L.A. Ray Realty v. Town Council of Town of Cumberland, No. 96-207-A

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Rhode Island
Writing for the CourtBefore WEISBERGER; LEDERBERG; GOLDBERG; FLANDERS
Citation698 A.2d 202
PartiesL.A. RAY REALTY et al. v. The TOWN COUNCIL OF THE TOWN OF CUMBERLAND et al. ppeal.
Docket NumberNo. 96-207-A
Decision Date17 July 1997

Page 202

698 A.2d 202
L.A. RAY REALTY et al.
v.
The TOWN COUNCIL OF THE TOWN OF CUMBERLAND et al.
No. 96-207-Appeal.
Supreme Court of Rhode Island.
July 17, 1997.

Page 204

Michael A. Kelly, Elizabeth McDonough Noonan, Providence, for Plaintiff.

John R. Mahoney, Peter Mathieu, Providence, for Defendant.

Before WEISBERGER, C.J., and LEDERBERG, BOURCIER and FLANDERS, JJ.

OPINION

LEDERBERG, Justice.

This case came before the Supreme Court on the cross-appeals of the plaintiffs, L.A. Ray Realty (L.A.Ray), Richard Savage, and G. Robert Savage (collectively the Savages), 1 and the defendants, the Town Council (town council) of the Town of Cumberland, Rhode Island (town) by and through its members, the Town Planning Board (planning board) by and through its members, and the town by and through its treasurer, George Cross. The parties appealed from a Superior Court judgment that awarded damages to the plaintiffs on the grounds that the town had engaged in tortious interference with the plaintiffs'

Page 205

prospective economic advantage. For the reasons stated below, we affirm in part and reverse in part the trial justice's decision. A summary of the facts relevant to the issues raised on appeal follows, with additional facts presented in the discussion of the issues.

Facts and Procedural History

The plaintiffs were engaged in real estate projects, including the development of parcels of land into single-family residential lots, the sale of the lots, and the construction of homes on the lots. At trial, plaintiffs presented extensive testimony that tended to establish that certain town officials harbored a particular personal and political animus toward plaintiffs.

On September 28, 1987, the planning board adopted new subdivision regulations that included a "grandfather's rights" clause:

"[T]hose applications that have been submitted for subdivisions as of the date of passage of these Regulations will be permitted to continue under the Regulations in effect prior to adoption of these Regulations."

Prior to September 29, 1987, L.A. Ray and the Savages had submitted to the planning board applications for the subdivision of certain of their properties located in an Agricultural-A district 2 of the town. On October 7, 1987, the town council amended the town zoning ordinance to incorporate the new regulations, specifically exempting from the new minimum-lot-size requirements all lots of record and all subdivisions filed with the planning board as of September 28, 1987.

On April 20, 1988, Marlene Smith (Smith), a member of the town council, proposed an amendment to the town zoning ordinance that would require a two-acre-minimum lot size for residential or agricultural use in Agricultural-A and Agricultural-B districts, except for lots of record. The town council held two public hearings at which the town mayor, Francis Stetkiewicz (Stetkiewicz), testified in favor of the proposed amendment. The plaintiffs also appeared at both hearings and presented expert testimony in opposition to the proposal. The amendment was ultimately defeated by the town council. 3 In July 1988, Smith again proposed increasing the minimum residential lot size to two acres in Agricultural-A and -B districts, except for lots of record and subdivisions filed with the planning board as of September 28, 1987. At the mandatory public hearing, held on August 3, 1988, Stetkiewicz, Harvey Salvas (Salvas), who was the town building and zoning officer, and several townspeople testified in favor of the amendment, and plaintiffs again presented testimony opposing the proposal. Following the hearing, the town council again rejected the proposal.

Shortly thereafter, a town resident circulated a petition drafted with the assistance of the town solicitor, Thomas F. Almeida (Almeida), requesting that the following referendum be placed on the November 1988 ballot:

"All land zoned Agricultural A or B in the Town of Cumberland shall require a minimum lot size of 2 acres except for pre-recorded lots. This Act shall take effect immediately upon regular validation of the vote if a majority of electors voting on this referendum item in the Town of Cumberland shall approve."

On September 8, 1988, in a letter to the Secretary of State, Almeida requested that the following question be placed on the November ballot for consideration by the town electorate:

"Shall the minimum lot size for all land zoned Agricultural A or Agricultural B within the Town of Cumberland be two (2) acres?"

