Justia Rhode Island Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Environmental Law
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The Supreme Court quashed the judgment of the superior court upholding the decision of the Administrative Adjudication Division (AAD) of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) denying Plaintiffs' request for reasonable litigation expenses in this case alleging violations of the Rhode Island Water Pollution Act (Act) and other regulations, holding that Plaintiffs were entitled to reasonable litigation expenses.Plaintiffs appealed from a notice of violation issued by the DEM alleging ten violations of the Act, the Rhode Island Oil Pollution Control Act, and DEM's regulations. After a hearing before the AAD, Plaintiffs prevailed on all but two of the alleged violations. Plaintiffs requested reasonable litigation expenses under the Equal Access to Justice for Small Businesses and Individuals Act (EAJA), but the AAD hearing officer denied the request. The superior court affirmed. The Supreme Court quashed the superior court's decision, holding that DEM Acted without substantial justification in pursuing charges against Plaintiffs and that this was the type of unjust action by the State that the EAJA was designed to ameliorate. The Court remanded the case with directions to enter a judgment in favor of Plaintiffs in the amount of $69,581.25 for attorneys' fees. View "Rollingwood Acres, Inc. v. Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management" on Justia Law

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In a contested enforcement action, the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) ordered Power Test Realty Company Limited Partnership to remediate a site onto and under which petroleum had been released and imposed an administrative penalty. A hearing justice with the superior court affirmed. Power Test filed a writ of certiorari, arguing that the superior court erred in imposing liability upon it because it did not cause the discharge of petroleum, there was insufficient evidence demonstrating that it had knowledge of the leaching petroleum, and it owned only a portion of the contaminated site. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Power Test was correctly held liable under the OPCA even where Power Test did not cause the initial discharge of contaminants; (2) there was legally competent evidence to conclude that Power Test had knowledge that its property was the source of petroleum contamination; and (3) the superior court properly determined that DEM did not err in holding Power Test liable for remediating both its own property and a nearby parcel. View "Power Test Realty Co. Ltd. P’ship v. Coit" on Justia Law

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When Ferris Avenue Realty, LLC (Ferris) purchased twenty-two acres of property from Huhtamaki, Inc. (Huhtamaki), the parties executed an indemnity agreement providing that, upon the occurrence of certain conditions, Huhtamaki would reimburse Ferris for environmental cleanup costs. After hazardous substances were found on the property and Ferris incurred certain costs related to the cleanup of the substances, Ferris requested indemnification from Huhtamaki. Huhtamaki refused to indemnify Ferris. After a jury trial, judgment was entered in favor of Ferris. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial justice did not err in (1) finding that Ferris’s notice to Huhtamaki constituted sufficient “claim notice” pursuant to the terms of the indemnity agreement; (2) admitting certain testimony from Ferris’s expert witness; (3) admitting evidence relating to excavated soil samples where Ferris excavated the soil before Huhtamaki could test it; and (4) instructing the jury. Lastly, contrary to Huhtamaki’s argument, Ferris’s case was not built on an improper “pyramid of inferences.” View "Ferris Avenue Realty, LLC v. Huhtamaki, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 1998, the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and John, Alfred, and Anna Tillinghast (Defendants) executed a consent agreement regarding the actions Defendants would take to remedy alleged violations of the Freshwater Wetlands Act from the establishment of five campsites in the Bowdish Lake Camping Area. When Defendants purportedly failed to comply with the consent agreement, the superior court appointed a master to resolve the issues in dispute. The master issued a report, and Defendants filed a motion asking the trial justice to approve the master’s report. After a hearing, the trial justice adopted the report and ordered that the master’s findings be implemented. Plaintiff, named in her official capacity as the director of the DEM, appealed. The Supreme Court denied and dismissed the appeal, holding that because the order confirming the master’s report was not final, the appeal was interlocutory and thus not properly before the Court. View "Coit v. Tillinghast" on Justia Law