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Conti v. Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation

Superior Court of Rhode Island

August 7, 2015

RICHARD J. CONTI
v.
RHODE ISLAND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION

Providence County Superior Court

For Plaintiff: Christopher J. O'Connor, Esq.

For Defendant: Benjamin C. Caldwell, Esq.

DECISION

MCGUIRL, J.

In its September 29, 2014 decision in the above-captioned matter, [1] this Court awarded $159, 000 to Plaintiff Richard J. Conti (Mr. Conti) as compensation for the condemnation exacted by the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation (the EDC)[2] of Smithfield Plat 49, Lot 102A (the Property). Now the Court turns to an assessment of prejudgment interest on this award.

I

Facts and Travel

The EDC, under its statutory authority pursuant to § 42-64-9, took the Property by eminent domain on May 1, 2002.[3] In doing so, it valued the Property at $141, 000 and paid Mr. Conti accordingly. In this Court's September 29, 2014 decision, such compensation was held inadequate and-based on expert testimony-the fair market value of the Property in relation to its lawful highest and best use was judged to be $300, 000 at the time of taking. As such, the "just compensation" due and owing to Mr. Conti "total[ed] $159, 000, with interest, from the date of the taking." Conti, 2014 WL 4952178, at *9.

Now Mr. Conti moves for both prejudgment and postjudgment interest on this award, requesting twelve percent per annum statutory interest pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 9-21-10. The EDC responds that the payment of interest is inappropriate because, as a state agency, it is insulated from paying such interest under the doctrine of sovereign immunity. It further contends that even if it were required to pay interest, the interest would be calculated in accordance with G.L. 1956 § 37-6-23, which deals specifically with payment in the wake of a condemnation judgment. The parties agree that the difference in interest after utilizing these distinct rates is not insignificant: the accrued interest at twelve percent would result in an award that is more than $200, 000 greater than that calculated using the alternative rate. The Court addresses each issue in turn.

II

Discussion

A

Sovereign Immunity

Mr. Conti and the EDC disagree over the precise classification of the EDC with regard to its standing as a state agency for the purposes of the doctrine of sovereign immunity, which serves to "insulate[] the state from paying prejudgment [and postjudgment] interest[.]" R.I. Pub. Telecomms. Auth. v. Russell, 914 A.2d 984, 995 (R.I. 2007) (citing Reagan Constr. Corp. v. Mayer, 712 A.2d 372, 373 (R.I. 1998)). In the eyes of the EDC, it was a state actor in taking the Property by eminent domain, and, as a result, is immune from paying interest on the judgment. However, ...


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