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W.H.I., Inc. v. James Courter

Superior Court of Rhode Island, Washington

May 1, 2018

W.H.I., INC., Plaintiff, Defendant in Counterclaim,
v.
JAMES COURTER; SORGENFREI, LLC, Defendants, Plaintiffs in Counterclaim, and Third Party Plaintiffs, and JVLV REALTY, INC.; HOWARD L. HARONIAN, M.D.; HJM LLC; JAMES & LYNN VALLIDES; and SALLY MERRY, Involuntary Plaintiffs in Counterclaim, and JVLV REALTY, INC.; HOWARD L. HARONIAN, M.D.; HJM LLC; JAMES & LYNN VALLIDES; and SALLY MERRY, Involuntary Third Party Plaintiffs and MERRILL LYNCH CREDIT CORPORATION; DIME BANK; Parties-In-Interest,
v.
PETER V. CATALANO; WATCH HILL INN HOTEL CONDOMINIUM ASSOCIATION (a.k.a. WATCH HILL INN CONDOMINIUM ASSOCIATION); WATCH HILL PROPERTIES, LLC; and WHI PARKING, LLC. Third Party Defendants.

          For Plaintiff: John O. Mancini, Esq.

          For Defendant: Jeffrey H. Gladstone, Esq.; Cale P. Keable, Esq.; John Deacon, Esq.; Americo M. Scungio, Esq.; Catherine V. Eastwood, Esq.; Erich J. Hasselbacher, Esq.

          DECISION

          STERN, J.

         Defendants/Plaintiffs in Counterclaim/Third Party Plaintiffs James Courter (Courter) and Sorgenfrei, LLC (Sorgenfrei), together with Involuntary Plaintiffs in Counterclaim/Involuntary Third Party Plaintiffs JVLV Realty, Inc. (JVLV), Howard L. Haronian, M.D. (Dr. Haronian), James and Lynn Vallides (the Vallideses), and Sally Merry (Merry) (collectively, the Unit Owners), move for partial summary judgment against Plaintiff/Counterclaim-Defendant W.H.I., Inc. (WHI or Declarant), Third Party Defendant Peter V. Catalano (Catalano), and Third Party Defendant WHI Parking, LLC (WHI Parking), a wholly owned subsidiary of WHI (collectively, Plaintiffs). Specifically, the Unit Owners claim that there are no genuine issues of material fact with respect to parking-related issues raised in their memorandum. In response, Plaintiffs object to the Unit Owners' motion and also move for summary judgment, seeking a declaration that the Parking Management Agreement (the PMA) and the Cross Easement are valid and binding, and that all claims asserted against Catalano in his individual capacity be dismissed. Jurisdiction is pursuant to Super. R. Civ. P. 56(c) and G.L. 1956 §§ 9-30-1 et seq.

         I

         Facts and Travel

         The underlying facts of this case have been set forth in this Court's July 24, 2017 Decision. See W.H.I., Inc. v. Courter, No. WC-2015-0463, 2017 WL 3209052 (R.I. Super. July 24, 2017). Relevant to this Decision are the facts surrounding the parking and easement-related issues in the present motion.

         On December 23, 1985, WHI formally purchased the property in dispute, located at 38 Bay Street in Westerly, Rhode Island, and created the Watch Hill Inn Condominium (WHIC). Catalano Aff. ¶ 4, Oct. 26, 2017. WHI is the declarant of that certain Declaration of Condominium recorded in the Land Evidence Records of the Town of Westerly on February 17, 2006 in Book 1504, at Page 176 (the Declaration), the same which was amended on July 7, 2006 and recorded in the Land Evidence Records in Book 1550, at Page 187 (the First Amended Declaration). Id. at ¶ 2. WHI currently owns-and has owned since the Declaration's inception-five units at WHIC: W201, W202, W203, W402, and W501. Id. at ¶ 3. The Watch Hill Inn Condominium Association (WHICA) is a condominium association that was created by the Declaration and governs the units located at WHIC. Id. at ¶ 4.

