Kent County Superior Court Associate Justice Brian P. Stern
For Plaintiffs: Joelle C. Rocha, Esq. Michael A. Kelly, Esq.
For Defendants: Peter A. Clarkin, Esq.
Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.
Paul A. Suttell Chief Justice
In 2002 the Board of Fire Commissioners (board) of the East Greenwich Fire District (fire district) adopted a resolution imposing development impact fees on developers who applied for a building permit to develop land within the Town of East Greenwich. Five corporate plaintiffs sued the fire district and the Town of East Greenwich by and through its finance director, Kathleen Raposa, (collectively, defendants) alleging that the defendants' imposition and collection of development impact fees pursuant to this resolution violated Rhode Island's Development Impact Fee Act (RIDIFA), G.L. 1956 chapter 22.4 of title 45. A hearing justice of the Superior Court resolved the case on cross-motions for summary judgment and entered judgment in favor of the defendants on all of the counts in the plaintiffs' complaint. The plaintiffs appeal from the final judgment, arguing that the defendants did not have the authority to impose development impact fees. In the alternative, they contend that, even if the defendants did have the requisite authority to impose the fees, the process by which they imposed the fees was deficient and the fees were therefore not properly collected. For the reasons set forth below, we vacate the judgment of the Superior Court.
Facts and Procedural History
None of the material facts of this case are in dispute. In 1998 the General Assembly amended P.L. 1902, ch. 1039 and created the fire district, a municipal corporation that included all of the land within the Town of East Greenwich. P.L. 1998, ch. 26, § 1. The fire district had been initially established by a charter passed by the General Assembly in 1797. The charter was amended several times prior to its revocation in 2013, when the Town of East Greenwich acquired the fire district's property, assets, and personnel. P.L. 2013, ch. 47, §§ 1, 2. In 2002 the fire district adopted a resolution imposing development impact fees, defining an "[i]mpact fee" as "the charge imposed upon new development to fund all or a portion of the public facility's capital improvements affected by the new development from which it is collected[.]" Resolution Sec. 2(g). The resolution declared that an impact fee would be imposed pursuant to the schedule set forth therein on "[a]ny developer who * * * [sought] to develop land within the Town of East Greenwich * * *." Id. Sec. 3(a). Within eight years of collection, the impact fees were to be "expended or encumbered for the construction of public facilities' capital improvements * * *." Id. Sec. 5(a). The resolution defined "[p]ublic facilities" to include fire stations, fire facilities, fire apparatus, communications equipment, and "[o]ther facilities consistent with the Fire District's capital improvement program." Id. Sec. 2(i)(v).
In 2009 and 2010, one of the plaintiffs, Amalfi Homes, LLC, paid impact fees in the amount of $3, 432 on three lots of property. In 2011 another plaintiff, Link Commercial Properties, LLC, paid $75, 017.72 in impact fees. A third plaintiff, Coastway Community Bank, paid $7, 502.95 in 2012. A fourth plaintiff, 5750 Post Road Medical Offices, LLC, paid $34, 483.56 to the fire district in 2013. Subsequently, plaintiffs filed a complaint seeking a declaratory judgment pursuant to the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act, G.L. 1956 chapter 30 of title 9, declaring that the imposition of the impact fees by the fire district was beyond its power and also violated the mandates of RIDIFA (counts 1 and 4). The plaintiffs also alleged that the manner in which the 2002 resolution was adopted violated their due process rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because the fire district had not provided plaintiffs with either notice or an opportunity to be heard prior to adopting the impact fees by means of a resolution (count 2). The plaintiffs also sought to enjoin the Town of East Greenwich from enforcing the impact fee schedule or spending any of the funds collected from the imposition of the impact fees (count 3); they further sought a refund of all of the impact fees paid to the fire district pursuant to the impact fee schedule (count 5).
In November 2013 defendants filed a motion for summary judgment seeking judgment as a matter of law in their favor on the basis of their contention that the fire district's charter expressly granted the fire district "all the rights, powers and privileges conferred upon towns by the provisions of title 45 of the Rhode Island [G]eneral [L]aws * * *, " P.L. 1998, ch. 26, § 10, and that, because title 45 included RIDIFA, the fire district clearly had the authority to impose and collect development impact fees. The defendants also contended that the resolution complied with the mandates of RIDIFA because the requisite assessments were completed and subsequently adopted by the fire district's board at a regularly scheduled open meeting. The plaintiffs objected to defendants' motion for summary judgment and also filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. The plaintiffs contended that the fire district had not had the authority to adopt a schedule of development impact fees and that, even if the fire district had the genuine statutory authority to impose these fees, it had not complied with the requirements set forth in RIDIFA because the fees were imposed through the adoption of a resolution and not with the requisite formalities of an ordinance.
The hearing justice heard oral arguments on the cross-motions and thereafter issued a written decision granting defendants' motion and denying plaintiffs' motion. The hearing justice examined the language in RIDIFA and the fire district's charter, and found that RIDIFA's enabling authority to impose development impact fees extended beyond cities and towns within Rhode Island to include fire districts, and he also found that the charter specifically empowered the fire district to impose impact fees. The hearing justice further found that the resolution was effectively an ordinance and that there was "no genuine issue of material fact that the Fire District complied with RIDIFA's mandate that the fees be adopted by ordinance." The plaintiffs subsequently appealed from the judgment entered in favor of defendants.
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