Justia Rhode Island Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law
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The case revolves around a major land development project proposed for multiple parcels of real estate in North Kingstown, Rhode Island. The project was approved by the North Kingstown Planning Commission in 2012. The North Kingstown Town Council amended the zoning ordinance to create a Compact Village District (CVD) zone, which included the developers' property. In 2017, the town council again amended the zoning ordinance for the town’s CVD zone, limiting commercial building coverage and providing a ratio of buildings on the property. The developers challenged the ordinance in federal court, alleging that their project had vested prior to the 2017 ordinance’s limitations. After mediation and settlement discussions, a proposed consent judgment was prepared. The town council approved the consent judgment and the planning commission approved the developers’ preliminary plan for the project.The North Kingstown Zoning Board of Review upheld the planning commission's decision, concluding that the consent judgment recognized the developers’ vested rights and that the project was not bound by the subsequent 2017 zoning amendments. Rickey Thompson, a property owner within 200 feet of the project, filed an action in the Superior Court seeking a declaratory judgment that the town council was not authorized to enter into the consent judgment and that the planning commission should not have relied upon the terms of the consent judgment to review the developers’ application for preliminary plan approval.The Superior Court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment, finding that Thompson had made an improper collateral attack on the consent judgment, as a nonparty, and that the town had the authority to enter into the agreement. Thompson appealed this decision.The Supreme Court of Rhode Island affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court. The court found that Thompson, as a nonparty to the consent judgment, lacked the requisite standing to challenge the agreement and was thus barred from making a collateral attack on what is a valid, final judgment in federal court. The court also found that the town had the authority to enter into the agreement and the consent judgment did not illegally constrain the planning commission’s authority. The court rejected Thompson’s argument that the consent judgment illegally amended the town’s zoning ordinance. The court also found that Thompson's argument that the town and the developers engaged in contract zoning was not raised in Superior Court and was thus waived. View "Thompson v. Town of North Kingstown Zoning Board of Appeals" on Justia Law

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The City of Pawtucket petitioned the Supreme Court of Rhode Island to review a judgment in favor of the Rhode Island Department of Revenue (DOR) and other defendants. The case revolved around two properties owned by The Memorial Hospital, which were deemed ineligible for state aid under the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) Act for fiscal years 2021 and 2022. The City argued that the hearing justice erred in upholding the DOR’s interpretation of the PILOT Act, which stated that the properties were not eligible for PILOT funds.Previously, the Superior Court had ruled in favor of the defendants, stating that the DOR's interpretation of the PILOT Act was not arbitrary or capricious, unsupported in the record, or an abuse of discretion. The court concluded that the properties were not owned by a licensed hospital and were therefore ineligible for consideration under the PILOT statute. The City appealed this decision, arguing that the properties should be eligible for PILOT funds because they were still being used for medical care and treatment, even though they were not owned and licensed by the same entity.The Supreme Court of Rhode Island affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court. The court found that the PILOT Act's definition of a "nonprofit hospital facility" required that the hospital-owner of the property also be the holder of a state-issued license. Since Memorial Hospital's license was deactivated in 2018, the properties were deemed ineligible for PILOT funds. The court concluded that the City's argument conflating tax-exempt status with PILOT fund eligibility was unpersuasive, and that the DOR's decision to deny the disbursement of PILOT funds for the properties was not erroneous. View "City of Pawtucket v. Department of Revenue" on Justia Law

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In September 2019, Eleticia Garcia hired Ponagansett 2 LLC, doing business as Peter Bibby Heating & Air, to perform mechanical work on her property. The parties signed two contracts, one for the installation of gas lines, water heaters, and boilers, and another for the installation of baseboards. However, Garcia failed to make the agreed-upon payments, leading Ponagansett to file a mechanics' lien against her property. When Garcia did not respond to the complaint, the Superior Court entered a default judgment in favor of Ponagansett.The Superior Court denied Garcia's subsequent motions to vacate the entry of default, to file a counterclaim out of time, to quash the mechanics' lien, and to file an oral proof of claim. Ponagansett then filed a motion for entry of default judgment against Garcia and a petition for attorneys' fees. The Superior Court granted Ponagansett's request to enforce the mechanics' lien, awarded Ponagansett $20,000 plus interest, and granted attorneys' fees of $12,310.27.On appeal to the Supreme Court of Rhode Island, Garcia argued that the mechanics' lien was unenforceable because Ponagansett failed to provide notice of a possible mechanics' lien as required by law. She also contended that the decisions of the hearing justice to award Ponagansett the full payment of $20,000 and exclude the admission of a mechanical permit were reversible errors. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court, holding that Garcia had waived her enforceability argument by failing to timely respond to Ponagansett's complaint. The court also found no error in the hearing justice's award of damages and exclusion of the mechanical permit. View "Ponagansett 2 LLC v. Eleticia Garcia" on Justia Law

