state that she missed no time from work. The Court therefore is left to question how she was hurt and the extent of her injuries (particularly in light of Dr. Stewart's thorough analysis of her complaints and documented injuries). Her version of the facts of the morning of December 1 was odd. She claims that Mr. Antonopoulos started the assault and then abruptly left, without any real reason ever offered. The Court is left to doubt that version. Ms. Singer's credibility is quite limited.

        Ms. Singer's version of the facts is supported, in large part, by the deposition testimony of her housecleaner. Isabel Fortes was not presented at trial. This absence was never explained, and the attorneys agreed to submit her deposition testimony (with several other transcripts) as full exhibits. It is obviously challenging for a trier of fact to determine one's demeanor without seeing them in person or video. Ms. Fortes continued to work for Ms. Singer through the time of her testimony (Fortes depo., p. 24) and her testimony was strikingly similar to that of Ms. Singer's. It was very inconsistent from Ms. Singer's police statement (Ex. D) as Ms. Singer never stated that Mr. Antonopoulos placed her on the car or broke the door. The credibility of Ms. Fortes' deposition testimony is therefore in doubt.

        Mr. Antonopoulos' testimony was far more logical and consistent. He answered questions directly and appropriately. He acknowledged struggling with Ms. Singer, but describes how he attempted to avoid her grasp. He admitted entering the home when Ms. Singer was attempting to lock him out, eventually forcing his way in. He also acknowledges leaving before the police arrived, but explained the events. He was credible for most of his testimony but grew frustrated at times during the extensive cross-examination. During Plaintiff's inquiry of Mr. Antonopoulos painting, he became extremely defensive and intentionally vague, rendering that testimony less than credible. His damages estimates are therefore in question. Further, he pled nolo contendere to disorderly conduct in the previous criminal action regarding this incident.

        Attorney John Gallagher testified regarding Mr. Antonopoulos' character. While Attorney Gallagher was consistent, cooperative and credible, he was a roommate and friend of Mr. Antonopoulos for several years.

        Dr. Michael Stewart was retained as Defendant's expert to review Ms. Singer's medical records. Though paid by Mr. Antonopoulos, he did not know either party. The Court found him professional, cooperative to both attorneys, consistent, logical, responsive, thorough, thoughtful and very credible. In sum, he revealed that Ms. Singer's injuries were far more consistent with the facts as testified by Mr. Antonopoulos (that she held him and he tried to remove her while dragging her along) as opposed to being thrown on a car and on a couch.

        Ms. Mestancik is a close personal friend of Mr. Antonopoulos. She testified concerning the email and her prior dealings with Ms. Singer. Ms. Mestancik's field of knowledge was limited to meeting Ms. Singer briefly and organizing Mr. Antonopoulos' records. While her credibility remains intact, her opinion of Ms. Singer is suspect as she is clearly a devoted friend of Mr. Antonopoulos.

        Elizabeth Houde's deposition was introduced as a full exhibit. A licensed family and marital therapist, she had numerous sessions with Ms. Singer in 2005 and 2006. Testifying only from memory as her records were lost in a fire, she had no recollection of seeing physical injuries, or knowing Ms. Singer's other health problems. While she testified that Ms. Singer was traumatized, her testimony seemed generalized as though she did not have a sharp recollection of specific sessions. It was her recollection that Ms. Singer believed she was trapped in a relationship with Mr. Antonopoulos. Of course, Ms. Houde had no first-hand knowledge of the alleged assault, and met with Ms. Singer for several months after the assault. Again, it is difficult to gauge the credibility of a witness who does not appear, but Ms. Houde's recollection was limited.


A. Ms. Singer's Claims Against Mr. Antonopoulos

        In the first two counts of the Complaint, Ms. Singer alleges assault and battery. While Mr. Antonopoulos may have technically committed an offensive, unconsented touching, he was only reacting to escape Ms. Singer's grasp of him. Proffitt v. Ricci, 463 A.2d 514 (R.I. 1983). Mr. Antonopoulos never placed Ms. Singer in fear of imminent bodily harm, for if she apprehended injury, she would not have clung to him. He never threatened her or offered a bodily injury, nor did he place her in fear. Through it all, she continued her grasp and clearly was not in fear of him.