In that same letter, Almeida asserted that "[t]he question, if approved, would be inserted in the Zoning Ordinance as paragraph # 7 in Article Three and said Article Three would be amended thereby to read as per the attached text." The "attached text" was a copy of article 3 of the town zoning ordinance

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as it would read if the referendum passed. Section 1 contained the new language providing for the two-acre minimum-lot-size requirement in Agricultural-A and -B districts, and section 2 contained a grandfather's rights provision, applicable to "[a]ll lots of record and all subdivisions filed with the planning board as of September 28, 1987." Stetkiewicz and Smith campaigned publicly for approval of the referendum. On November 8, 1988, the town electorate approved the referendum.

At the time the referendum was approved, plaintiffs' subdivision applications and other applications proposing lots of less than two acres in Agricultural-A and Agricultural-B districts were pending at various stages before the planning board. On November 21, 1988, the planning board denied all pending applications to subdivide property in an Agricultural-A district, including plaintiffs' applications, on the grounds that the subdivision plans failed to comply with the new two-acre-lot requirement.

The Savages had no notice that the planning board intended to take any action on November 21, 1988, in respect to its application. At trial, Kenneth Pascale (Pascale), the planning board chairman, testified without contradiction that, as of that date, the Savages' proposed West Valley subdivision had satisfied all regulations except for the two-acre minimum-lot-size requirement. At the request of the planning board, L.A. Ray had divided its Long Brook subdivision application into four parts or sections. Although L.A. Ray had notice that section 2 of the Long Brook application was on the agenda for final plat consideration on November 21, 1988, it was not notified that the board planned to take any action regarding sections 1, 3, and 4. At trial, Steven Clarke (Clarke), an expert in civil engineering in the area of subdivision planning and layout, presented uncontroverted testimony that, at the time the applications were denied, sections 1 and 2 of the proposed Long Brook development complied with all subdivision regulations, with the exception of the two-acre-lot-size requirement.

On January 18, 1989, the town council adopted an amendment to the town zoning ordinance, incorporating the two-acre minimum-residential-lot-size requirement in Agricultural-A and -B districts, effective as of November 16, 1988, the date on which voter approval of the referendum was certified by the board of canvassers.

Following the November 21, 1988 denial of their applications, plaintiffs brought an action for writ of mandamus in the Superior Court to compel the board to hear their applications. The trial justice found that plaintiffs were entitled to detrimental-reliance hearings before the planning board.

On January 26, 1989, plaintiffs also filed a complaint in the Superior Court, challenging the validity of the zoning-ordinance amendment. On January 23, 1990, plaintiffs' motions for summary judgment were denied, while defendants' motion for summary judgment, which was treated as a motion to dismiss, was granted. On appeal, this Court invalidated the referendum-initiated zoning ordinance, holding that the initiative or referendum process was inconsistent with public-notice-and-hearing requirements for the adoption or amendment of subdivision regulations or zoning ordinances, as set forth in G.L.1956 chapters 23 and 24 of title 45. L.A. Ray Realty v. Town Council of Cumberland, 603 A.2d 311 (R.I.1992).

On July 17, 1989, the detrimental-reliance hearings were held on the subdivision applications of L.A. Ray and the Savages, following which the planning board denied plaintiffs' applications. L.A. Ray appealed the board's decision, and hearings were held before the zoning board in September, October, and December 1990. Stetkiewicz and Smith appeared at the October 1990 zoning board hearing and testified against the granting of L.A. Ray's application. Stetkiewicz also cross-examined witnesses presented by L.A. Ray. After the zoning board denied its appeal, L.A. Ray appealed to the Superior Court, which appeal was mooted by this Court's decision in L.A. Ray Realty v. Town Council of Cumberland, 603 A.2d 311 (R.I.1992).

On March 8, 1994, plaintiffs filed a second amended complaint in the Superior Court in which they sought damages against the town for alleged substantive and procedural due

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process violations and intentional interference with prospective economic advantage. Following a nonjury trial, the trial justice concluded that plaintiffs were not deprived of any federal substantive or procedural due process right. The trial justice did find, however, that the town had committed the tort of interference with plaintiffs' prospective contractual relations or prospective economic advantage and was therefore liable for any damage that such interference may have caused plaintiffs.

On June 26, 1995, the trial justice found that L.A. Ray and the Savages had proven damages in the amount of $778,114.81 and $316,628.00, respectively. The trial justice then determined that, because the town was engaged in a governmental function at the time the tort was committed, the amount of damages that L.A. Ray and the...