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A group of developers, collectively referred to as "The Preserve," entered into an agreement in 2011 to purchase land in Richmond, Rhode Island, with the intention of operating an outdoor shooting range and gun club. The town council and planning board initially supported the project, but a subsequent zoning ordinance amendment prohibited such uses. The Preserve was not notified of these changes. In 2016, a new zoning district was created, once again permitting indoor and outdoor shooting ranges. The Preserve claimed that the two-year delay caused substantial revenue loss. They also alleged that the town imposed arbitrary fees, delayed the approval process, and engaged in other discriminatory practices that increased their costs and hindered their development efforts.The Superior Court dismissed The Preserve's claims for violations of substantive due process, tortious interference with contract and prospective business advantages, civil liability for crimes and offenses, and a violation of the civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute. The court found that the claims were either barred by the statute of limitations or failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.The Supreme Court of Rhode Island affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court. The court held that the claims for civil liability for crimes and offenses and civil RICO were barred by a three-year statute of limitations because they were considered torts. The court also found that the statute of limitations was not tolled for the tortious interference claims, as the harm allegedly present was merely the consequence of separate and distinct acts that had occurred prior to the final approval of the land development for the resort. Therefore, all of The Preserve's claims were time-barred. View "The Preserve at Boulder Hills, LLC v. Kenyon" on Justia Law

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The plaintiff, PennyMac Loan Services, LLC, a mortgage company, held a mortgage interest in a property in Coventry, Rhode Island. The mortgagor, Domenico Companatico, failed to pay 2018 fire district taxes, leading to a tax sale auction where the property was sold to Roosevelt Associates, RIGP. Roosevelt later filed a petition to foreclose any right of redemption, and the Superior Court clerk issued a citation notifying interested parties. The citation did not include a street address for the property. Despite receiving the citation, PennyMac failed to respond and was defaulted. A Superior Court justice entered a final decree foreclosing the right of redemption, and Roosevelt sold the property to Coventry Fire District 5-19, RIGP, which later sold it to Clarke Road Associates, RIGP.PennyMac filed an action to challenge the foreclosure decree, arguing that the citation failed to provide adequate notice, thus denying PennyMac its right to procedural due process. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, and a second trial justice concluded that PennyMac had received adequate notice of the petition to foreclose all rights of redemption. The justice also found that the fire district taxes constituted a superior lien on the property and that PennyMac is statutorily barred from asserting a violation of the Uniform Voidable Transactions Act.The Supreme Court of Rhode Island affirmed the amended judgment of the Superior Court. The court found that the citation, despite lacking a street address, did not constitute a denial of due process. The court also concluded that PennyMac's claim under the Uniform Voidable Transactions Act was barred due to its failure to raise any objection during the foreclosure proceeding. Finally, the court determined that the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Tyler v. Hennepin County, Minnesota did not alter the outcome of this case. View "PennyMac Loan Services, LLC v. Roosevelt Associates, RIGP" on Justia Law

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The case involves Wilmington Savings Fund Society, FSB DBA Christiana Trust as Trustee for HLSS Mortgage Master Trust, by PennyMac Loan Services, LLC (plaintiff), and Power Realty, RIGP a/k/a Power Realty Group, RIGP, Douglas H. Smith, and TMC Keywest LLC (defendants). The plaintiff, a mortgage company, failed to pay municipal taxes on a property in Coventry, Rhode Island, which it had obtained title to in 2016. As a result, the town conducted a tax-sale auction in 2019, and Power Realty acquired the property. Power Realty then filed a petition to foreclose any right of redemption, which was granted by the Superior Court. The plaintiff challenged the foreclosure decree, arguing that the notice of the petition was inadequate.The Superior Court had granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, concluding that the plaintiff had received adequate notice of the petition to foreclose all rights of redemption. The plaintiff appealed this decision to the Supreme Court of Rhode Island.The Supreme Court of Rhode Island affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court. The court found that the citation provided to the plaintiff contained all the necessary components required by law, including a description of the land, the name of the petitioner, and a statement of the nature of the petition. The court rejected the plaintiff's argument that the citation's failure to include the street address for the property deprived the plaintiff of meaningful notice. The court concluded that the plaintiff, a sophisticated mortgage company, could and should have investigated the matter further upon receipt of the citation. The court also found that the plaintiff's argument based on the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Tyler v. Hennepin County, Minnesota did not alter the outcome of the case. View "Wilmington Savings Fund Society, FSB v. Power Realty, RIGP" on Justia Law

