Justia Rhode Island Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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The Supreme Court vacated the order of the superior court denying the motion filed by a teachers' union and Jennifer Leyden (collectively, the Union) to vacate an arbitration award and granting the City of Providence's motion to confirm the award, holding that the trial justice erred in holding that the decision of the Employees' Retirement System of Rhode Island (the Retirement Board) granting Leyden's application for an ordinary disability retirement retired Leyden as a matter of law. Leyden, a school teacher, was awarded workers' compensation benefits after she was assaulted by students. The Retirement Board later approved Leyden's application for an ordinary disability retirement. While she was receiving workers' compensation benefits, Leyden sought reinstatement to her former teaching position. However, the School Department considered her to be retired. The Union filed a grievance, and the matter proceeded to arbitration. The arbitrator ruled in favor of the School Department, concluding that the Retirement Board had retired Leyden when it granted her request for an ordinary disability pension, and therefore, the Union had no standing to represent her. The superior court confirmed the award. The Supreme Court vacated the superior court's order, holding that Leyden's grievance that she was denied an appointment for the upcoming academic year was substantively arbitrable. View "Providence Teachers' Union Local 958, AFT, AFL-CIO v. Hemond" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court granting Plaintiffs' request for declaratory and injunctive relief and ruling that the Town of Barrington lacked authority under its Home Rule Charter to enact an ordinance banning the sale of flavored tobacco products and prohibiting the providing of any tobacco products to persons under the age of twenty-one (the Tobacco Ordinance), holding that the Town lacked the authority to enact the Tobacco Ordinance. Specifically, the Court held that, while the Tobacco Ordinance was enacted to protect public health and safety, the ordinance constituted legislation concerning a matter of statewide concern, and therefore, it fringed upon the power of the state. Further, because the Town lacked the authority under its Home Rule Charter to enact the ordinance, the hearing justice did not err in declining to decide whether the ordinance was preempted by state law. View "K&W Automotive, LLC v. Town of Barrington" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed an order and judgment of the superior court granting the Rhode Island Department of Health's (Department) motion to dismiss Physicians' complaint, quashed a later judgment of the superior court granting the physicians' motion to enter default judgment against the Department, and remanded this case for further proceedings, holding that a default judgment against an agency in this case was inappropriate. The Department made a finding of unprofessional conduct against Physicians. Physicians move to dismiss the charges filed against them. The hearing officer denied the motion. Physicians then filed a complaint appealing the order. A hearing justice granted the Department's motion to dismiss the complaint without prejudice to them seeking review after they had exhausted their administrative remedies. The Supreme Court then granted Physicians' petition for writ of certiorari, and a second hearing justice granted Physicians' motion to enter default judgment because the Department did not submit the certified administrative record of the appeal. The Supreme Court held (1) the first hearing justice correctly found that the case was interlocutory and therefore premature; and (2) the second hearing justice exceeded his discretion when he entered default judgment in favor of Physicians. View "Banki v. Fine" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and quashed in part the final decree of the Workers' Compensation Court (WCC) upholding an award of accidental disability benefits for occupational cancer to Petitioner, holding that the WCC had jurisdiction to hear Petitioner's appeal but erred in finding that R.I. Gen. Laws 45-19.1-1 contains a conclusive presumption that all cancer in firefighters is occupational cancer. Petitioner served as a firefighter for the City of Cranston until he was diagnosed with colon cancer. Petitioner applied for accidental disability benefit based upon his cancer diagnosis. The Retirement Board of the Municipal Employees' Retirement System of Rhode Island denied the application, finding that Petitioner did not prove that his cancer arose out of and in the course of his employment as a firefighter. The WCC then filed his petition arguing that, pursuant to chapter 19.1 of title 45, all cancers contracted by firefighters are presumed to be work-related. The trial judge agreed and reversed the board. The Supreme Court quashed the decree in part, holding that chapter 19.1 of title 45 does not contain any presumption that all cancers in firefighters are occupational cancers. View "Lang v. Municipal Employees' Retirement System of Rhode Island" on Justia 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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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Retirement Board of the Employee Retirement System of Providence (the Board) denying Petitioner's application for accidental disability retirement benefits and instead awarding her ordinary disability benefits, holding that there was legally competent evidence supporting the Board's decision to deny Petitioner accidental disability retirement benefits. Petitioner, who served as a bus monitor for the City of Providence, submitted an application for accidental-disability retirement benefits to Respondent, the Employees' Retirement System of Providence, alleging that she had suffered a work-related injury. The Board denied Petitioner's application and instead granted Petitioner ordinary disability benefits. