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Estate of Deeble v. Rhode Island Department of Transportation

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

March 24, 2016

Estate of Richard J. Deeble
v.
Rhode Island Department of Transportation

          Providence County Superior Court. (PC 13-618). Associate Justice Brian Van Couyghen.

         For Plaintiff: Robert Clark Corrente, Esq., Christopher Nicholas Dawson, Esq.

         For Defendant: Richard B. Wooley, Department of Attorney General.

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

          OPINION

Page 184

          Maureen McKenna Goldberg, Justice.

          This case came before the Supreme Court on January 21, 2016, after a justice of the Superior Court entered a judgment in favor of the defendant, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT).

Page 185

The plaintiff, the Estate of Richard J. Deeble (plaintiff or estate), appealed the trial justice's determination that the estate is not entitled to a right of first refusal to repurchase land condemned for highway purposes under article 6, section 19 of the Rhode Island Constitution. On appeal, the plaintiff contends that the trial justice erred in failing to conclude that the preemptive right passed to the estate of the original condemnee, Richard J. Deeble (Richard),[1] upon his death. After careful consideration of the parties' arguments, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.

         Facts and Travel

         The facts underlying this action are not in dispute. In January 2001, RIDOT acquired a 31,502-square-foot parcel of real property located at 480 Benefit Street in Providence, Rhode Island (condemned property) through eminent domain in connection with the relocation of Interstate Route 195. At the time of the acquisition, the condemned property was owned by Richard and his wife, Virginia (the Deebles), as tenants by the entirety. Virginia passed away on April 16, 2006. Richard died three years later, on July 7, 2009, and his will was admitted to probate in Coventry, Rhode Island.

         RIDOT utilized a portion of the condemned property in furtherance of the relocation of Interstate Route 195. Upon completion of the project, approximately 24,601 square feet of the condemned property remained (surplus property). However, in accordance with G.L. 1956 § 37-5-8(b), RIDOT was " directed, authorized[,] and empowered to sell, transfer[,] and convey" the surplus property to the State of Rhode Island I-195 Redevelopment District Commission.[2]

         On February 5, 2013, plaintiff sought declaratory and injunctive relief against RIDOT in the Providence County Superior Court, asserting that, should RIDOT seek to sell or lease the condemned property, the estate must be offered the opportunity to repurchase or lease the land in accordance with article 6, section 19 of the Rhode Island Constitution. The estate contended that, when Richard died, the right of first refusal that was vested in him by virtue of article 6, section 19 passed to his heirs, successors, and assigns. RIDOT countered that the preemptive right was personal to Richard and died with him. On April 26, 2013, the parties entered into a consent order, in which RIDOT agreed to refrain from selling or encumbering the surplus property pending resolution of this litigation.

         On June 16, 2014, the Superior Court justice issued a written opinion in which he found that the clear and unambiguous language of article 6, section 19 restricted rights set forth in the provision to the original condemnee. Consequently, the Superior Court justice held that the provisions of article 6, section 19 did not ...


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