        Mr. Antonopoulos did not intend to hurt Ms. Singer, only to remove her hold upon him. In doing so he used a permissible degree of force, reasonable under the circumstances. Intent to harm her or impose serious injury was never demonstrated; rather, the Court finds that he sought to minimize injury, in the midst of her odd actions. He did not intend to hurt her or cause serious bodily injury.2 Intent will not be inferred, for he did not set in motion the force that caused the injury—Ms. Singer did. See Great American E & S Ins. Co. v. End Zone Pub & Grill of Narragansett, Inc., 45 A.3d 571, 576 (R.I. 2012).

        Mr. Antonopoulos' actions in self-defense negate the finding of an assault or a battery. As our high court recently declared, in a criminal context

It is axiomatic that self-defense excuses or justifies an otherwise criminal assault and battery because the actor fears for her own safety and is entitled to use appropriate force to prevent, avoid, or combat an advancing attacker. State v. Pineda, 13 A.3d 623, 632 (R.I. 2011), citations excluded.

Judgment shall enter for Defendant on each claim and on Counts 1 and 2, hence no compensatory or punitive damages are appropriate.

        The third count of Ms. Singer's Complaint alleges a failure to pay monies lent. It was established, and never disputed, that Ms. Singer loaned $6000 to Mr. Antonopoulos (Exhibits 3, L) on January 20, 2005. No other terms were established for this loan, such as the due date, interest rate, penalties, security or payment method. Obviously, demand for repayment has now been made, therefore the Court concludes that $6000 is now due and owing on this loan and gives judgment to Ms. Singer for $6000.

        Mr. Antonopoulos suggests that the loan was partially repaid by his performance of work on her property. He never established, to the satisfaction of the Court, that the parties agreed that his work would constitute a credit on the loan. In his own accounting record (Ex. L) Mr. Antonopoulos credits the value of his work against the loan, when Ms. Singer has insufficient funds on account with him. As there was no agreement to do so, the Court will not redraw the terms of the loan on its own, though it recognizes that Mr. Antonopoulos has a separate count for monies due by Ms. Singer, which will be discussed below.

        Judgment on Count 3 of Plaintiff's Complaint is therefore awarded to Ms. Singer, and Mr. Antonopoulos shall pay damages of $6000.

B. Mr. Antonopoulos' Claims Against Ms. Singer

        Mr. Antonopoulos alleged six separate counterclaims against Ms. Singer which will be discussed in turn.

1. False Imprisonment

        In the first count, Mr. Antonopoulos suggests that Ms. Singer falsely imprisoned him when she prevented him from leaving the home, specifically by hugging him, holding him and preventing him from moving for several moments on the morning of December 2, 2005. While Ms. Singer was attempting to prevent Mr. Antonopoulos from leaving her home at the time, Mr. Antonopoulos was not attempting to leave. Rather, he just broke the garage entry door to get to the guestroom to collect his personal property. After the hold was broken, Mr. Antonopoulos closed the door to the guestroom and Ms. Singer went to another floor in the house. Mr. Antonopoulos was able to leave thereafter.

