Providence County Superior Court
For Plaintiff: Jina N. Petrarca-Karampetsos, Esq.
For Defendant: John A. Donovan, III, Esq. Matthew P. Cardosi, Esq.
Plaintiff Paul Sikorskyj (Plaintiff) petitions this Court for a declaratory judgment regarding a right to non-binding arbitration pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 27-10.3. Defendant AMICA Mutual Insurance Company (AMICA or Defendant) counterclaims for declaratory judgment with respect to the same matter. Jurisdiction is pursuant to G.L. 1956 §§ 9-30-1 et seq.
Facts and Travel
On April 9, 2013, Plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle accident with Lee Hastings (Mr. Hastings or Insured). Stipulated Set of Facts ¶ 1. Plaintiff alleges that Mr. Hastings caused the accident. Id. at ¶ 2. At the time of the accident, Mr. Hastings was insured by AMICA. Id. at ¶¶ 1, 4. Mr. Hastings' AMICA insurance policy (Insurance Policy) provided liability coverage for "bodily injury" and "property damage, " with property damage defined as "physical injury to, destruction of, or loss of use of tangible property." Id. at ¶¶ 5, 6.
The alleged cost of repair to Plaintiff's vehicle was $18, 364.26. Id. at ¶ 7. Defendant paid $18, 364.26 to Plaintiff pursuant to Mr. Hastings' Insurance Policy. Id. at ¶ 8. Plaintiff subsequently presented Defendant with a claim for the diminution in value of his motor vehicle as a result of the accident. Id. at ¶ 9. On October 17, 2013, Plaintiff requested non-binding arbitration pursuant to § 27-10.3-1 to resolve the diminution in value claim. Id. at ¶ 10. On October 24, 2013, Defendant declined the request for arbitration on grounds that a diminution in value claim is not arbitrable under § 27-10.3-1. Id. at ¶ 11.
On November 5, 2013, Plaintiff filed a declaratory judgment action in Superior Court. Plaintiff's action requests that this Court: (1) "Determine that diminution of value is a cause of action that arises out of property damages"; and, "Order [AMICA] to submit said controversy to non-binding arbitration pursuant to R.I.G.L. § 27-10.3." Pl.'s Compl. 2. On November 29, 2013, Defendant answered Plaintiff's Complaint while also filing a declaratory judgment counterclaim. See Def.'s Answer and Countercl. Defendant's counterclaim asks this Court to declare that: (1) "[Plaintiff] is not entitled to recover any alleged 'diminution in value' pursuant to the plain language of Mr. Hastings' Policy with AMICA"; (2) "[Plaintiff] has failed to state a viable claim under Rhode Island law"; and (3) "[Plaintiff] is not entitled to non-binding arbitration pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 27-10.3-1." Id. at 5. Plaintiff answered Defendant's counterclaim on November 29, 2013. See Pl.'s Answer.
Defendant filed a Memorandum in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment.Thereafter, Defendant filed an additional Memorandum in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment. Defendant requests judgment as a matter of law on principles of contract interpretation. Conversely, Plaintiff filed a Memorandum in Support of Request for Declaratory Judgment. Although Defendant styled their memoranda as summary judgment pleadings, the parties filed a Stipulated Set of Facts pursuant to the declaratory judgment procedure provided by R.P. 2.3(d)(1).
Standard of Review
The Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act (UDJA) vests the Superior Court with the "power to declare rights, status, and other legal relations whether or not further relief is or could be claimed." Sec. 9-30-1. Because the UDJA exists to "'facilitate the termination of controversies, '" it is liberally construed by courts so as to realize that goal. Bradford Assocs. v. R.I. Div. of Purchases, 772 A.2d 485, 489 (R.I. 2001) (quoting Capital Props., Inc. v. State, 749 A.2d 1069, 1080 (R.I. 1999)). A declaratory judgment petition is justiciable only where a party "present[s] the court with an actual controversy." Millett v. Hoisting Eng'rs Licensing Div. of Dep't of Labor, 119 R.I. 285, 291, 377 A.2d 229, 233 (1977). A plaintiff must therefore suffer both some "injury in fact, ...