KAREN F. CARROLL Plaintiff
LISA RODRIQUES, MICHAEL RODRIQUES, PRICILLA N. ESTES, in her capacity as Co-Trustee of the Testamentary Trust established under the Will of John G. Nelson, and MARK W. ESTES, in his capacity as Co-Trustee of the Testamentary Trust established under the Will of John G. Nelson Defendants
Plaintiff: Christopher A. Anderson, Esq.
Defendant: Evan S. Leviss, Esq.
case is before the Court for decision following a nonjury
trial on a Complaint by Karen F. Carroll (Plaintiff) against
Lisa and Michael Rodriques-individually- and Pricilla N. and
Mark W. Estes-in their capacities as co-trustees of the
testamentary trust of John G. Nelson (collectively,
Defendants). Plaintiff seeks to quiet title to certain
property in Little Compton via adverse possession pursuant to
G.L. 1956 § 34-7-1. Jurisdiction is pursuant to G.L.
1956 § 8-2-14. For the reasons set forth herein,
judgment shall enter for Plaintiff.
nonjury trial, the "trial justice sits as a trier of
fact as well as of law." Hood v. Hawkins, 478
A.2d 181, 184 (R.I. 1984). "Consequently, [the trial
justice] weighs and considers the evidence, passes upon the
credibility of the witnesses, and draws proper
52(a) of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure states
that "[i]n all actions tried upon the facts without a
jury . . . the court shall find the facts specially and state
separately its conclusions of law . . ." Super. R. Civ.
P. 52(a). At times, parties will stipulate to certain facts
and execute an agreed statement of facts. When certain facts
are stipulated to, "the [ ] court does not play a
fact-finding role, but is limited to 'applying the law to
the agreed-upon facts.'" Delbonis Sand & Gravel
Co. v. Town of Richmond, 909 A.2d 922, 925 (R.I. 2006)
(quoting Hagenberg v. Avedisian, 879 A.2d 436, 441
(R.I. 2005)). Facts in dispute are decided by the Court, and
the law is applied accordingly.
accordance with the appropriate standard, this Court makes
the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.
Town of Little Compton is a quiet, rural community that sits
at the Southeastern tip of Rhode Island. At some point prior
to November 1986, Francis Carroll-Plaintiff's late
husband-began searching the Little Compton Land Evidence
Records and Tax Rolls for properties that were not on the tax
rolls or were otherwise unaccounted for. After identifying
a property that was not on the tax rolls and had no apparent
owner of record, Mr. Carroll would deed the property from
himself, to himself and his wife, as tenants by the entirety.
Mr. Carroll would then record the deed. Subsequently, the tax
assessor would be notified of the newly recorded deed and
begin assessing taxes to the property. The Carrolls would
then proceed to pay the property taxes as assessed and treat
the property as their own.
Carroll's interest in the area surrounding Amy Hart Path
in Little Compton began at a time after his parents'
divorce when he received a lot of his own in the same
area. While researching his lot, Mr. Carroll
discovered that certain other lots in the nearby area were
missing from the tax rolls. In other words, the Lots were not
being assessed property taxes. Two of the lots Mr. Carroll
identified as being absent from the tax rolls, and for which
he could not locate record owners, were lots 103 and 105 of
the Little Compton Tax Assessor's Plat Map 41. These are
the lots at issue in the instant lawsuit.
the lots in question as well as real estate in the
surrounding area were used as woodlots and were otherwise
undeveloped and forested. Up to and until 2009, the year this
lawsuit was filed, the record owners of the lots in question
were unknown to both the Town of Little Compton and the
record owners themselves.
Lots 103 and 105 (The disputed land)
103 and 105 are located to the east and to the west of Amy
Hart Path, respectively, and directly abut Defendants'
properties to the north. The lots are between six and seven
acres apiece and, to date, remain mostly undeveloped and
wooded. Upon identifying lots 103 and 105 as not being on the
tax rolls, Mr. Carroll had his attorney at the time prepare a
quitclaim deed conveying the lots from himself, to himself
and Plaintiff, as tenants by the entirety. On November 19,
1986, Mr. Carroll recorded the deed in the Little Compton
Land Evidence Records in Book 67 at Page 674. The properties
were subsequently assigned lot numbers 103 and 105, and taxes
were assessed by the Little Compton Tax Assessor. Plaintiff
testified at trial that the couple originally planned to
subdivide lots 103 and 105 and sell the lots as house-lots.
