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Lehigh Cement Co. v. Quinn

Superior Court of Rhode Island

January 14, 2016

LEHIGH CEMENT CO.
v.
DAVID QUINN, IN HIS CAPACITY AS TAX ASSESSOR OF THE CITY OF PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND

Providence County Superior Court

For Plaintiff: Mark A. Pogue, Esq.

For Defendant: Lisa Fries, Esq.

DECISION

LANPHEAR, J.

I Facts & Travel

Since 2002, Plaintiff Lehigh Cement Co. (Plaintiff or Lehigh) has leased 3.65 acres of land (the leased land) located at the Port of Providence from ProvPort, a nonprofit, tax-exempt, public-private partnership. In 2005, Lehigh and the City of Providence (the City) resolved a dispute regarding whether Lehigh owed property taxes on the leased land. After determining that Lehigh did owe some property taxes, Lehigh paid the property taxes in full on the leased land from 2006-2009. In 2010, Lehigh discovered that the City had erroneously imposed property tax on Lehigh in excess of what it owed for the tax years 2006-2009. Lehigh alleges that the City mistakenly taxed Lehigh as though it leased 16.8 acres of land, rather than 3.65 acres. The City corrected its records in 2010 and has subsequently issued accurate tax bills to Lehigh.

In December 2010, Lehigh met with the Tax Assessor's Office to discuss the overbilling. Lehigh alleges that the then-Tax Assessor stated that he would review the matter and, if an error had occurred, he would "rectify" it. The 2010 Tax Assessor left his position in 2011. During 2011, Lehigh attempted to meet with the Tax Assessor's Office; however, the office did not respond to his efforts. In 2012, the Defendant David Quinn (Defendant or Mr. Quinn) replaced the former Tax Assessor. Lehigh met with the Defendant in 2012 but the parties did not resolve the matter. Lehigh brought the instant suit in Superior Court on December 21, 2012. On August 25, 2015, the City filed a Super. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss for failure to state a claim. On November 17, 2015, the Court denied Defendant's Motion. Subsequently, the City filed a Motion for Summary Judgment.

In its Complaint, Lehigh contends that it has been damaged due to the City's mistake and is entitled to the difference between the amount it owed to the City in property taxes and the amount it erroneously paid between the years 2006-2009. In support of its argument, Lehigh contends that the City's mistake in assessing the amount of property tax owed constitutes an illegal assessment. Therefore, Lehigh alleges that it is owed a refund under G.L. 1956 §§ 44-5-23 and 44-5-27, as well as the Rhode Island Constitution article 1, section 2.

II Standard of Review

It is well settled that "summary judgment is a harsh remedy that must be applied cautiously." DePasquale v. Venus Pizza, Inc., 727 A.2d 683, 685 (R.I. 1999). As such, summary judgment is appropriate when, ""after viewing the admissible evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, no genuine issue of material fact is evident from the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any . . ."" Holley v. Argonaut Holdings, Inc., 968 A.2d 271, 274 (R.I. 2009) (quoting Smiler v. Napolitano, 911 A.2d 1035, 1038 (R.I. 2006)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

A party opposing a motion for summary judgment has an affirmative duty to prove "the existence of a disputed issue of material fact and cannot rest upon mere allegations or denials in the pleadings, mere conclusions, or mere legal opinions." Santucci v. Citizens Bank of R.I., 799 A.2d 254, 257 (R.I. 2002).

III Analysis

1 G.L. 1956 § 44-5-27

Turning to its first argument, the City argues that § 44-5-27 does not apply in this situation. The City contends Lehigh bypassed the appellate procedure laid out in § 44-5-26, and instead, brought this case directly in the Superior Court. Therefore, Lehigh must show that the City's tax assessments from the years 2006-2009 were illegal in order to obtain relief under § 44-5-27. The City alleges that because the erroneous tax assessment does not qualify as an illegal tax assessment, Lehigh is barred from claiming relief under § 44-5-27. In ...


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