Pascoag Reservoir & Dam, LLC v. Rhode Island

Decision Date20 August 2002
Docket NumberNo. C.A. 01-505L.,C.A. 01-505L.
Citation217 F.Supp.2d 206
PartiesPASCOAG RESERVOIR & DAM, LLC, Plaintiff, v. The State of RHODE ISLAND, acting by and through Jan Reitsma, in his capacity as Director of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and Sheldon Whitehouse, in his capacity as Attorney General for the State of Rhode Island, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Rhode Island

Barry J. Kusinitz, Providence, RI, for plaintiff.

James R. Lee, Attorney's Office, Mary E. Kay, R.I. Department of Environmental Management, Office of Legal Services, Claire J.V. Richards, Office of the Governor, Providence, RI, for defendant.


LAGUEUX, Senior District Judge.

This lawsuit is the latest chapter in a contentious dispute between the State of Rhode Island ("State") through the Department of Environmental Management ("DEM") and Pascoag Reservoir & Dam, LLC ("Pascoag"). Plaintiff, Pascoag, claims that the State has engaged in a taking of its property, and that the United States and Rhode Island Constitutions mandate that compensation be paid to it for that property.1 The taking of property, Pascoag alleges, was the acquisition of a portion of the Reservoir bottom by adverse possession and the acquisition of use of the Reservoir by prescriptive easement. The State has moved to dismiss the complaint, claiming that, as a matter of law, when a state acquires property by adverse possession or prescription that does not constitute a taking. The State also argues that any lawsuit based on a constitutional takings argument is barred by the statute of limitations.

The dispute places this Court at a curious juncture between property law and constitutional law. In property law, it is a straightforward proposition that, under certain conditions, title to property may, by operation of law, be transferred to another without compensation. In constitutional law, it is a straightforward proposition that the government cannot take private property without just compensation. This Court must determine how these two propositions interact with each other. Although defendant contends that the two areas of law are "mutually exclusive," they are not. Any state statute must adhere to the requirements of the United States Constitution. In this case, the Court concludes that plaintiff has alleged a takings claim against the State of Rhode Island. Since the Court holds that the taking occurred in 1975, plaintiff's claim, asserted twenty-six years after the taking, is too stale to warrant prosecution. Therefore, plaintiff's federal takings claim is dismissed. Plaintiff's remaining state law claims are also dismissed but without prejudice because this Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over those state claims.


This complaint was filed in this Federal District Court on October 18, 2001. The complaint asserts four claims against the State. Count I alleges that the State has violated the Takings Clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Count II alleges that the State has violated the Takings Clause of the Rhode Island Constitution. Count III seeks a declaratory ruling that the State is responsible for the repair, maintenance, and upkeep of the Pascoag Reservoir and dam. Count IV seeks reimbursement for any local taxes and assessments paid to the Towns of Burrillville and Glocester, and any local fire districts. With the exception of Count I, plaintiff's claims are based on state law. Defendant has moved to dismiss the whole complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.


As plaintiff has alleged a constitutional violation in Count I, this Court's jurisdiction is based on the federal question raised in the complaint. 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The constitutional violation stems from the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201, 2202 provides a form of relief, declaratory judgment, for such violations. Because plaintiff seeks damages for a violation of a constitutional right, the Court treats this action as brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. As the remaining counts are state law claims, this Court has supplemental jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367 to consider such matters.


In ruling on a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the Court construes the complaint in the light most favorable to plaintiff, taking all well-pleaded allegations as true and giving plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable inferences. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6); Correa-Martinez v. Arrillaga-Belendez, 903 F.2d 49, 52 (1st Cir.1990). Because a 12(b)(6) motion often comes in the early stages of the litigation, dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is appropriate only if "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Judge v. City of Lowell, 160 F.3d 67, 72 (1st Cir.1998) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957)).

