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Conservation Law Foundation, Inc. v. Clear River Energy, LLC

Superior Court of Rhode Island, Providence

October 4, 2017

CONSERVATION LAW FOUNDATION, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
CLEAR RIVER ENERGY, LLC, and TOWN OF JOHNSTON, RHODE ISLAND, Defendants. TOWN OF BURRILLVILLE, RHODE ISLAND, Plaintiff,
v.
CLEAR RIVER ENERGY, LLC, and TOWN OF JOHNSTON, RHODE ISLAND, Defendants.

          Conservation Law Foundation, Inc. Max Greene, Esq.

          Clear River Energy, LLC Elizabeth McDonough Noonan, Esq., Richard R. Beretta Jr., Esq., Brenna Anatone Force, Esq., Nicole M. Verdi, Esq., Alan Shoer, Esq., William Mark Russo, Esq.

          Town of Johnston, Rhode Island William J. Conley, Jr., Esq.

          Clear River Energy, LLC

          DECISION

          SILVERSTEIN, J.

         Before the Court in these consolidated matters are Plaintiffs'-Conservation Law Foundation, Inc. (CLF) and the Town of Burrillville, Rhode Island (Burrillville) (collectively, Plaintiffs)-motions seeking a ruling that their respective Amended Complaints, to the extent that they seek declaratory relief, simply present questions of law for the Court, thus necessitating no discovery. At issue is whether the Town of Johnston, Rhode Island's (Johnston) sale of water from the Providence Water Supply Board (PWSB) to Clear River Energy, LLC (CRE) is "for use for domestic, fire and other ordinary municipal water supply purposes" under P.L. 1915, ch. 1278, § 18 (hereinafter referred to as the 1915 Act). Defendants- CRE and Johnston (collectively, Defendants)-separately object to Plaintiffs' motions. The Court exercises subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act, G.L. 1956 §§ 9-30-1, et seq.

         I

         Facts and Travel

         On June 20, 2017, the Court issued a Decision (Decision) denying the Defendants' motions to dismiss as to Count I and as to Plaintiffs' claims for injunctive relief.[1] Thereafter, Plaintiffs filed motions in support of a ruling that their Amended Complaints solely present questions of law to be determined by the Court. The Defendants filed objections in response to Plaintiffs' motions. The Court heard argument on August 24, 2017.

         II

         Parties' Arguments

         The Plaintiffs principally argue that the 1915 Act, [2] entitled "An Act to Furnish the City of Providence with a Supply of Pure Water, " with its amendments, has a plain and unambiguous meaning that does not necessitate discovery. The Plaintiffs contend the pertinent language of the 1915 Act presents a pure question of law for the Court to decide and that no facts are necessary in order for the Court to determine the meaning of a specific phrase in question. CLF reminds the Court that in its Decision, it stated "[h]ere, the Court is presented a question of statutory interpretation . . . ." Id. at *7. CLF contends that in such situations, no evidence is necessary for the Court to address questions of law.

         Moreover, CLF argues, the 1915 Act has a plain and unambiguous meaning. Specifically, CLF contends that the 1915 Act permits Johnston to use the water it buys from Providence "for domestic, fire and other ordinary municipal water supply purposes, " and that Johnston's proposed use is not an ordinary municipal purpose. Thus, CLF believes that Johnston is mistaken regarding the ordinary use of water, and even if it is "ordinary, " it is not "municipal."

         Burrillville explains that the Court underscored the issue presented by Plaintiffs as a "concrete issue of statutory interpretation." Conservation Law Found., Inc., 2017 WL 2782312, *7. Burrillville further emphasizes that the Court stated that this "case [is] about water supply, and the discrete issue of whether Johnston has the legal ...


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