        To establish a false imprisonment, Mr. Antonopoulos must establish a confinement which he did not consent to.
"To establish this cause of action, a plaintiff must show more than that (1) the defendant intended to confine him, (2) the plaintiff was conscious of the confinement, (3) the plaintiff did not consent to the confinement, and (4) the confinement was not otherwise privileged." Id. The plaintiff must also show that he or she was detained without legal justification. Johnson v. Palange, 122 R.I. at 361, 364, 406 a.2D 360, 362 (1979). Dyson v. City of Pawtucket, 670 A.2d 233, 239 (R.I. 1996). See also Illas v. Przybyla, 850 A.2d 937, 942 (R.I. 2004).
Any limitation of movement was fleeting and limited. Indeed, emotions were heightened by Mr. Antonopoulos rushing from door to door, and breaking the entry door. Nevertheless, as he established a momentary, unconsented confinement, liability has been established. No damages have been proven other than a mere inconvenience. Mr. Antonopoulos was not hurt, was not confined for more than a few minutes, and not placed in fear for more than a moment (as he moved about freely within her guestroom and left thereafter). While there was some testimony concerning a sore back, neither an injury nor a causal connection was established to a preponderance of the evidence. No damages were established. Therefore, he is awarded nominal damages of $10, no other compensatory damages and, as he showed no intent, gross recklessness or behavior amounting to criminal conduct, he is awarded no punitive damages, attorneys' fees or costs for this count.

2. Assault and Battery

An assault is a physical act of a threatening nature or an offer of corporal injury which puts an individual in reasonable fear of imminent bodily harm. The plaintiff's apprehension of injury renders defendant's act compensable. Proffitt v. Ricci, 463 A.2d 514, 517 (R.I. 1983), citations deleted.

More recently, our high court reviewed the elements of battery.

Battery refers to an act that was intended to cause, and does cause, an offensive contact with or unconsented touching of or trauma upon the body of another, thereby generally resulting in the consummation of the assault. State v. Albanese, 970 A.2d 1215, 1221 (R.I. 2009), quotations and citations deleted.

        Mr. Antonopoulos never established that he was in fear of harm. He proved his reaction was to promptly and rationally remove her, inferring that he had no fear. While an assault of Mr. Antonopoulos did not occur, a battery did, as the touching was unconsented and even offensive. At that time, Mr. Antonopoulos did not wish to touch her, he wished to retreat to the guestroom and collect his belongings. Ms. Singer intentionally tried to hold and restrain him from doing so.

        While Ms. Singer did commit battery upon Mr. Antonopoulos, he failed to establish substantial damages, or a causal connection to damages. As indicated above, the Court is convinced that it was nothing more than momentary anxiety and disruption, which dissipated promptly thereafter. Nominal damages of $10 are awarded for the battery. No other compensatory damages were established.

3. Statutory Claims

        The third count of the counterclaim claims violations of R.I.G.L. § 11-52-1 et seq., and an invasion of privacy. The claim of computer crime is based on a statute:

11-52-4.1. Computer trespass.—

(a) It shall be unlawful for any person to use a computer or computer network without authority and with the intent to:
(1) ...
(6) Make or cause to be made an unauthorized copy, in any form, including, but not limited to, any printed or electronic form of computer data, computer programs, or computer software residing in, communicated by, or produced by a computer or computer network;
(7) ...
R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-52-4.1.

        While Mr. Antonopoulos suggests remedies should be provided as set forth in other statutes, this statutory chapter specifically establishes its own remedies, criminal and civil. The statute specifically allows for compensatory damages, punitive damages, court costs and reasonable attorneys' fees. Sec. 11-52-6.

        The Court finds that Ms. Singer did make and transmit a copy of an email and attached note, each of which Mr. Antonopoulos obviously considered personal. She transmitted those documents to herself, either to preserve them or to give herself an opportunity to review them or use them. These actions were prohibited by the statute.

        Again, Mr. Antonopoulos is unable to establish significant compensatory damages, but it is clear that he was harmed as his privacy was violated in contravention of this statute. He is awarded $10 in nominal damages.

        The third counterclaim also references another statute:

9-1-28.1. Right to privacy—Action for deprivation of right.—

(a) Right to privacy created. It is the policy of this state that every person in this state shall have a right to privacy which shall be defined to include any of the following rights individually:

(1) The right to be secure from unreasonable intrusion upon one's physical solitude or seclusion;

(i) In order to recover for violation of this right, it must be established that:

(A) It was an invasion of something that is entitled to be private or would be expected to be private;

(B) The invasion was or is offensive or objectionable to a reasonable man; although,

(ii) The person who discloses the information need not benefit from the disclosure.