In a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court generally may examine only the pleading itself. In a notice pleading system, the pleading serves to inform defendant of the claims made against him or her. Langadinos, 199 F.3d at 72-73. The Court need not accept unsupported conclusions or interpretations of law. Washington Legal Found. v. Massachusetts Bar Found., 993 F.2d 962, 971 (1st Cir.1993). If the pleading fails to make out a legal claim upon which relief can be granted or fails to allege any facts that would support a legal claim, the pleading is insufficient and should be dismissed. See Correa-Martinez, 903 F.2d at 52-53.

A. Facts as Plaintiff Alleges

The complaint alleges the following facts. Pascoag is the owner of record of the Pascoag Reservoir ("Reservoir"). The Reservoir is located in the Towns of Burrillville and Glocester, Rhode Island. The Reservoir is a man-made body of water consisting of approximately 350 acres, originally created in 1860 by various riparian mill owners as a source of power for their mills. Plaintiff's predecessors in title have been the Pascoag Reservoir Association, the Pascoag Reservoir Corporation, and the Pascoag Investment Corporation. In 1965, the State constructed a boat ramp into the Reservoir. In 1995, title to the Reservoir in fee simple was conveyed to plaintiff. Intermittently, between 1987 and 1997 the State unsuccessfully negotiated to buy the Reservoir. In 1997, DEM notified Pascoag in writing that the State had acquired an interest in the Reservoir by adverse possession or prescription. DEM then filed suit in Rhode Island Superior Court to enforce its claim.

B. Determinations of State Law

On June 20, 2001, the Rhode Island Supreme Court held that the State had acquired portions of the Reservoir bottom by adverse possession2 and had acquired, on behalf of the public, a prescriptive easement to use the boat ramp to obtain access to the Reservoir for recreational purposes. Reitsma v. Pascoag Reservoir & Dam, LLC, 774 A.2d 826, 838 (R.I.2001)(3-2) (overruling the trial court). The effect of that decision, and particularly the finding of a public easement by prescription, is to prevent the drainage or alteration of the Reservoir by plaintiff and to allow the public continuous access to the Reservoir for recreational use. The Supreme Court held that the State had begun to use the Reservoir property in 1965 and, under the Rhode Island ten year adverse possession statute, had acquired title to a portion of the Reservoir plus an easement in 1975. Id.

C. Adverse Possession and Easement by Prescription

Adverse possession and prescriptive easements are creatures of state law, not federal law. Chapter 7 of Title 34 of the Rhode Island General Laws sets forth the statutory definition of adverse possession and prescription.3 Adverse possession is a method of transferring title in fee simple of a portion of real property. Certain conditions must be maintained over a period of time set by statute. R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-7-1. In Rhode Island, to complete a transfer of title by adverse possession, the claimant's possession must be actual, open, notorious, hostile, under claim of right, continuous, and exclusive. Del-Sesto v. Lewis, 754 A.2d 91, 94-95 (R.I. 2000). The possession must be over ten years, the statutory period for adverse possession. R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-7-1. Similarly, prescription is a method of creating an easement by comparable criteria as adverse possession. The creation of an easement by prescription is the creation of a right to use and title to use that cannot be revoked. Greenwood v. Rahill, 122 R.I. 759, 412 A.2d 228, 230 (1980) ("Once the state had acquired a prescriptive easement ..., no act of plaintiffs could divest the state of that right since such an easement conveys a good and rightful title forever.").

Adverse possession is an ancient English common law doctrine to clarify title in land. Tiffany Real Property § 1133 (3d ed.1975). The defense of adverse possession acted as a bar to ejectment actions. Although various forms of adverse possession appeared in English law as early as 1100 A.D., the current form of adverse possession-a fixed number of years operating as a statute of limitation against claims to land-was adopted by the Statute of James in 1623. Id. After a certain period of time, claims to land can no longer be asserted, thus preventing "illegal claims after the evidence necessary to defeat them has been lost" and advancing the community's interest in "the security of title." Id. at § 1134. Furthermore, adverse possession discourages record owners from "sleeping on their rights" by neglecting to take the appropriate legal steps to maintain their possession. See id.

An easement is a right to use another's property in a certain manner that...

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