         From 1986 to 2005, Watch Hill Inn was renovated and upgraded to include sixteen efficiency hotel units, one residential apartment, a banquet facility for 200 persons, and an indoor/outdoor restaurant for 180 patrons. Id. at ¶ 5. After the Watch Hill Inn was cited for sixty-five violations under the Rhode Island Fire Codes, it was forced to shut down to conform to the new regulations. Catalano Aff. ¶ 9, June 1, 2017. WHI appealed to the State of Rhode Island Rehab Board and was eventually approved for a continued, nonconforming "mixed-use status." Id. at ¶ 10. RGB Architects (RGB) then prepared the condominium plans and specifications, which were subsequently filed with the Town of Westerly Building and Zoning Departments, the Department of Environmental Management (DEM), Historic Landmark Preservations, and Coastal Resources. Catalano Aff. ¶ 6, Oct. 26, 2017. Due to these new regulations, WHI was approved for eleven units consisting of ten residential dwelling units and one restaurant. Id.

         The Town of Westerly adopted Article XI, § 260-77-a parking regulation zoning ordinance-on October 16, 1998 in Chapter Number 1242, and readopted on May 12, 2003 in Chapter Number 1439 (the Zoning Ordinance). Specifically, the Zoning Ordinance states:

"A. Parking required. Any structure or use, erected or developed after the date of passage of this chapter, must provide off-street parking facilities . . . in accordance with the following regulations:
"(1) Residential dwelling: two car spaces for each dwelling unit.
"(2) Hotels/motels and inns: one space per room plus one for every three employees on the largest shift, plus one space per four seats capacity of all meeting/assembly rooms and associated restaurants.
. . . .
"B. Plans and specifications for parking facilities. Plans and specifications for the required parking facility and its access drives shall be submitted at the time of application for a permit for the main use. In allocating area for off-street parking facilities, each parking space shall have a minimum width of nine feet, a minimum length of 18 feet and shall be served by suitable aisles to permit access into all parking spaces. In no case shall the gross area per parking space be less than 270 square feet. Such plans and specifications shall include planted islands and buffers as well as a lighting plan." Unit Owners' Mem. in Supp. of Mot. for Partial Summ. J. (Unit Owners' Mot.), Ex. F.

         On March 15, 2005, RGB prepared a site plan for Declarant with respect to the WHIC property (the RGB Parking Plan). The RGB Parking Plan identified twenty-three total spaces on the WHIC property, which were two handicapped spaces, three non-valet spaces, and eighteen valet spaces. Unit Owners' Mot., Ex. G. The RGB Parking Plan further regulated the non-handicapped parking spaces as follows: ten parking spaces were assigned to ten hotel units (one parking space per one hotel unit), eight parking spaces were designated for patrons at the restaurant (one parking space per four seats in a thirty-seat restaurant), and three parking spaces were designated for the restaurant's employees (one parking space per three employees in a nine-employee restaurant). Id. Essentially, the RGB Parking Plan complied with § 260-77(A)(2) of the Zoning Ordinance, thus recognizing the WHIC property at the time as a hotel, motel, or inn. See Unit Owners' Mot., Ex. F. The RGB Parking Plan predated the formation of the WHICA by several months. See Unit Owners' Mot., Ex. G; Pls.' Mem. in Obj. to Partial Summ. J. and in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. (WHI's Mot.), Ex. 1.

         Additionally, WHI submitted a separate site plan for approval by the Town of Westerly dated October 12, 2005 relating to the WHIC property; this plan was approved by the Westerly Zoning Officer on November 4, 2005. This plan contained a parking plan which identified sixteen parking spaces on the WHIC property (the Town-Approved Parking Plan). Unit Owners' Mot., Ex. H. According to Declarant, these sixteen on-site compact "stacked" parking spaces were used primarily for the restaurant staff and also contained three required handicap spaces. Catalano Aff. ¶ 5, Oct. 26, 2017. The Town-Approved Parking Plan was in effect until July 21, 2006, when a subsequent plan was required with the First Amended Declaration. Id. at 7. According to the Unit Owners, however, a subsequent plan for parking was never filed.

