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Dunn's Corners Fire District v. Westerly Ambulance Corps

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

May 22, 2018

Dunn's Corners Fire District
v.
Westerly Ambulance Corps et al.

          Washington County Superior Court (WC 15-637) Associate Justice Bennett R. Gallo

          Plaintiff: Brian A. Bliss, Esq. Patrick L. McKinney, Esq.

          For Defendants: Michael A. Ursillo, Esq. Robert Lombardo, Esq.

          Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.

          OPINION

          PAUL A. SUTTELL, CHIEF JUSTICE

         "That's the life, being a fireman. It sure beats the hell out of being a ballplayer. I'd rather be a fireman."

         Ted Williams[1]

         Although it would be difficult to contemplate baseball without Ted Williams, few can deny the fascination of firefighting. Yet, although we laud the courage of individual firefighters and other first responders, the administrative concerns of fire districts are not quite so heroic. In the case before us, the Dunn's Corners Fire District (Dunn's Corners) filed a complaint seeking, inter alia, a declaration that it was not obligated to provide fire protection services to property formerly owned by the Bradford Dyeing Association Inc., and located at 460 Bradford Road in the village of Bradford in the town of Westerly, Rhode Island (the property). The current owner of the property, BPF Realty, LLC (BPF), appeals from a judgment granting Dunn's Corners' motion for summary judgment. We directed the parties to appear before the Supreme Court and show cause why the issues raised in this appeal should not be summarily decided. After considering the parties' written and oral submissions and reviewing the record, we conclude that cause has not been shown and that this case may be decided without further briefing or argument. For the reasons set forth herein, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.

         I Facts and Procedural History

         On June 29, 2010, Bradford Dyeing Association transferred the property, which is also known as the Bradford Industrial Park, to BPF by quitclaim deed. Historically, fire protection services to the village of Bradford have been provided by the Bradford Fire District. Since 2013, however, the Bradford Fire District has contracted with Dunn's Corners to assume its firefighting responsibilities. Also named as a defendant in this case is Westerly Ambulance Corps (Westerly Ambulance), which provides a dispatching service to a number of fire districts in Washington County, including Dunn's Corners.[2]

         Westerly Ambulance and Dunn's Corners are parties to a contract that requires Westerly Ambulance to render dispatching services for Dunn's Corners. Their agreement provides that Westerly Ambulance will dispatch Dunn's Corners to sites and locations situated within the Bradford Fire District.

         Apparently in response to a number of false fire alarms emanating from the property, Dunn's Corners advised BPF that the property was not technically located within the geographical confines of either Dunn's Corners or the Bradford Fire District. According to BPF, Dunn's Corners also submitted invoices for past services rendered and deactivated the local alarm systems on the property. Notwithstanding Dunn's Corners' protestations, however, Westerly Ambulance continued to dispatch Dunn's Corners in response to fire alarms at the property. Of further note, by correspondence dated May 21, 2014, BPF asked to join the Bradford Fire District; however, its request was denied by the fire district at a meeting on June 19, 2014.

         In December 2015, Dunn's Corners filed a complaint against Westerly Ambulance, BPF, and Bradford Industrial Park. Count 1 sought to enjoin Westerly Ambulance from dispatching Dunn's Corners in response to calls at the property. Count 2 asked for a declaratory judgment with respect to the obligations of the parties to the contract between Westerly Ambulance and Dunn's Corners. Count 3 sought a declaration that Dunn's Corners is not obligated to provide services to the property. Counts 4, 5, and 6 each sought the payment of $20, 000 from BPF and the Bradford Industrial Park, premised on various equitable and legal theories. On February 17, 2017, Dunn's Corners filed a motion for summary judgment as to count 3, arguing that the property was not located within either Dunn's Corners or the Bradford Fire District and that it had no obligation to provide the property with fire protection services.

         A hearing on Dunn's Corners' motion for summary judgment was held on April 17, 2017. The thrust of BPF's objections to the motion was that declaratory relief was inappropriate because the Bradford Fire District had not been made a party to the case and that BPF was not sure whether the property was in the Bradford Fire District because "the Bradford Fire District has been putting out fires there for 70 years * * *." The hearing justice, however, granted the motion for summary judgment, relying primarily on: (1) an affidavit of the moderator of the Bradford Fire District stating that the property "is not now, nor has it ever been, contained within the boundaries or jurisdiction of The Bradford Fire District"; and (2) a special legislative enactment by the General Assembly amending the charter of the Bradford Fire District, entitled "An Act to Adjust and Designate the Jurisdictional Boundaries of Westerly Fire District, Dunns Corners Fire District, and Bradford Fire District[, ]" which specifically excepted from a metes and bounds description of the Bradford Fire District "all those parcels of land designated and described as presently belonging to the Bradford Dyeing Association, Inc." Rhode Island Acts and Resolves 57-66, 65 (1980). Shortly thereafter, an order entered granting Dunn's Corners' motion for summary judgment on ...


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