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Sisto v. America Condominium Association, Inc.

Superior Court of Rhode Island

November 20, 2014

BENNIE SISTO, AS THE TRUSTEE OF THE GOAT ISLAND REALTY TRUST
v.
AMERICA CONDOMINIUM ASSOCIATION, INC. AND THE MEMBERS OF ITS EXECUTIVE BOARD, NATALIE D. VOLPE, MARY C. CONNOLLY, DIANE S. VANDEN DORPEL, EDMOND F. MCKEOWN AND SANDRA M. CONCA

Newport County Superior Court

For Plaintiff: Robert D. Wieck, Esq.

For Defendant: Robert C. Shindell, Esq.

DECISION

CLIFTON, J.

Defendants America Condominium Association, Inc. (America Condominium), Natalie D. Volpe, Mary C. Connolly, Diana S. Vanden Dorpel, Edmond F. McKeown, and Sandra M. Conca (collectively Defendants) move for the assessment of appellate attorneys' fees incurred in defending their anti-SLAPP action. G.L. 1956 § 9-33-1, et seq. The matter before this Court is whether there exists proper subject matter jurisdiction to award such fees. [1]

I

Facts and Travel

The Rhode Island Supreme Court has previously recounted the underlying facts of this case in Sisto v. Am. Condo. Ass'n, Inc., 68 A.3d 603 (R.I. 2013); therefore, this Court undertakes only a minimal review of the facts pertinent to the assessment of appellate attorneys' fees. The instant action involves Plaintiff Bennie Sisto's (Plaintiff or Mr. Sisto) proposal to expand his townhouse, a unit within the Goat Island South Condominium community, on Goat Island in Newport, Rhode Island. On October 19, 2006, Mr. Sisto filed an application with the Coastal Resource Management Council (CRMC) to demolish his existing townhouse and construct a larger unit. In response, Defendants submitted to the CRMC an objection to this application, claiming, inter alia, that Plaintiff did not own the land on which the expanded townhouse was proposed and that the proposed project failed to comply with CRMC setback requirements. Consequently, Mr. Sisto filed suit against Defendants, alleging slander of title and breach of contract. In response, Defendants moved for summary judgment on these claims under Rhode Island's anti-SLAPP statute. This Court granted that motion and, in accordance with the anti-SLAPP statute, awarded to Defendants the mandatory attorneys' fees incurred in making the motion. Mr. Sisto appealed to the Rhode Island Supreme Court, which affirmed this Court's grant of the motion and attorneys' fees. Subsequently, Defendants have petitioned this Court for an assessment of the attorneys' fees incurred in defending judgment on appeal.

Defendants contend that they are entitled to the attorneys' fees incurred in defending the appeal against Mr. Sisto. They assert that the Rhode Island Supreme Court's directive in Karousos v. Pardee, 992 A.2d 263 (R.I. 2010)—that appellate attorneys' fees be awarded to the prevailing party in an anti-SLAPP action—entitles them to recovery. Mr. Sisto contends that Defendants are not eligible to receive these appellate attorneys' fees, arguing that this Court lacks jurisdiction to assess appellate fees without specific remand. He refers to alternative theories of res judicata and the mandate rule as well as citing Defendants' failure to request the fees from the Rhode Island Supreme Court as a bar to recovery.

II

Analysis

A

Res Judicata

Mr. Sisto contends that the Supreme Court has closed the case in its decision such that further proceedings would be barred by res judicata. Therefore, he asserts, the assessment of appellate attorneys' fees cannot be determined by this Court insofar as ...


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