         Then, on January 15, 2006, WHI, along with the Operator, WHI Parking, negotiated with BSI, Inc. (BSI)-a corporation that owned an adjacent property to the WHIC property to which the Bayside Inn Motel Condominium Association (BSA) was located-to share parking spaces. Id. at ¶ 8. Their agreement was memorialized into the PMA. WHI's Mot., Ex. 1. Catalano, the Vice President of WHI, is also the President of BSI; WHI Parking is a wholly owned subsidiary company of WHI. Catalano Aff. ¶ 1, Oct. 26, 2017; WHI's Mot., Ex. 1. As stated in the PMA, the purpose of entering into such a transaction was for WHI Parking to "operate and manage the parking for the [WHI and BSI] Properties." WHI's Mot., Ex. 1, at 1. Furthermore, even though the PMA was entered into before both the WHICA and BSA had been created, the PMA nonetheless bound the Associations. As articulated therein,

"Whereas, the parking lot areas will be Common Elements of the Associations and while the land is owned by the Association, the parking operation will be managed by the Operator under this 'Parking Management Agreement', (the 'Agreement'), and
. . . .
"Whereas, WHI and BSI intend to file their respective condominium documents with the State of Rhode Island and subsequently record the documents with the Town of Westerly, at which time WHI and BSI will transfer their property rights and ownership to their respective Association. Consequently, the Associations will replace WHI and BSI, and this Agreement will become binding between the Associations and the Operator at the time of the recordings . . . . All the obligations of the Parties contained herein will be preserved." Id. at 2.

         The PMA is a lease with an initial term of forty-nine years with unlimited five-year options. With respect to the parking management services, the PMA stated in part:

"a. Management Services - In exchange for the Agreement, Operator will provide management services to operate the Properties parking lots, both assigned and non-assigned parking spaces, control the flow of traffic and maintain the fire lanes, direct delivery, screen unauthorized vehicles, and coordinate the reasonable parking needs of occupants, guests, deliveries, employees and renters during the periods of operation on an [sic] year round basis.
"b. Parking Spaces - The Parties agree Operator will take possession of all parking spaces . . . Operator may rent for profit the balance of the parking spaces (both assigned and non-assigned) to the general public, restaurant patrons, and guest of the dwelling spaces, at a parking rate determined solely by the Operator. The Parties further agree all revenue derived from the Parking income is for the benefit of the Operator.
. . . .
"c. Compliance - The Parties agree Operator will operate the parking lot at its sole discretion including location and relocation of parking space assignments, provided such operation is in accordance with the Town of Westerly Zoning Ordinance.
"i. Operator agrees it will conform to the By-Laws of the Association(s) at the time of Filing(s), and WHI and BSI agree that any modifications to the Association(s) By-Laws will not interfere with Operator's rights under this Agreement.
"ii. This Agreement shall be automatically binding upon the Association(s) at the time of Filing.
. . . .
"f. Parking Rates - Operator agrees to post or make available at the Reception Office, its daily, weekly, monthly and or seasonal rates, which are subject to change at the sole discretion of the Operator." Id. at 2-3.

         Additionally, the PMA provided the following provision on base rent to be allocated for both properties:

"a. In exchange for the Agreement and use of the BSI parking lot and facilities, Operator agrees to pay BSI a nominal annual rent equal to one thousand ($1, 000.00) dollars per year payable on August 1st of each and every year of the Lease Term. Such annual rent is referred to as (the 'Base Rent').
"b. In exchange for the Agreement and the use of the WHI parking lot and ramp, Operator will provide Management Services as consideration, but will not pay Base Rent to WHI as the WHI Property has a pre-existing non-conforming use of its off-street parking; and most of its parking including ingress and egress will be on BSI Property. Therefore, Operator will generate very little revenue from the WHI limited parking spaces. The WHI Association when created will not receive Base Rent.
"c. In exchange for the Agreement and the right to use the lot and facilities of the Watch Hill Inn owned by WHI, Operator agrees to pay WHI an Annual Rent equal to One Thousand ($1, 000.00) Dollars payable on August 1st of each and every year of the Agreement Term as Base Rent. This Base Rent and any Additional Rent will not be transferred to the WHI Association at any time." Id. at 4.

         The PMA also stated that the base rent would be increased every five years by one hundred dollars as "Additional Rent, " and that this additional rent added to the base rent will become the "Adjusted Base Rent." Id. Furthermore, during the first lease renewal option period, the Adjusted Base Rent would double the Adjusted Base Rent in the forty-ninth year, and that subsequent renewals would increase by two hundred dollars per every five-year increment. Id.

