Justia Rhode Island Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use
by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court, holding that an amendment to the City of Providence's zoning ordinance that restricted the number of college students who may live together in single-family homes in certain residential areas in Providence did not violate Plaintiffs' right to equal protection or due process under the Rhode Island Constitution. Plaintiffs, a real estate investment company, and four individuals who were college students and housemates leasing the real estate investment company's property, filed a declaratory judgment action against the City seeking to invalidate the amendment, arguing that the City had violated the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the Rhode Island Constitution. The hearing justice entered judgment in favor of the City. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the amendment was rationally related to the legitimate state purpose of preserving the residential character of certain neighborhoods and that there was no constitutional violation. View "Federal Hill Capital, LLC v. City of Providence" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the superior court denying the motion for summary judgment filed by the Town of Exeter and the Town of Richmond (together, the Towns) and granting summary judgment for the State, holding that the trial court erred in finding that the Comprehensive Planning and Land Use Regulation Act, R.I. Gen. Laws chapter 22.2 of title 45, provides the exclusive procedure to resolve zoning disputes between the State and municipalities. A hearing justice concluded that the State was not required to obtain municipal approval and permits before beginning a project. The Supreme Court held (1) while section 45-22.2-10(g) governs comprehensive planning disputes between the State and a municipality it does not confer immunity on the State from application of a municipality's zoning ordinance; (2) the Act does not supersede the balancing-of-interests test set forth in Blackstone Park Improvement Ass'n v. State Board of Standards & Appeals, 448 A.2d 1233 (R.I. 1982); and (3) the State must apply to a municipal zoning board prior to bringing an action in superior court for a trial justice to balance the interests of the State against the interests of the municipality with respect to a proposed project. View "Town of Exeter v. State" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants and dismissing Plaintiff's action claiming violation of restrictive covenants and breach of the duty of quiet enjoyment arising out of Defendants' alleged wrongful construction of a multi-story structure on their property, holding that summary judgment was properly granted. Defendants failed to get approval prior to building, as required under the plain language of the restrictive covenant at issue. However, Defendants ultimately received the required approval. The requirements were not building requirements but, rather, the requirement to submit plans for approval prior to building. The Supreme Court held that because the requested relief for Defendants' breach of the restrictive covenants would lead to a futile result, the hearing justice did not err in granting Defendants' motion for summary judgment. View "Pollak v. 217 Indian Avenue, LLC" on Justia Law

by
At issue was whether Plaintiff was entitled to relief under Rule 60(b)(6) of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure from an order directing him to remove a garage from his property. In 2014, the superior court ordered Plaintiff to remove a garage he built on his property that violated the setback requirements set forth in the Town of Tiverton’s zoning ordinance. Thereafter, the Town removed the garage from Plaintiff’s property and placed a lien on the property for $69,300 in fines imposed by a 2015 contempt order. In 2016, Plaintiff filed a motion to vacate the 2014 order. The trial judge denied the motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) because the superior court possessed subject matter jurisdiction to order Plaintiff to remove his garage, and because the granting of the 2014 order did not violate due process, the order was not void; but (2) the unique circumstances of this case and its procedural flaws presented a manifest injustice justifying relief from the operation of the order under Rule 60(b)(6). View "McLaughlin v. Zoning Board of Review of the Town of Tiverton" on Justia Law