(b) Right of action. Every person who subjects or causes to be subjected any citizen of this state or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to a deprivation and/or violation of his or her right to privacy shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or any other appropriate proceedings for redress in either the superior court or district court of this state. The court having jurisdiction of an action brought pursuant to this section may award reasonable attorneys' fees and court costs to the prevailing party.

        Clearly, Mr. Antonopoulos was frustrated and annoyed when he discovered that Ms. Singer not only viewed his email, but forwarded it to herself without his permission. While the reasonable man may consider this as something private, it was neither "an unreasonable intrusion upon one's physical solitude or seclusion," nor was it something that Mr. Antonopoulos kept private. In fact, he left the email open on his computer window, with the computer on, in the guestroom of her home. He knew that Ms. Fontes would be in the house to clean that morning, but he did nothing to protect the document. Without closing the window, or using password protection on the computer, the document was not left private. Section 9-1-28.1 was not crafted to penalize such transgressions.

4. Slander and Libel

        Mr. Antonopoulos contends that Ms. Singer defamed him when she suggested that he was her live-in companion, that he assaulted her, and that he committed domestic violence. In fact, he did live in her home by sleeping in the guestroom, eating meals with her and the like. Although they were not constantly together, they were living together, at least some of the time. If he did assault her, it could have been considered "domestic violence." See R.I.G.L. § 12-29-2(b). Indeed, this Court has now found that an assault was committed during this time, by Ms. Singer.

        Ms. Singer's inappropriate characterization of what happened was never established to be intentional—those statements occurred during private conversations with her therapist. With the loss of the therapists' records, this Court is unable to make any conclusion concerning what Ms. Singer actually said during her sessions. All witnesses had a very vague recollection of the actual words. Additionally, these were statements only for private treatment and therefore not intended to be communicated to others.

        The statements to the police were uttered, in large part, shortly after the struggle. More significantly, this Court fails to find that the Defendant was held in disrepute (that is, that his reputation was harmed in any way) or that he suffered any other compensatory damages. Unable to find compensatory damages for Mr. Antonopoulos, any unprivileged communication to a third party or any false and defamatory statement, neither slander nor libel was established. Though Mr. Antonopoulos alleges that Ms. Singer spoke defamatory lies to the police, he pled to disorderly conduct and malicious damage (Defendant's Post-Trial Mem., p. 2) , thereby acknowledging his own criminal behavior.

5. Contract Damages

        Skipping to Count 6, Mr. Antonopoulos has requested an award of contract damages for his work on Ms. Singer's property. Mr. Antonopoulos established, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Ms. Singer and Mr. Antonopoulos agreed he would be paid for painting the house and certain repairs for the shed. The Court cannot find they agreed to pay him for all work he performed. There was no agreed price or value to his work on the home. As there was no evidence that Mr. Antonopoulos stood by his work or discussed his experience, and the Court cannot find that his work fell beneath the quality expected, the Court will not infer any warranty for an extended time. In the same, the Court will not imply a substantial hourly rate for his services or an agreement to pay for mileage, or other expenses except those which Ms. Singer has already reimbursed him for specifically, and the purchase of items for her home.

        The Court will compensate Mr. Antonopoulos for his dance instruction and for attending other instruction of Ms. Singer at the agreed $60 per hour rate. The Court will compensate Mr. Antonopoulos for his other service at the $12 per hour rate. With the assistance of Exhibit L and other evidence, this Court concludes that the value of the dance lessons given and instruction viewed (at $60/hr.) amounts to $18,115. The value of the allowed miscellaneous work performed by Mr. Antonopoulos at Ms. Singer's house (at $12/hr.) amounts to $1998.3 Her obligation under the agreements, therefore, totaled $20,113.

        Per Exhibit L,4 Ms. Singer made payments by checks for dance lessons totaling $13,455. She also paid personal expenses for Mr. Antonopoulos in the amount of $6130.98.5 Her total credits to him are therefore $19,585.98. Therefore, Ms. Singer has paid $19,585.98 toward the obligation of $20,113.00 and still owes $527.02 on the contract.