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Board based its decision on legally competent evidence that Petitioner's employment was not the natural and proximate cause of her disability. View "Trinidad v. Employees' Retirement System of Providence" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the September 20, 2016 judgment of the superior court entering judgment against Family Dollar Stores of Rhode Island, Inc. and affirmed the November 9, 2016 order of the superior court granting Family Dollar's emergency motion for a thirty-day extension of time within which to file its notice of appeal, holding that the hearing justice erred in dismissing Family Dollar's declaratory judgment action. Family Dollar filed this action against Justin B. Araujo seeking a declaratory judgment that the parties had entered into an enforceable settlement agreement releasing Family Dollar from claims that Araujo asserted against it in his charge before the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights and also alleging breach of contract. The Commission was added as an additional party to the case. The hearing justice granted Defendants' motions to dismiss on the basis that the proper forum for this action was before the Commission. Family Dollar later filed an emergency motion for a thirty-day time extension, which the hearing justice granted. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part, holding (1) the hearing justice did not abuse his discretion in finding excusable neglect in this case; and (2) Family Dollar's declaratory judgment action may proceed in superior court on remand. View "Family Dollar Stores of Rhode Island, Inc. v. Araujo" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the report and order of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) denying the Town of Portsmouth’s request for a discounted rate for ferry service from the Town of Bristol to Prudence Island for municipal vehicles and passengers performing essential government services, holding that the PUC did not err in denying the Town’s request for a discounted rate. On appeal, the Town argued that the PUC’s express statutory authority and implied powers grant it the right to order the Town’s requested rates without needing the permission of the entity it regulates, i.e., A&R Marine Corp., d/b/a Prudence & Bay Islands Transport. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding (1) before the PUC would have been legally authorized to act upon a discounted ferry rate for the Town, it would have been necessary, pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws 39-2-5(2), for A&R Marine to propose such a discounted rate; and (2) because A&R never made such a proposal, the PUC’s report and order is affirmed. View "In re A&R Marine Corp." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the superior court granting the motions to dismiss filed by Defendants, Bank of America, N.A. (BOA) and EverBank Mortgage (EverBank), on Plaintiff’s complaint seeking monetary damages for breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, as well as a preliminary injunction to stop a foreclosure. Plaintiff executed a mortgage on his property in favor of Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (MERS). The mortgage was later assigned to BOA. After the BOA informed Plaintiff that his mortgage was in foreclosure he filed a complaint alleging, inter alia, that the assignment of the mortgage was void and that Defendants had no standing to foreclose on his property. A federal court granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss. Thereafter, Plaintiff brought this complaint. Defendants filed motions to dismiss. The superior court found that res judicata warranted the granting of Defendants’ motions to dismiss. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that res judicata applied. View "Goodrow v. Bank of America, N.A." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court dismissed this appeal brought by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and the State, holding that an appeal from a final judgment of the superior court brought under R.I. Gen. Laws 42-17-.1-2(21) must proceed by way of a petition for a writ of certiorari. The DEM commenced this action against Defendants seeking injunctive relief to enforce a compliance order that Defendants remediate certain property. The DEM also sought enforcement of is administrative penalty, arguing that its authority to do so arose from section 42-17-.1-2(21). DEM subsequently released Defendants from the remediation requirement but continued to seek enforcement of the administrative penalty. The trial justice concluded that DEM could not enforce an administrative penalty in the context of an action for injunctive relief. The DEM filed a notice of appeal. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal, holding that the appeal was not properly before the Court. View "Coit v. Coccoli" on Justia Law