         Lastly, under section six of the PMA, titled "Representations, " the parties agreed to the following:

"a. The Parties represent and acknowledge the following:
"i. Parking Spaces - The Parties acknowledge the Parking Plans . . . indicate where the assigned and non-assigned parking spaces for the Properties are located. Such locations are subject to change by the Operator but must be in conformance with Westerly Zoning Codes.
. . . .
"iii. Easements - The Parties acknowledge there are Recorded Easements, Court Orders, and Right of Ways for the benefit of the Parties and others." Id. at 4-5.

         Approximately one month later, on February 17, 2006, the WHICA was created and its Declaration was recorded, naming WHI as its Declarant. WHI Mot., Ex. 2. On the same day, a Cross Easement and Right of Way Agreement (the Cross Easement) between WHI and BSI was recorded in the Land Evidence Records of the Town of Westerly in Book 1504, at page 168. Catalano Aff. ¶ 11, Oct. 26, 2017; see also WHI's Mot., Ex. 3. The Cross Easement granted BSI ingress and egress "by all manner of vehicles and by foot the portion of the common driveway which is located on the WHI land, " as well as a "designated handicapped parking area which is located on the WHI land." WHI's Mot., Ex. 3. In return, the Cross Easement granted WHI ingress and egress "by all manner of vehicles and by foot the portion of the common driveway which is located on the BSI land, " as well as a "[d]rainage easement which is located on the BSI land." Id. Furthermore, the Cross Easement also stated the following: "WHI and BSI hereby agree that neither party will park vehicles in or otherwise obstruct in any way the common driveway nor will they use or permit to be used said driveway in any way which will hinder the other party's use of said driveway." Id. Attached to the Cross Easement was a parking plan, labeled "Exhibit A, " that identified sixteen parking spaces on the WHIC property (the Cross Easement Parking Plan). Id.

         The Cross Easement was acknowledged in the Public Offering Statement and the Declaration. See Unit Owner's Mot., Ex. E, § 5 ("There are also vehicular and pedestrian easements with the adjoining property, located at 42-44 Bay Street, Westerly, Rhode Island, for ingress and egress in addition to a handicap parking space requirement for the benefit of the [sic] 42-44 Bay Street."); WHI's Mot., Ex. 2, Ex. 4 thereto ("Subject to easement for pedestrian and vehicle ingress and egress benefiting BSI, Inc. Subject to parking easement benefiting BSI, Inc."). When the Declaration was amended on July 7, 2006, exhibit four was updated to include the following language: "Subject to a Cross Easement and Right of Way Agreement recorded in the Westerly Land Evidence Records on February 17, 2006 at 10:21 a.m. in Book 1504 at Page 168." Catalano Aff., Ex. B, Oct. 26, 2017.

         Furthermore, the Public Offering Statement provided to all Unit Owners prior to their acquisitions stated the following:

"One assigned parking space is allotted to each Unit with one bedroom. Each Unit that contains two bedrooms shall have one assigned parking space and the use of one valet parking space. The Commercial Unit will have sufficient parking spaces for its employees and guests in accordance with the Westerly Zoning Code. Two (2) assigned handicap parking spaces are assigned to the Units 203 and 204, which are the handicapped accessible Residential Unit and the Restaurant Unit, respectively." Unit Owner's Mot., Ex. E, § 3.

         The Public Offering Statement did state, however, that "Limited Common Elements include exterior stairs, stairways, parking spaces and storage spaces, if any, for each Unit." Id. (emphasis added). The description of parking was further delineated in § 7.1(e) of the Declaration as amended on July 7, 2006 (First Amended Declaration)[1]:

"There are eleven (11) designated parking spaces including 2 handicap parking spaces (one for the Handicapped Accessible Unit, W203, and one for the Restaurant Unit, W204), ten (10) 'valet parking spaces' and sufficient parking spaces for the Restaurant Unit (employees and patrons), intended to be used for the parking of private registered passenger cars of occupants/guests of Units as delineated in the survey plan attached hereto. The Executive Board reserves the right to change the location of the designated parking spaces and allow the valet service and/or Management Company to use unoccupied parking spaces in the Unit Owner's absence and non-use. Campers, trucks, recreational vehicles, trailers, larger SUV's or vans are not permitted upon the premises and shall be removed at the Owner's expense." WHI's Mot. for Summ. J. (June 2, 2017), Ex. 7.