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184 practice notes
  • Carvalho v. Town of Lincoln, PC 00-5899
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Rhode Island
    • January 23, 2013
    ...actions under color of state law by the Executive, the Legislature, or the Judiciary." L.A. Ray Realty v. Town Council of Cumberland, 698 A.2d 202, 209 (R.I. 1997) (citing Jolicoeur Furniture Co. v. Baldelli, 653 A.2d 740, 749 (R.I. 1995)). Thus, for a plaintiff to raise a successful § 1983......
  • Shire Corp., Inc. v. Rhode Island Department of Tranportation, C.A. PB 09-5686
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Rhode Island
    • March 2, 2012
    ...due process are nearly always analyzed separately and under different standards. See, e.g., L.A. Ray Realty v. Town Council of Cumberland, 698 A.2d 202, 211-14 (R.I. 1997) (analyzing substantive and procedural due process separately in regard to zoning actions). In fact, although an interes......
  • 1998 -NMCA- 51, Kennedy v. Dexter Consolidated Schools, No. 17710
    • United States
    • New Mexico Court of Appeals of New Mexico
    • February 3, 1998
    ...(same); Golden State Transit Corp. v. City of Los Angeles, 773 F.Supp. 204, 208-10 (C.D.Cal.1991); L.A. Ray Realty v. Cumberland, 698 A.2d 202, 214 (R.I.1997); 2 Schwartz & Kirklin, supra, § 16.15; cf. Johnson, 118 N.M. at 798, 887 P.2d at 1265. Other courts have held that federal law gover......
  • King v. Huntress, Inc., Nos. 2011–341–Appeal, 2012–202–Appeal, 2012–203–Appeal.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Rhode Island
    • July 2, 2014
    ...as we endeavor to determine whether prejudgment interest is a substantive issue. In L.A. Ray Realty v. Town Council of Cumberland, 698 A.2d 202, 213–14 (R.I.1997), this Court, applying federal law in an action based on 42 U.S.C. § 1983, stated that “federal courts in 42 U.S.C. § 1983 litiga......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
182 cases
  • Carvalho v. Town of Lincoln, PC 00-5899
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Rhode Island
    • January 23, 2013
    ...actions under color of state law by the Executive, the Legislature, or the Judiciary." L.A. Ray Realty v. Town Council of Cumberland, 698 A.2d 202, 209 (R.I. 1997) (citing Jolicoeur Furniture Co. v. Baldelli, 653 A.2d 740, 749 (R.I. 1995)). Thus, for a plaintiff to raise a successful § 1983......
  • Shire Corp., Inc. v. Rhode Island Department of Tranportation, C.A. PB 09-5686
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Rhode Island
    • March 2, 2012
    ...due process are nearly always analyzed separately and under different standards. See, e.g., L.A. Ray Realty v. Town Council of Cumberland, 698 A.2d 202, 211-14 (R.I. 1997) (analyzing substantive and procedural due process separately in regard to zoning actions). In fact, although an interes......
  • 1998 -NMCA- 51, Kennedy v. Dexter Consolidated Schools, No. 17710
    • United States
    • New Mexico Court of Appeals of New Mexico
    • February 3, 1998
    ...(same); Golden State Transit Corp. v. City of Los Angeles, 773 F.Supp. 204, 208-10 (C.D.Cal.1991); L.A. Ray Realty v. Cumberland, 698 A.2d 202, 214 (R.I.1997); 2 Schwartz & Kirklin, supra, § 16.15; cf. Johnson, 118 N.M. at 798, 887 P.2d at 1265. Other courts have held that federal law gover......
  • King v. Huntress, Inc., Nos. 2011–341–Appeal, 2012–202–Appeal, 2012–203–Appeal.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Rhode Island
    • July 2, 2014
    ...as we endeavor to determine whether prejudgment interest is a substantive issue. In L.A. Ray Realty v. Town Council of Cumberland, 698 A.2d 202, 213–14 (R.I.1997), this Court, applying federal law in an action based on 42 U.S.C. § 1983, stated that “federal courts in 42 U.S.C. § 1983 litiga......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • A REIGN OF ERROR: PROPERTY RIGHTS AND STARE DECISIS.
    • United States
    • Washington University Law Review Vol. 99 Nbr. 2, October 2021
    • October 1, 2021
    ...dissenting); Cleveland Builders Supply Co. v. Garfield Heights, 136 N.E.2d 105, 109 (Ohio Ct. App. 1956); L.A. Ray Realty v. Town Council, 698 A.2d 202,216 (R.I. 1997) (Flanders, J., concurring in part and dissenting in (163.) The opinions misquoting Roberge through Du Bose are as follows: ......

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