The Gerald P. Zarrella Trust et al.
Town of Exeter et al.
County Superior Court Appeal. (WC 15-218) Associate Justice
Luis M. Matos
Plaintiffs: William J. Conley, Esq., Gina Renzulli Lemay,
Defendants: James P. Marusak, Esq., Per C. Vaage, Esq.,
Stephen Joshua Sypole, Esq.
Present: Suttell, C.J., Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.
Francis X. Flaherty, Associate Justice.
appeal involves a man, Gerald Zarrella, his land,
Gerald's Farm, and a local government, the Town of
Exeter, Rhode Island. The plaintiffs, the Gerald P. Zarrella
Trust, Gerald P. Zarrella, in his capacity as trustee, and
Gerald's Farm, LLC (collectively, Zarrella), seek review
of a Superior Court judgment denying their request for
declaratory relief. This matter came before the Supreme Court
pursuant to an order directing the parties to appear and show
cause why the issues raised in this appeal should not
summarily be decided. After considering the parties'
written and oral arguments, and after reviewing the record,
we conclude that cause has not been shown and that this case
may be decided without further briefing or argument. At issue
is whether subsection 4(a) of Rhode Island's Right to
Farm Act, G.L. 1956 chapter 23 of title 2, permits Zarrella
to host commercial events, such as weddings for a fee, on his
farmland in Exeter. For the reasons discussed below, we hold
that it does not; therefore, we affirm the judgment of the
not the first time that Zarrella and the Town of Exeter have
been entangled in litigation over Zarrella's right to
host commercial events on his farmland. In 2011, after the
town sued Zarrella to prevent him from doing exactly that,
the town and Zarrella entered into an amended consent
judgment that permanently enjoined Zarrella from "using
and/or renting the property located at 270 Narrow Lane,
Exeter, Rhode Island, known as Gerald's Farm * * * for
weddings for a fee or other commercial
events." There was one caveat: the injunction would
run with Zarrella's land "until such time as and to
the extent that the terms of this permanent injunction are
superseded by statute * * *." According to Zarrella,
that time came in 2014.
2014, the General Assembly amended the second sentence of
§ 2-23-4(a) to read as follows:
"The mixed-use of farms and farmlands for other forms of
enterprise including, but not limited to, the display of
antique vehicles and equipment, retail sales, tours, classes,
petting, feeding and viewing of animals, hay rides, crop
mazes, festivals and other special events are hereby
recognized as a valuable and viable means of contributing to
the preservation of agriculture."
that this amendment superseded the 2011 injunction, Zarrella
attempted to obtain a zoning certificate from the town that
would allow him to host a commercial fundraising event on his
farmland. But, as it did in 2011, the town rebuffed
Zarrella's attempt to do so, informing him that he was
still bound by the terms of the 2011 injunction. This
prompted Zarrella to file suit against the town and the
members of the Town Council, in their official capacities, in
verified complaint, Zarrella sought a number of declarations
pursuant to the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act, G.L. 1956
chapter 30 of title 9. Zarrella asserted that hosting
commercial events-including hosting weddings for a fee-is the
sort of "other special event" that the General
Assembly "recognized * * * as a valuable and viable
means of contributing to the preservation of
agriculture" when it amended § 2-23-4(a) in 2014.
The thrust of Zarrella's complaint was that the 2014
amendment to § 2-23-4(a) rendered the 2011 permanent
injunction a nullity, green-lighting his ability to host
weddings for a fee on his farmland.
he filed his lawsuit, Zarrella obtained a temporary
restraining order that vacated the 2011
injunction. But that temporary order was short-lived.
After a nonjury trial,  a second trial justice denied
Zarrella's request for declaratory relief, ruling that
the General Assembly's 2014 amendment to § 2-23-4(a)
did not supersede the 2011 injunction. In his decision, the
trial justice concluded that the second sentence of §
2-23-4(a) merely set forth a list of encouraged uses of farms
and farmland, which did not preempt the town's authority
to restrict ...