by
Subsection 4(a) of Rhode Island’s Right to Farm Act, Rhode Island General Laws chapter 23 of title 2, does not permit Landowner to host commercial events, such as weddings for a fee, on his farmland in the Town of Exeter, Rhode Island. Landowner attempted to obtain a zoning certificate from the Town that would allow him to host a commercial fundraising event on his farmland. When the Town denied the request, Landowner filed suit, seeking a number of declarations. At issue was whether a 2014 amendment to R.I. Gen. Laws 2-23-4(a) rendered a previous permanent injunction enjoining Landowner from using his property for commercial events a nullity. The trial justice denied Landowner’s request for declaratory relief, concluding that the 2014 amendment did not supersede the 2011 injunction. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, based on the unambiguous language of section 2-23-4(a), Landowner remained bound by the injunction. View "Gerald P. Zarrella Trust v. Town of Exeter" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court, following a bench trial, convicting Defendants, James and Melissa Pelletier, of violating Tiverton Zoning Ordinance article IV, section 13(a) for manufacturing compost in an R-80 zone. The court held (1) the trial justice did not overlook or misconceive material evidence and was not clearly wrong in finding that Defendants violated the zoning ordinance beyond a reasonable doubt; (2) processing compost on the property at issue is not a permitted accessory use; and (3) the ordinance at issue is not void for vagueness. View "State ex rel Town of Tiverton v. Pelletier" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs filed a complaint against Brown University and the City of Providence. In count one of their complaint Plaintiffs sought a declaration that the university’s construction of an artificial turf field hockey field with attendant bleachers, electronic scoreboard, press box, and public-address system was an unlawful use under the Providence zoning ordinance. The superior court granted summary judgment to Defendants as to count one. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the superior court, holding that the hearing justice erred in finding that Plaintiffs had no standing with respect to count one because, as abutting property owners, Plaintiffs clearly established an articulable injury in fact. View "Key v. Brown University" on Justia Law

by
The Zoning Officer for the Town of Hopkinton issued a notice of violation to Todd and Tina Sposato for being in violation of the Hopkinton Zoning Ordinance by having four alpacas on their property, which was located in an R-1 zone. The Zoning Board overturned the Zoning Officer’s ruling, concluding that alpacas are “domestic animals,” and therefore, keeping them on the property was a permitted use. Thereafter, the Zoning Board of Review of the Town of Hopkinton imposed four “conditions” on the Sposatos with respect to the continued presence of alpacas on the property. The fourth condition explicitly provided that “[t]he right to keep alpaca on this property does not run with the land; that is, if the [Sposatos] sell this property the next owners are not permitted to keep alpaca.” The superior court affirmed. The Supreme Court quashed the judgment of the superior court, holding that the last of the four conditions imposed upon the Sposatos by the Zoning Board was inconsistent with venerable and settled principles in the law of land use. View "Preston v. Zoning Board of Review of Town of Hopkinton" on Justia Law

by
This case arose from the Preservation Society of Newport County’s (the Society) application for the construction of a Welcome Center near the entrance of a well-known Newport mansion. Bellevue-Ochre Point Neighborhood Association (BOPNA) initiated a declaratory judgment action seeking various declarations that the Welcome Center was prohibited under the City of Newport Zoning Ordinance. The Society filed a motion to dismiss. The hearing justice granted the motion, concluding that the issues presented in the complaint were within the jurisdiction of Newport zoning officials to determine and were inappropriate for a declaratory judgment action. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the hearing justice correctly determined that the issues raised in BOPNA’s complaint were within the zoning board’s authority and jurisdiction and were therefore inappropriate for resolution in an action seeking declaratory judgment. View "Bellevue-Ochre Point Neighborhood Ass’n v. Preservation Society of Newport County" on Justia Law

by
An East Providence zoning officer issued a notice of violation, finding violations of a use variance that was granted in 1998 to the owner and operator of a construction and demolition debris processing facility known as Pond View Recycling. The East Providence Zoning Board of Review upheld the notice of violation. The owner and operator of Pond View appealed. The superior court reversed, concluding that the zoning board’s decision was “clearly erroneous and made upon unlawful procedure.” The City of East Providence and the zoning board sought review. The Supreme Court quashed the judgment of the superior court and remanded the case with instructions to enter judgment for the City, holding that the zoning board’s findings of fact were not clearly erroneous, and therefore, the trial justice erred by reversing the decision of the zoning board. View "Kenlin Props., LLC v. City of East Providence" on Justia Law