         Furthermore, the Declaration also referred to the survey plans prepared by RGB. See WHI's Mot., Ex. 2, Ex. 3 thereto ("That set of plans filed in the Westerly Land Evidence Records contemporaneously herewith entitled, 'WATCH HILL INN, 38 BAY STREET, WATCH HILL, RHODE ISLAND 02891, HOTEL CONDOMINIUM PROJECT ISSUED ON FEBRUARY 10, 2006.'"). These plans delineated the parking area which was common area and also those areas of WHICA, which were limited common elements. Catalano Aff. ¶ 48, Oct. 26, 2017.

         On July 21, 2006, WHI filed an Amended Site Survey for the Watch Hill Inn property, which was recorded in Book 2006 at Page 23 in the Town of Westerly Land Evidence Records (the Amended Site Survey). WHI's Mot., Ex. C. The Amended Site Survey delineated the common elements of the property as "CE, " and the limited common elements as "LCE." Catalano Aff. ¶ 19, Oct. 26, 2017. The Amended Site Survey also contained an easement note, which stated that the site was subject to the Cross Easement, delineated the parking easement in favor of BSI for a handicap parking space, and identified limited common elements to Unit 204 and Unit 203. See WHI's Mot., Ex. C. It also did not delineate any parking spaces as limited common elements for the Unit Owners. Catalano Aff. ¶ 20, Oct. 26, 2017. This Site Survey, as well as the First Amended Declaration, was provided to Carmen Courter, Katrina Courter, and Donica Dohrenwend when they purchased Unit W301. Id. at ¶ 21.

         WHICA's business affairs and protocols are governed by the Executive Board. Id. at ¶ 41. The first WHICA meeting was held on December 26, 2006, a budget meeting as well as the first annual meeting was held on July 14, 2007, where the first Executive Board was formed, and annual meetings occurred thereafter. Id. The Executive Board has always maintained a three-member composition, ranging from members such as Ray Willis, Catalano, Dr. Haronian, Howard Menaker, Dana V. Catalano, Mark Szaro, and James Vallides. Id. at ¶ 42.

         Catalano served as President of the Executive Board from 2006 to 2016, and currently serves as a WHICA Board Advisor Representative for the majority Unit Owners. Id. at ¶ 43. He alleges he never acted in an individual capacity nor ever held himself out to be anything other than an agent of Declarant and President of the Executive Board. Id. at ¶ 44. In addition, Catalano alleges that Declarant has never acted unilaterally with respect to implementing any of the amendments to the Declaration or any actions of WHICA; rather, he claims, Declarant has acted in conjunction with legal advice and after a vote of the Executive Board at a duly noticed meeting. Id. at ¶ 45.

         Declarant sold the first unit of the WHICA to Carmen Courter, Katrina Courter, and Donica Dohrenwend (the Courter Parties) on July 17, 2006, and the second unit was sold to Merry on August 11, 2006. See WHI Mot. for Summ. J. (June 2, 2017), Exs. 8, 11. On November 22, 2006, the third unit was sold to William and Carol Reudgen (the Reudgens), and, on February 16, 2007, the fourth unit was sold to the Vallideses. See id. at Exs. 13, 16. On August 15, 2007, Dr. Haronian entered into an option to purchase one unit from WHI. See id. at Ex. 20. Subsequently, Declarant sold the fifth unit to Watch Hill Design, LLC on July 25, 2008; at the time, Dr. Haronian was Watch Hill Design, LLC's only member. See id. at Exs. 31-32. Dr. Haronian eventually purchased that same unit from Watch Hill Design, LLC on December 16, 2009. See id. at Ex. 49. In addition, the unit owned by the Reudgens was foreclosed on by the mortgagee on or about April 5, 2010. See id. at Ex. 50. On June 14, 2011, JVLV, an entity owned in part by the Vallideses, purchased from the bank the foreclosed unit formerly owned by the Reudgens. See id. at Ex. 72. Then, on or about September 7, 2012, Sorgenfrei purchased the Courter Parties' Unit W301. See id. at Ex. 87. During that same month, on September 28, 2012, HJM, LLC purchased the sixth unit-the former restaurant unit-from Declarant. See id. at Ex. 89. The first parking re-arrangements occurred when the restaurant was converted to a two-bedroom residential unit. Catalano Aff. ¶ 49, Oct. 26, 2017. Two parking spaces were assigned to this unit as a result of the conversion, and two spaces were assigned to Unit W401, owned by Merry; the balance assigned, according to Declarant, remained with WHI. Id.

