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Estate of Deeble v. Rhode Island Department of Transportation

Superior Court of Rhode Island

June 16, 2014

ESTATE OF RICHARD J. DEEBLE
v.
RHODE ISLAND DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

Providence County Superior Court, Van Couyghen, J.

For Plaintiff: Robert Clark Corrente, Esq.; Christopher L. Ayers, Esq.

For Defendant: Richard B. Woolley, Esq.

DECISION

VAN COUYGHEN, J.

This matter is before the Court as a result of Plaintiff's Complaint seeking declaratory judgment. Plaintiff seeks a judgment establishing a right of first refusal to purchase property previously taken by the State through eminent domain. The parties have submitted an Agreed Statement of Facts.[1] Jurisdiction is pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 9-30-1.

I

Facts and Travel

The relevant facts are as follows. Plaintiff is the Estate of Richard J. Deeble; Victoria Brown and Pamela Diehl are the co-executrices of the Estate of Richard J. Deeble. Revised Agreed Statement of Facts ¶ 1. Defendant, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) is an administrative division of the State of Rhode Island established pursuant to G.L. 1956 §§ 42-13-1, et seq. Revised Agreed Statement of Facts ¶ 2.

As of January 2001, Richard J. Deeble and his wife Virginia L. Deeble (the Deebles) were the owners, as tenants by the entirety, of the real property, and improvements thereon, located at 480 Benefit Street, Providence, Rhode Island, and identified by the City of Providence Tax Assessor as Plat 18, Lot 21 (the Condemned Property). Revised Agreed Statement of Facts ¶ 3. On or about January 3, 2001, RIDOT acquired the Condemned Property from the Deebles by eminent domain for $1, 080, 000.00 in connection with the relocation of Interstate Route 195 (the Taking). Revised Agreed Statement of Facts ¶ 4. The Taking was authorized by the Rhode Island State Properties Committee in October 2000 in connection with the relocation of Interstate Route 195. Revised Agreed Statement of Facts ¶ 5. Thereafter, the Deebles filed a lawsuit against RIDOT and, after trial, the Superior Court awarded the Deebles an additional $292, 403.69 for the Taking, $38, 197.54 in prejudgment interest, and costs in the amount of $3, 274.05. Revised Agreed Statement of Facts ¶ 6.

Virginia L. Deeble died on April 16, 2006[2] and Richard J. Deeble died on July 7, 2009. Revised Agreed Statement of Facts ¶¶ 7 and 8. Mr. Deeble's will was admitted to probate in Coventry, Rhode Island on April 22, 2010. Revised Agreed Statement of Facts ¶ 8. Mr. Deeble's will poured over into The Richard J. Deeble Revocable Trust – 1983 which, upon his death, split into two trusts, one for the benefit of Victoria Brown and the other for the benefit of Pamela Diehl. Id.

As of the date of the Taking, the Condemned Property contained approximately 31, 502 square feet. Revised Agreed Statement of Facts ¶ 9. RIDOT used a portion of the Condemned Property in connection with the relocation of Interstate Route 195. Revised Agreed Statement of Facts ¶ 10. After completing the relocation of Interstate Route 195, there remains approximately 24, 601 square feet of the Condemned Property (the Surplus Condemned Property). Revised Agreed Statement of Facts ¶ 11. The survey of the Surplus Condemned Property is attached as Exhibit 1 to the Revised Agreed Statement of Facts. Id. In accordance with G.L. 1956 § 37-5-8(b), RIDOT is "directed, authorized and empowered" to sell the Surplus Condemned Property to the State of Rhode Island I-195 Redevelopment District Commission. Revised Agreed Statement of Facts ¶ 12.

Under the terms of a Consent Order entered by this Court on April 26, 2013, RIDOT agreed to refrain from selling or encumbering the Surplus Condemned Property pending resolution of this litigation. Revised Agreed Statement of Facts ¶ 13. In its Answer to Plaintiff's Complaint, RIDOT has denied that it has any obligation to provide the Estate of Richard J. Deeble with a right of first refusal concerning the Surplus Condemned Property as provided by article 6, section 19 of the Rhode Island Constitution. Revised Agreed Statement of Facts ¶ 14.

II

Parties' Arguments

Plaintiff asserts that it has a right of first refusal pursuant to article 6, section 19 of the Rhode Island Constitution in the event that Defendant seeks to sell or lease the remainder of the property taken from the Deebles in 2001. Specifically, Plaintiff contends that the right set forth in article 6, section 19 of the Rhode Island Constitution and codified by the Legislature in § 37-7-4 is a right vested in Mr. and Mrs. Deeble, which passed to their survivors, heirs, executors, or successors upon their death.

Defendant argues that article 6, section 19 of the Rhode Island Constitution and its codification give no such right to the survivors, heirs, executors, or successors of the original condemnee. In particular, Defendant asserts that the right of first refusal is limited to the original landowner from whom property was ...


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