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Town of Coventry v. T. Miozzi, Inc.

Superior Court of Rhode Island

May 9, 2016

TOWN OF COVENTRY; WESTWOOD ESTATES I & II, INC.; W.W. III DEVELOPMENT, INC.;

Kent County Superior Court

For Plaintiff: J. William Harsch, Esq.; Patrick J. Dougherty, Esq.; Nicholas Gorham, Esq.; Maurene Souza, Esq.

For Defendant: Brian Laplante, Esq.; Michael J. Jacobs, Esq.

DECISION

"It takes less time to do a thing right, than it does to explain why you did it wrong."- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

PROCACCINI, J.

This matter is before the Court on the Town of Coventry's (the Town or Coventry) motion to vacate a consent judgment entered on April 18, 2011 (the Consent Judgment). The Town moves to vacate the Consent Judgment pursuant to Rules 60(b)(4) and (6) of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure.[1] The Consent Judgment resolved a dispute between the Town and T. Miozzi, Inc. (T. Miozzi or Defendant) that arose between the parties in 2010. That dispute concerned the operation and effect of T. Miozzi's asphalt plant, which is in close proximity to a residential community in Coventry. For the reasons set forth herein, the Consent Judgment is hereby vacated.

I

Facts and Travel

T. Miozzi has owned and operated an asphalt plant in Coventry since 2004. While the plant is located in an industrial park, it is also in close proximity to a residential neighborhood, Westwood Estates I & II (the Neighborhood). In 2010, the Town and the Neighborhood (collectively, Plaintiffs) filed a three-count Amended Complaint against T. Miozzi seeking to declare that T. Miozzi was operating at night in violation of a noise ordinance. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 20-26. The Town and the Neighborhood also sought damages under a theory of private nuisance, as well as injunctive relief. See id. at ¶¶ 27-36.

Plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction to enjoin T. Miozzi from operating during certain hours. Following an evidentiary hearing, the Superior Court denied the motion. The Court found that there was not a substantial likelihood that the Plaintiffs would be successful at trial and that the balancing of equities favored T. Miozzi's position. See generally Prelim. Inj. Decision Tr., Nov. 17, 2010. On April 18, 2011, the Court entered a Consent Judgment that declared the parties' respective rights concerning T. Miozzi's operations.[2] The Consent Judgment was signed by Frederick G. Tobin, then Town Solicitor for Coventry (Solicitor Tobin), and John A. Pagliarini, Jr., attorney for T. Miozzi.

Both the Town and T. Miozzi operated and abided by the Consent Judgment without opposition until late 2015. For example, T. Miozzi was cited numerous times for failing to give adequate notice prior to commencing nighttime operations as required under the Consent Judgment. See Def.'s Mem., Exs. 5-6, 10. In January 2015, the parties debated whether the overnight storage of hot liquid asphalt in silos amounted to operating the plant under the Consent Judgment. See Def.'s Mem., Exs. 8, 10. Furthermore, in May 2013, the Coventry Town Council (Town Council) discussed the relationship between an amended ordinance, one that regulates the closing hours for asphalt plants, and the Consent Judgment. See Town Council Mins. at 6-8, May 13, 2013. The amended ordinance does not permit nighttime operations. Coventry, R.I., Code of Ordinances § 153-4(A) (2013). However, a member of the Town Council concluded, "[t]hese hours of operation will clearly work with regard to the second plant, and the first plant will be limited by the consent order." Town Council Mins. at 8, May 13, 2013.

At some point in 2015, it was brought to the Town's attention that the Consent Judgment may have been entered into without proper authorization from the Town Council. As a result, a closed session was held on November 23, 2015 to discuss the effects of the unauthorized Consent Judgment. T. Miozzi was notified on November 24, 2015 that the Consent Judgment had not been authorized by the Town Council. See Def.'s Mem., Ex. 12. On December 7, 2015, the Town Council considered a motion to adopt or reject the Consent Judgment. The Consent Judgment was ultimately rejected 4-1.[3] Town Council Meeting Tr., 49:20-50:22, Dec. 7, 2015.[4]

On December 22, 2015, the Town moved to vacate the Consent Judgment under Rules 60(b)(4) and (6) of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiffs argue that the Town Council did not give Solicitor Tobin the authority to enter into the Consent Judgment. Likewise, Plaintiffs posit that the Town Council never voted to adopt the Consent Judgment after it was entered and actually rejected it in December 2015. As a result, Plaintiffs maintain, the Consent Judgment is not binding on the Town.

In opposition, Defendant first contends that the Court should not consider the Town's motion to vacate as the motion was not brought within a reasonable period of time, as required under Super. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(6). Second, Defendant argues that even if the motion is considered timely, the Consent Judgment is binding on the Town. Defendant maintains that it is clear from the testimony of Councilman McGee and former Council President Gary Cote (former President Cote) at the December 7, 2015 meeting that the Town Council gave Solicitor Tobin the express authority to enter into the Consent Judgment. In the alternative, Defendant claims that the Town Council ratified the Consent Judgment by abiding and enforcing such for almost five years without opposition.[5]

II

Standard of Review

Rule 60(b) of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure (Rule 60(b)) provides, in pertinent part:

"On motion and upon such terms as are just, the court may relieve a party or a party's legal representative from a final judgment, order, or proceeding for the following reasons: . . . (4) the judgment is void; . . . or (6) any other reason justifying relief from the operation of ...

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