         The Unit Owners bring this action before this Court to "vindicate [their] rights with respect to their parking spaces" on the WHIC property and to terminate Declarant's usurpation of parking spaces for Declarant's own gain. Additionally, the Unit Owners seek this Court to prohibit any further interference with their easement right to freely pass and repass over the Cross Easement.

         In filing the pending motion for partial summary judgment, the Unit Owners request the following declaratory relief: (1) the two parking spaces allocated to each Unit Owner constitute limited common elements under the Public Offering Statement, the First Amended Declaration, the Rhode Island Condominium Act (the Act), and/or Rhode Island law; (2) the Unit Owners are entitled to terminate, without penalty, WHICA's participation in the PMA; (3) Declarant has interfered with the Cross Easement by placing gates, planters and other obstructions within the defined Cross Easement; (4) Declarant violated the terms of the Public Offering Statement and the First Amended Declaration by eliminating parking spaces on the WHIC property that existed as of the date of the First Amended Declaration, thereby failing to provide two parking spaces allotted to each Unit Owner on the WHIC property; (5) WHIC's property may not be used by anyone for commercial parking purposes without the permission of the WHICA, and then only with the issuance of a commercial parking certificate by the Town of Westerly as required by ordinance; (6) a commercial parking certificate issued by the Town of Westerly for the Bayside property (2016 Commercial Parking Certificate) does not permit WHI Parking to use the parking spaces on the WHIC property for commercial parking activities; (7) Declarant's interference with and/or elimination of the Unit Owners' parking spaces by reducing the number of usable parking spaces on the WHIC property constitutes a violation of G.L. 1956 § 34-36.1-2.08(a) of the Act; (8) pursuant to § 34-36.1-3.14 of the Act, the Unit Owners are due an accounting and their pro rata share of the surplus funds acquired by WHI Parking and/or Declarant through the commercial use of the Unit Owners' parking spaces; (9) the PMA must be terminated pursuant to § 34-36.1-3.05 of the Act based upon the sworn statement of each of the Unit Owners; (10) the PMA is void and must be set aside for failure of consideration; and (11) the September 11, 2015 invoice for parking charges directed to Courter is void and/or unenforceable. Plaintiffs have timely objected to these requests for declaration and, in the interim, also request a declaration that the PMA and Cross Easement are valid and binding. Additionally, Plaintiffs assert that Catalano, in his individual capacity, should be dismissed from this case as a third-party defendant.

         II

         Standard of Review

         "'Summary judgment is an extreme remedy and should be granted only when 'the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as [a] matter of law.'" Rose v. Brusini, 149 A.3d 135, 139 (R.I. 2016) (quoting Plunkett v. State, 869 A.2d 1185, 1187 (R.I. 2005)). "'Only when a review of the admissible evidence viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party reveals no genuine issues of material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, will this Court . . . grant . . . summary judgment.'" Id. at 139-40 (quoting Nat'l Refrigeration, Inc. v. Standen Contracting Co., 942 A.2d 968, 971 (R.I. 2008)). "The party opposing 'a motion for summary judgment carries the burden of proving by competent evidence the existence of a disputed material issue of fact and cannot rest on allegations or denials in the pleadings or on conclusions or legal opinions.'" Id. at 140 (quoting Nat'l Refrigeration, Inc., 942 A.2d at 971).

         Under the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act (UDJA), this Court possesses the "power to declare rights, status, and other legal relations whether or not further relief is or could be claimed." Sec. 9-30-1. A decision to grant or deny relief, however, is purely discretionary under the UDJA. Sullivan v. Chafee, 703 A.2d 748, 751 (R.I. 1997). The stated purpose of the UDJA is "to settle and to afford relief from uncertainty and insecurity with respect to rights, status, and other legal relations . . . ." Sec. 9-30-12; see also Millett v. Hoisting Eng'rs' Licensing Div. of Dep't of Labor, 119 R.I. 285, 291, 377 A.2d 229, 233 (1977) ("The purpose of declaratory judgment actions is to render disputes concerning the legal rights and duties of parties justiciable without proof of a wrong committed by one party against another, and thus facilitate the termination of controversies."). Factors to be considered when determining whether declaratory judgment relief is appropriate include the following:

"the existence of another remedy, the availability of other relief, the fact that a question may readily be presented in an actual trial, and the fact that there is pending, at the time of the commencement of the declaratory action, another action or proceeding which involves the same parties and in which may be adjudicated the same identical issues that are involved in the declaratory action." Berberian v. Travisono, 114 R.I. 269, 273, 332 A.2d 121, 123-24 (1975).