6. Punitive Damages

        Mr. Antonopoulos' final claim, contained in Count 5 of the counterclaim, is for an award of punitive damages. Punitive damages are awarded infrequently:

This Court consistently has looked askance at punitive damages except in egregious circumstances. Punitive damages are appropriate only in the rare circumstances when "a defendant's conduct requires deterrence and punishment over and above that provided in an award of compensatory damages." Palmisano v. Toth, 624 A.2d 314, 318 (R.I. 1993) (citing Davet v. Maccarone, 973 F.2d 22, 27 (1st Cir. 1992)). A party seeking punitive damages must produce "'evidence of such willfulness, recklessness or wickedness, on the part of the party at fault, as amount[s] to criminality' that should be punished." Bourque v. Stop & Shop Companies, Inc., 814 A.2d 320, 326 (R.I. 2003) (per curiam) (quoting Mark v. Congregation Mishkon Tefiloh, 745 A.2d 777, 779 (R.I. 2000)).

Fenwick v. Oberman, 847 A.2d 852, 855 (R.I. 2004).

        Here, Ms. Singer's actions were extremely reckless and willful. Not only did she act deplorably on one occasion, she compounded her misbehavior again and again. First, she looked at his email and forwarded it to herself, when he was not present. Next, she clutched him to get him to stay, leaving him to grapple with her in an attempt to avoid her grip. Then, she called the police to assert that he had battered her. Clearly, these repetitive misdeeds require deterrence and punishment above that provided in the compensatory damage award. They display significant recklessness (if not willfulness or wickedness) so as to amount to criminality.

        While punitive damages are justified, Mr. Antonopoulos was not hurt and will recover for his losses. Mindful of our high court's warnings that punitive damages are extraordinary sanctions, disfavored in the law, and awarded only with great caution and narrow limits, Palmisano, p. 318, the Court will reasonably tailor its award for such relief.

        A plaintiff is not required to submit a threshold amount of evidence concerning a defendant's wealth or financial condition to obtain punitive damages. Castellucci v. Battista, 847 A.2d 243, 246 (R.I. 2004). Though the Defendant should not sit idly by, the Court is not in a position to infer that Ms. Singer is an individual with tremendous wealth. Although she is employed, owns a home, a business and car, the Court knows of no significant wealth and therefore establishes a punitive damage award of $8,000 herein.


        Judgment is given to the Defendant on the first two counts of the Complaint. Judgment is given to the Plaintiff on the third count of the Complaint for $6000. Judgment is given to Mr. Antonopoulos on Counts 1, 2 and 3 of the counterclaim, for nominal damages only, totaling $30. Judgment is given to Ms. Singer on Count 4 of the counterclaim. Judgment is given to Mr. Antonopoulos on Count 5 of the counterclaim for $8000 in punitive damages. Judgment is given to Mr. Antonopoulos on Count 6 of the counterclaim for $527.02.

        Therefore, on the Complaint, Ms. Singer is due a total of $6000 for monies due and owing by Mr. Antonopoulos on monies lent. On the Counterclaim, Mr. Antonopoulos is due $30 in nominal damages, $527.02 in contract damages and $8000 for punitive damages.

        Costs are awarded to the respective parties. The award of attorneys' fees is denied.

        1. Mr. Antonopolous paid restitution for the door in the criminal case.
        2. Even though Ms. Singer suffered abrasions on her arms and scalp, she placed herself in harm's way and Mr. Antonopolous was merely seeking to remove her hold.
        3. The Court found 166.5 hours to be chargeable and appropriate for this work.
        4. The Court viewed Exhibit 3 as well, but considered Exhibit L to be more complete, accurate and reliable.
        5. The Court factored out business expenses but included the shower gift and the winter ball tickets of November 2005, as shown on Exhibit 3.

Case Type
Case Division