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Rhode Island Builders Association v. Town of Coventry

Superior Court of Rhode Island

October 2, 2015

RHODE ISLAND BUILDERS ASSOCIATION; COVENTRY LAND COMPANY, LLC; R.B. HOMES, INC.; STURBRIDGE HOME BUILDERS, INC.; ELAINE ENTERPRISES, INC.; and RICHARD LINKEVICH, Plaintiffs
v.
TOWN OF COVENTRY, by and through its Treasurer, THEODORE PRZYBYLA; and GARY COTE, KERRY MCGEE, TED JENDZEJEC, and RAYMOND SPEAR, in their Official Capacities as Members of the Town Council of the Town of Coventry. Defendants.

Kent County Superior Court

For Plaintiff: Michael A. Kelly, Esq.

For Defendant: Michael A. DeSisto, Esq. Nicholas Gorham, Esq.

DECISION

STERN, J.

Before this Court for decision is Plaintiffs' Coventry Land Company, LLC (Coventry Land) and Richard Linkevich (Linkevich) (collectively, Plaintiffs) Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. Plaintiffs move for summary judgment on Count II of their Amended Complaint. In support of their Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, Plaintiffs argue that the Town of Coventry (Coventry or Defendant) failed to comply with the statutory requirements of the Rhode Island Fair Share Development Fee Act before amending its Impact Fee Ordinance in 2010. Specifically, Plaintiffs contend that Coventry failed to distinguish its public facilities' current deficiencies from the future needs that would be present from future growth and development. Conversely, Coventry argues that Plaintiffs' Motion must be denied since Plaintiffs lack standing to challenge the amended Impact Fee Ordinance. Specifically, Coventry contends it complied with the necessary statutory requirements before amending its Impact Fee Ordinance. Further, Coventry argues that the voluntary payment doctrine prevents Plaintiffs from recovering impact fees previously paid.

I. Facts and Travel

At the turn of the twenty-first century, the departments and public facilities of Rhode Island's cities and towns were starting to become overburdened by expansive new growth and development. As a result, in July of 2000, the Rhode Island General Assembly passed the Rhode Island Development Impact Fee Act[1] (the Act) granting municipalities the authority to establish impact fees. The Act was designed to ensure that municipal public facilities would be able to accommodate new growth and development and required those benefitting from the development to pay a proportionate share of the cost for new or upgraded public facilities needed to serve the expansion. However, impact fees could not exceed the proportionate share of the costs incurred, or to be incurred, by the governmental entity in accommodating the new expansion. See § 45-22.4-4. The assessment of an impact fee is based upon the actual costs incurred to expand or improve public facilities or upon reasonable estimates of the cost to be incurred. The Act further requires that any calculation be in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). Before the assessment of any impact fee, the Act states a city or town is required to conduct a "needs assessment" to determine which public facility or facilities will receive the impact fees collected.[2]

On September 25, 2000, Coventry passed Ordinance No. 5-00-0220 (the Impact Fee Ordinance) authorizing the assessment of a Fair Share Development Fee[3] (Impact Fee) for new residential developments. The Impact Fee Ordinance assessed an Impact Fee of $7596 per each new residential unit.[4] The assessment value of the Impact Fee was based on Coventry's prepared Fair Share Development Fee Report (the 2000 Fee Report).[5] Sometime in late 2009 or early 2010, Coventry decided to amend its Impact Fee Ordinance. Paul Sprague, Esq. (Sprague), Coventry's Director of Planning and Development, commenced an investigation of Coventry's population trend and the capital needs of its various departments in order to determine whether an adjustment to the Impact Fee Ordinance was necessary.[6]

As part of his investigation, Sprague conducted a review of Coventry's various department budgets. In order to project population growth and to anticipate the future population of Coventry, Sprague relied upon the 2005 U.S. Census report, the most recently published report at that time. After compiling and reviewing the gathered information, a second Fair Share Development Fee Report (2010 Fee Report) was presented to Coventry which proposed an Impact Fee value to mitigate the adverse effect that projected population growth would have on its public departments and how to apportion the fee between various departments.[7] On September 13, 2010, Coventry, based upon the 2010 Fee Report, amended its Impact Fee Ordinance (Amended Impact Fee Ordinance).[8] The Amended Impact Fee Ordinance assessed the same amount of Impact Fees; however, the ordinance altered the apportionment of the Impact Fee.[9] The purpose of Coventry amending its Impact Fee Ordinance was for it to be more consistent with Coventry's Comprehensive Community Plan (Comprehensive Plan).[10]

In October of 2011, Plaintiffs filed the instant suit challenging the amount of the Impact Fee assessed under the Amended Impact Fee Ordinance. On May 5, 2011, Coventry Land received Master Plan approval for a major subdivision of seventy-five lots. Coventry Land alleges that each residential unit is subject to the imposition of Impact Fees under Coventry's Amended Impact Fee Ordinance. Coventry contends that the Impact Fees assessed against Coventry Land are pursuant to a 2007 Consent Judgment (2007 Consent Judgment). Linkevich argues that he was assessed Impact Fees pursuant to the Amended Impact Fee Ordinance on December 22, 2010. Plaintiffs now seek (1) a declaration that Coventry's enacted Amended Impact Fee Ordinance is invalid as it is in violation of § 45-22.4-1; (2) a return of Impact Fees paid; and (3) a restraining order enjoining Coventry from further collecting Impact Fees.

II. Standard of Review

"Summary judgment is a proceeding in which the proponent must demonstrate by affidavits, depositions, pleadings and other documentary matter . . . that he or she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law and that there are no genuine issues of material fact." Palmisciano v. Burrillville Racing Ass'n, 603 A.2d 317, 320 (R.I. 1992) (citing Steinberg v. State, 427 A.2d 338 (R.I. 1981)). The court, during a summary judgment proceeding, "does not pass upon the weight or the credibility of the evidence but must consider the affidavits and other pleadings in a light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." Id. (citing Lennon v. MacGregor, 423 A.2d 820 (R.I. 1980)). Moreover, "the justice's only function is to determine whether there are any issues involving material facts." Steinberg, 427 A.2d at 340. The court's purpose during the summary judgment procedure is issue finding, not issue determination. O'Connor v. McKanna, 116 R.I. 627, 633, 359 A.2d 350, 353 (1976). The judge's task in ruling on a summary judgment motion is to determine whether there is a genuine issue concerning any material fact. Id.

Under the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act (UDJA), the Superior Court possesses the "power to declare rights, status, and other legal relations whether or not further relief is or could be claimed." G.L. 1956 § 9-30-1; see also P.J.C. Realty, Inc. v. Barry, 811 A.2d 1202, 1207 (R.I. 2002) (quoting § 9-30-1). Thus, "the Superior Court has jurisdiction to construe the rights and responsibilities of any party arising from a statute pursuant to the powers conferred upon [it] by G.L. 1956 chapter 30 of title 9, the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act." Canario v. Culhane, 752 A.2d 476, 478-79 (R.I. 2000). Specifically, § 9-30-2 of the UDJA provides as follows:

"Any person interested under a deed, will, written contract, or other writings constituting a contract, or whose rights, status, or other legal relations are affected by a statute, municipal ordinance, contract, or franchise, may have determined any question of construction or validity arising under the instrument, statute, ordinance, contract, or franchise and obtain a ...

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