         III

         Analysis

         A

         Whether the Unit Owners Have the Right to Park on the Bayside Property

         The Unit Owners assert that there is no legal obligation, under the Cross Easement, requiring the BSA unit owners to grant the WHICA non-declarant unit owners an enforceable and transferable right to use the Bayside property in perpetuity for their parking spaces. Instead, the Unit Owners claim that their sole avenue of relief is to enforce their rights to two parking spaces pursuant to the Public Offering Statement, First Amended Declaration, and/or the Town-Approved Parking Plan. Catalano, either individually or through a related entity, controls Bayside because he or an affiliated entity owns a majority of the Bayside units; this includes BSI, Inc., to which Catalano is President. Therefore, the Unit Owners contend that Catalano has the enforceable or transferable right to use the Bayside property for parking to satisfy the parking requirements for each of the five units that Declarant, either individually or through a related entity, owns in the WHICA. Because of these interferences by Declarant, the Unit Owners contend that their units are unmarketable and its value has been materially impacted.

         According to the Unit Owners, the First Amended Declaration was the only document available to them at the time they purchased their respective units that identified the location of the two parking spaces that were part of the sale of each unit at WHIC. The Unit Owners also contend that neither the Public Offering Statement nor the First Amended Declaration made any mention of the Bayside property as having any connection to the sale of the Unit Owners' respective units with regard to parking. Therefore, the Unit Owners argue that they purchased their respective units based on the understanding that they were also purchasing a recognizable and transferable property interest in two parking spaces on the WHIC property. See James Vallides Aff. (Vallides Aff.), JVLV, LLC Aff. (JVLV Aff.), Sorgenfrei LLC Aff. (Sorgenfrei Aff.), Sally Merry Aff. (Merry Aff.), and Howard Haronian, M.D. Aff. (Haronian Aff.) (collectively, Unit Owners' Affs.) ¶¶ 5, 8. Had Declarant stated that the units were not being sold with legal, transferable interests in two parking spaces, the Unit Owners maintain they would not have purchased their units. Id.

         In response, according to Plaintiffs, the constraints on the WHIC property with respect to parking are an undisputed fact known to all the Unit Owners prior to their acquisition of the respective condominium units. Consequently, a portion of the parking spaces used by the Unit Owners is located on the WHIC property, while another portion of the parking spaces is on the Bayside property. Plaintiffs further argue that the Cross Easement was recorded as a perpetual easement in the Town of Westerly Land Evidence Records, and the condominium documents that the Unit Owners received were subject to the Cross Easement. See Catalano Aff. ¶ 12, Oct. 26, 2017.

         Based on the interpretation of the Cross Easement, this Court finds in favor of the Unit Owners and declares that the Cross Easement does not grant the Unit Owners or anyone affiliated with the Unit Owners the right to park on the Bayside property. This Court first acknowledges that the Unit Owners are not contesting the Cross Easement's validity; therefore, the Cross Easement is valid and binding on the WHIC and Bayside properties. This Court thus turns to the scope of rights provided for in the Cross Easement. "In Rhode Island, 'to create an easement by express grant, there must be a writing containing plain and direct language evincing the grantor's intent to create a right in the nature of an easement rather than a license.'" Plainfield Pike Dev., LLC v. Victor Anthony Props., Inc., 160 A.3d 995, 1002 (R.I. 2017) (citing Kinder v. Westcott, 107 A.3d 321, 325 (R.I. 2015)). "'Although a plaintiff in a civil action is ordinarily required to prove his or her case by only a preponderance of the evidence, a plaintiff seeking to prove an easement must instead overcome a higher clear and convincing standard[.]'" Kinder, 107 A.3d at 325 (quoting Pelletier v. Laureanno, 46 A.3d 28, 35 (R.I. 2012)) (internal quotation marks omitted). "When interpreting an instrument that purportedly ...


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