In furtherance of this goal, they took certain actions in an
effort to prepare the lots for sale.
after recording the 1986 deed, around the spring of 1987, the
couple cleared the land around the lots' boundary lines
by cutting away brush and trimming trees. Plaintiff testified
that she and her husband also had the lots surveyed in order
to identify the exact boundaries. The Carrolls directed the
surveyor to place granite boundary markers-six in
total-around the properties and to also place metal rods in
the middle of Amy Hart Path. The lots extended into, and met
in the middle of, Amy Hart Path. After having the lots
surveyed and the perimeter marked, the Carrolls applied to
the Town of Little Compton to subdivide the lots.
testified that the town council approved the application to
subdivide the lots; however, the approval was conditioned
upon several factors. First, the Carrolls had to widen Amy
Hart Path between the boundary lines of lots 103 and 105 to a
width of twenty feet, with an additional ten foot setback on
each side. To accomplish this, the Carrolls hired an
engineer. Plaintiff testified that gravel and stone were
brought in to improve the path's structural integrity,
and drainage pipes were installed. Additionally, the Town of
Little Compton required the Carrolls to get the land
resurveyed as the perimeter surveys they provided were
insufficient. On February 9, 1989, a deed memorializing the
subdivision was recorded in the Little Compton Land Evidence
Records in Book 74 at Page 416. The lots in question are now
reflected in Little Compton Tax Assessor's Plat Map 41 as
lots 103-1 and 103-2 and lots 105-1 and 105-2 (collectively,
the Lots). On August 20, 1989, Mr. Carroll passed away.
addition to subdividing the Lots, Plaintiff brought suit in
Newport County Superior Court in 1995 in order to have Amy
Hart Path declared a public road. The lawsuit was
necessitated because certain property owners, who are not
parties to the instant action, would not allow Plaintiff to
use Amy Hart Path. The defendants in that case were asserting
that Amy Hart Path was a private road and thus denied access
to the Lots in question, which prevented Plaintiff from
bringing utilities to them.
7, 1996, judgment entered in Plaintiff's favor. The court
declared Amy Hart Path a public highway and permanently
restrained and enjoined the defendants from, inter
alia, "impeding, interfering with or otherwise
denying [Ms. Carroll]'s right to utilize the Amy Hart
Path for the purpose of bringing utility services to her
land." Pl.'s Trial Ex. H, 2-3. Subsequently,
Plaintiff brought utilities to the Lots, which required
installing utility poles to carry the necessary cables.
testified that she posted no trespassing signs around the
properties in an effort to notify the public that the land
was private property. Plaintiff also hired engineers to
conduct perc tests throughout the Lots in order to assess
their ability to properly drain water. In addition, Plaintiff
engaged a realtor, Rosemary Bowen of Spinnaker Realtors, to
market the Lots for sale. Ms. Bowen was successful in her
endeavors, and Plaintiff entered into Purchase and Sales
Agreements for all four lots, ultimately obtaining security
deposits on each. The individual who executed a Purchase and
Sales Agreement for lot 105-2, Christian LeBlanc, testified
that he cleared an acre of the lot, installed a driveway, and
burnt brush; however, construction has since been halted as a
result of this lawsuit.
parties do not dispute that Defendants are the record owners
of the subject properties. The Rodriques Defendants are the
record owners of lots 103-1 and 103-2, and the Estes
Defendants are the record owners of lots 105-1 and 105-2.
Neither the Rodriques Defendants nor the Estes Defendants
have ever occupied the subject properties, nor have they paid
any real estate taxes on the subject properties. Additional
facts will be provided as needed.
March 16, 2009, Plaintiff filed suit in Newport County
Superior Court seeking to quiet title to the Lots via adverse
possession. Plaintiff claims that in accordance with §
34-7-1, she had occupied the Lots under a claim of right and
had been in open, notorious, adverse, exclusive, and
uninterrupted possession and enjoyment for the statutory
period. On June 27, 2016, the case was reached for trial and
heard before another justice of this Court without the
intervention of a jury. At the conclusion of the one-day
trial, the trial justice reserved decision.
December 15, 2016, another justice of this Court ordered a
mistrial due to the illness of the original justice, and a
new trial date was scheduled. On May 4, 2017, the two-day,
nonjury trial concluded before this Court. At the close of
Plaintiff's case, Defendants moved to dismiss
Plaintiff's claim pursuant to Super. R. Civ. P. 41. The
motion should have been made pursuant to Super. ...