Articles Posted in Rhode Island Supreme Court

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Michael Beagan was terminated from his employment with Albert Kemperle, Inc. after his manager discovered a disparaging post Beagan had made about him on Facebook. The Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training (DLT) denied Beagan’s application for unemployment benefits, finding that he had been discharged for “disqualifying reasons” under R.I. Gen. Laws 28-44-18. The district court affirmed the DLT’s decision. The Supreme Court quashed the decision of the district court and remanded with directions to award Beagan unemployment benefits, holding that no legally competent evidence existed that Beagan’s Facebook post was connected to his work in the manner contemplated by section 28-44-18, and therefore, there was no legally competent evidence to support a finding that Beagan was ineligible for unemployment benefits. View "Beagan v. Rhode Island Department of Labor & Training, Board of Review" on Justia Law

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The Preservation Society of Newport County and Newport Catering, Inc. (together, Petitioners) filed two applications for victualing licenses, proposing to sell pre-wrapped food prepared off-site, along with snacks and nonalcoholic drinks, at two historic mansions in the City of Newport. The City Council of the City of Newport (Respondent) denied the applications. Petitioners appealed, arguing that the Council exceeded its jurisdiction and applied inappropriate criteria in denying the victualing licenses. The Supreme Court quashed the decision of the Council and directed the Council to issue the licenses forthwith, absent any compelling evidence of significant health and/or safety issues, holding that the Council failed to provide factual findings and legal grounds to support its decision denying Petitioners’ applications for victualing licenses. View "Preservation Society of Newport County v. City Council of the City of Newport" on Justia Law

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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

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The City of Newport’s Utility Department, Water Division (Newport Water) filed a rate application with the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) requesting a revenue increase. The PUC issued an order in docket No. 3818 ordering that money Newport Water owed to the City be paid back to the City under certain conditions. Newport Water subsequently filed another application for a rate increase - docket No. 4025. The PUC issued an order concluding that Newport Water had commenced the required repayment of its debt owed to the City. Portsmouth Water and Fire District (Portsmouth) petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari. The Supreme Court vacated the PUC’s order, concluding that the PUC order failed to enforce the order in docket No. 3818, and remanded to the PUC with directions to make more specific findings of fact to support the PUC’s conclusion that Newport Water complied with the order in docket No. 3818. This appeal concerned the PUC’s order on remand. The Supreme Court (1) affirmed the PUC’s order in regard to its definition, identification, and quantification of “efficiencies” as it relates to the order in docket No. 3818; and (2) vacated the PUC’s order to the extent it allowed Newport Water to use $191,997 in excess revenues to pay down its debt to the City. View "Portsmouth Water and Fire District v. Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, after more than fifteen years of service in the City of Providence Police Department, was injured while on duty. The Department concluded that Petitioner’s injury interfered with her ability to handle a firearm. Later that month, Petitioner applied to the City of Providence Retirement Board for accidental-disability retirement. The Board voted to deny Petitioner’s application, finding that Petitioner’s condition was correctable with surgery and that Petitioner failed to mitigate her injury by undergoing surgery. The Supreme Court quashed the Board’s decision, holding that the Providence Code of Ordinances does not require an otherwise eligible employee to mitigate her injury by undergoing a surgical procedure in order to qualify for an accidental-disability pension. Remanded. View "Prew v. Employee Ret. Sys. of City of Providence" on Justia Law

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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

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Morse, a long-time fire-rescue captain, had separate work-related back injuries in 2009 and 2011. In both cases he was eventually released to work. Morse injured his back again while lifting a patient during a 2012 rescue call. After the third injury, he did not return to work. Pursuant to the Providence Code of Ordinances, Morse was evaluated by three independent medical examiners. There was disagreement concerning whether the code covers disability as the result of multiple injuries. One of the consultants found Morse not to be disabled. The Retirement Board of the Employees Retirement System of the City of Providence denied Morse’s application for an accidental disability pension, based solely on the board’s self-imposed “unanimity rule,” requiring that all three physicians agree that the applicant was permanently disabled as a result of a work-related injury. The Rhode Island Supreme Court quashed the decision. The board’s adoption of the unanimity rule effectively abandoned its authority to a single disagreeing physician. Because the board failed to make any factual findings with regard to the petitioner’s application, this matter was remanded to the board for reconsideration. View "Morse v. Employees Ret. Sys. of the City of Providence" on Justia Law

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Five corporate plaintiffs sued the East Greenwich Fire District and the Town of East Greenwich alleging that Defendants’ imposition and collection of development impact fees from developers who applied for a building permit to develop land within the Town violated Rhode Island’s Development Impact fee Act (RIDIFA). The fire district adopted the schedule of impact fees by a resolution rather than through an ordinance. The superior court entered judgment in favor of Defendants on all counts. Plaintiffs appealed, arguing that Defendants did not have the authority to impose development impact fees and, if they did, the process by which they imposed the fees was deficient. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the superior court, holding that the resolution adopted by the fire district was invalid because it did not comply with either RIDIFA’s mandate that the fees be imposed through an ordinance or the Town’s notice and public-hearing requirements for the enactment of ordinances. View "5750 Post Road Med. Offices, LLC v. East Greenwich Fire Dist." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs sought a dimensional variance by the Zoning Board of Review of the Town of Jamestown. After the Board denied the variance, Plaintiffs appealed. The superior court reversed the Board’s decision and granted Plaintiffs’ variance application. Thereafter, Plaintiffs moved for an award of reasonable litigation expenses under the Equal Access to Justice for Small Businesses and Individuals Act. The trial justice denied Plaintiffs’ motion, concluding that the Board was not an “agency” within the purview of the Act and that the hearing before the Board was not an “adjudicatory proceeding” as the term is defined in the Act. The Supreme Court quashed the judgment below, holding that the Board is an agency and that the hearing on Plaintiffs’ variance application was an adjudicatory proceeding on the Act. Remanded for written findings and conclusions with respect to the remaining prerequisites for relief. View "Tarbox v. Zoning Bd. of Review" 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