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Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency v. Brown

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

November 21, 2014

Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency
v.
Patricia Brown

(PC 07-1178).

For Plaintiff: R. Kevin Horan, Esq.

For Defendant: Arthur E. Chatfield, III, Esq.

Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.

OPINION

Page 894

Indeglia, Justice.

The defendant, Patricia Brown, appeals from a Superior Court ruling granting the

Page 895

motion of the plaintiff, Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency (PRA), for a new trial on the defendant's counterclaim against the PRA. The plaintiff also appeals the denial of its renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law. This case came before the Supreme Court on October 28, 2014, pursuant to an order directing the parties to appear and show cause why the issues raised in this appeal should not be summarily decided. After hearing the arguments of counsel and reviewing the memoranda submitted on behalf of the parties, we are satisfied that cause has not been shown. Accordingly, we shall decide the appeals at this time without further briefing or argument. For the reasons set forth herein, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.

I

Facts and Travel

On March 6, 2007, the PRA filed a complaint in Providence County Superior Court against defendant. The complaint alleged that the PRA had entered into an agreement with defendant to loan her up to $100,000 toward the purchase, relocation, and maintenance of the Silver Top Diner.[1] The agreement was verified by defendant's execution of a promissory note, an indemnification agreement, and a U.C.C. financing statement. Pursuant to the agreement, plaintiff advanced defendant $52,878.25. The plaintiff averred that defendant had defaulted on repayment of the advance and refused to repay the loan, which constituted a breach of the agreement.[2] On May 8, 2007, defendant filed an answer and a counterclaim.

The trial commenced on October 3, 2012. The PRA introduced testimony from the current executive director of the PRA, Barney Heath, as well as the former executive director, Michael Cassidy. During defendant's case-in-chief, testimony was heard from Herbert Weiss, an employee of the city's planning and redevelopment office; Laurie DeRobbio, a contractor who consulted with defendant; Donna Brady, a former property owner in the area of the proposed new site of the diner; and defendant herself.

It was adduced at trial that the PRA is a statutorily created quasi-public entity whose purpose is to allocate federal funds as a means of promoting economic development with the goal of improving the community and living environment in the City of Pawtucket (city or Pawtucket). In late 2001, the PRA learned that the Silver Top Diner was being evicted from its location in Providence. It was undisputed that the diner was not permitted to retain its Providence location. The defendant was contacted by Weiss to discuss the possibility of bringing the diner and its business to Pawtucket. Weiss reported back to Cassidy. At the time, Cassidy was not only Weiss's superior at the planning department, but also the executive director of the PRA.

Page 896

There was testimony that defendant, Cassidy, Weiss, and Bernard Buoncervello[3] met a number of times to discuss possible sites for the diner and also to discuss how the PRA would be able to help with the project. By letter dated January 30, 2002, Cassidy, in his capacity as the city's director of planning and development (as opposed to his role with the PRA), contacted defendant. Cassidy informed defendant of a possible site that defendant might want to consider. He also explained that the acquisition of a " 24/7" victualling license would rest entirely with the city council, but that the city's planning and development office would be open to discussing options for defendant to explore to obtain financial assistance with her project.

Cassidy testified regarding further discussions among the above-named individuals. He explained that on February 27, 2002, in his capacity as the executive director of the PRA, he sent defendant a letter which stated that the PRA agreed to approve defendant's " request for a Commercial Rehab loan to assist [defendant in] relocate[ing] the Silver Top Diner to the City of Pawtucket." The letter set forth seven enumerated conditions on the loan approval, including that:

(1) The PRA will provide a $100,000 loan to assist with all relocation costs of the diner, in accordance with a disbursement ...

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