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This case was brought before the Supreme Court of Rhode Island to resolve a dispute between neighbors over property views. The plaintiffs, Thomas Knudsen, Trustee, Ciara Ladnier, and Edward Knudsen, Trustees, own property that rests on a hill with a view of the Sakonnet River. The defendant, Dr. Gregory DeJean, owns property that borders the plaintiffs' property and sits downhill from it. In 1989, the parties' predecessors entered into a restrictive covenant agreeing to certain building height restrictions and land maintenance obligations to preserve the existing views. Over time, however, Dr. DeJean has allowed new landscaping and existing vegetation to grow, diminishing the plaintiffs' view.In response, the plaintiffs filed a lawsuit seeking a declaration of their rights to maintain the agreement and enjoy the water views, as well as an injunction restraining Dr. DeJean from violating the agreement. The Superior Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, granting them declaratory and injunctive relief. The court ordered Dr. DeJean to make a variety of changes to his property to restore the plaintiffs' view to the condition it was in as of 1989.Dr. DeJean appealed to the Supreme Court of Rhode Island, arguing that the lower court had erred in its interpretation of the agreement and in its application of the legal defense of laches. However, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court, finding that Dr. DeJean had violated the restrictive covenant and that the trial justice had not erred in dismissing his laches defense. Thus, Dr. DeJean was ordered to maintain his property in a way that preserved the plaintiffs' view. View "Knudsen v. DeJean" on Justia Law

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The plaintiff, Lourenco DoCouto, appealed a decision by the Superior Court of Rhode Island that dismissed his case against defendants Blue Water Realty, LLC and Louis Bachetti. The dispute centered around a property DoCouto claimed he had an option to purchase. DoCouto argued that the Superior Court erred in applying the doctrine of res judicata, dismissing his complaint for failure to timely serve defendants, and in determining that the District Court had jurisdiction over his equitable claims in the eviction proceedings.The Supreme Court of Rhode Island affirmed the Superior Court's decision. The court found that the parties in the eviction proceedings were the same or in privity with the parties in the present case. It also determined that DoCouto’s counterclaim in the eviction proceedings had alleged the same facts and arose out of the same transactions as those set forth in the current complaints. Therefore, the doctrine of res judicata applied, barring DoCouto’s claims.Moreover, the court disagreed with DoCouto’s claim that the District Court lacked jurisdiction over his equitable claims. As the eviction action pertained to a lease agreement, the court held that the District Court had the requisite jurisdiction over DoCouto’s equitable claims according to the Rhode Island statute. Lastly, the court rejected DoCouto’s argument that the District Court lacked jurisdiction over his request for compensatory damages for services rendered because the amount in controversy exceeded the statutory limit relative to District Court jurisdiction. The statutory maximum set forth had no bearing on the District Court’s subject matter jurisdiction over landlord-tenant cases such as this one. View "DoCouto v. Blue Water Realty, LLC" on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute among neighbors over the use and ownership of a private road in Rhode Island. The plaintiffs, Merlyn P. O’Keefe and Mary Ellen O’Keefe, who own the residential lot farthest from the main road, sought injunction relief and claimed adverse possession over the private road. The private road was part of a residential compound, known as White Horn Acres, and each party owned an undivided one-sixth interest in the private road and the six residential lots in the compound. The plaintiffs observed multiple obstructions in the private road over the years, some of which were removed during the course of the lawsuit.The Supreme Court of Rhode Island affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court, denying the plaintiffs' request for injunctive relief and their claims for adverse possession. The court found no evidence that the defendants' obstructions excluded the plaintiffs from enjoying their equal privileges in the private road. Therefore, the plaintiffs did not demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits, irreparable harm, or that the balance of the equities favored injunctive relief. Regarding the adverse possession claims, the court found that the plaintiffs did not provide clear and convincing evidence of acts of possession that excluded the rights of the other cotenants. The defendants regularly used the cul-de-sac and believed it was their right to do so. Therefore, the plaintiffs' claims for adverse possession related to the cul-de-sac were denied. View "Merlyn O'Keefe v. Myrth York" on Justia Law

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This case concerns a foreclosure proceeding related to a property in Bristol, Rhode Island. The plaintiff, Steven Serenska, obtained a mortgage from Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. and defaulted on his payments. Wells Fargo and HSBC Bank USA, National Association as Trustee, initiated foreclosure proceedings. The plaintiff filed a complaint, alleging that there was an ambiguity in the mortgage document and that he had not received proper notice before the foreclosure.The Supreme Court of Rhode Island held that there was no ambiguity in the mortgage contract. The court found that the notice of default sent to the plaintiff strictly complied with the requirements of the mortgage agreement. The court noted that the plaintiff's alleged prejudice (claiming he would have paid the sum due had he received notice of the deadline for reinstating the mortgage) was irrelevant in this context. The court also found that an issue raised by the plaintiff on appeal (concerning additional language in the notice of default) was not properly presented before the lower court and was therefore waived.The court thus affirmed the order of the Superior Court granting the defendants' motions to dismiss the plaintiff's complaint. View "Serenska v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A." on Justia Law