Plaintiff: Timothy C. Cavazza, Esq.; David M. D'Agostino,
Defendant: Elizabeth A. Wiens, Esq. Jeffrey W. Kasle, Esq.
(counsel for Intervenor)
Town of East Greenwich, Rhode Island (Plaintiff or the Town)
filed a Complaint for declaratory relief, as well as a Motion
for Judgment on the Pleadings against Defendant East
Greenwich Fire Fighters Association Local 3328, I.A.F.F.,
AFL-CIO (the Union) requesting that this Court
declare-pursuant to its authority under the Uniform
Declaratory Judgments Act-that the Town has a
"non-delegable management right" to reorganize the
structure of the East Greenwich Fire Department (EGFD) from
its existing four platoon structure to a three platoon
structure. In its Complaint, Plaintiff urges this Court to
declare that the Town Charter grants the authority to
restructure the EGFD to the Town and that such authority may
not be: (1) bargained away; (2) delegated to an arbitrator;
or (3) restricted by contract.
initially moved for judgment on the pleadings on March 9,
2018. Two separate hearings were held-on May 24, 2018 and
June 19, 2018, respectively-on the merits of each party's
argument regarding whether the Town has a "non-delegable
management right" to reorganize the EGFD. This Court now
issues a Decision in this matter pursuant to its jurisdiction
under G. L. 1956 §§ 9-30-1 et seq. and G.
L. 1956 § 8-2-13.
Town of East Greenwich is a municipality with a Town
Council/Town Manager form of government. (Am. Compl. ¶
10.) The Union is a labor organization and the exclusive
bargaining agent for all permanent employees of the EGFD,
except for the Chief and the Deputy Chief. Id.
¶¶ 2, 3.
about March 15, 2016, the Town and the Union executed a
Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) which includes several
provisions concerning the pay, benefits and other terms and
conditions of employment for the Town's firefighting and
rescue personnel assigned to a "four platoon
system." (Pl.'s Ex. A.) The CBA is the result of
negotiations between the Union and Town representatives. The
CBA is set to expire in June of 2019. Id.
CBA, the parties explicitly agreed to a four platoon system
and at least twenty-one separate sections of the
CBA-including sections concerning wages, shift schedule, and
overtime-expressly apply to employees assigned to a four
platoon system. Id. "By operating the Fire
Department with a four-platoon system, the Town [agreed to]
separate its line fire suppression and emergency rescue
personnel into four groups, or platoons." (Am. Compl.
¶ 23) (Ex. A §§ 10, 61.) The Town also agreed,
inter alia, (1) to permit firefighters to bid to
particular platoons where they will work an average of
forty-two hours per week; (2) to a work schedule for each
firefighter of two ten-hour days, followed by two
fourteen-hours nights, followed by four days off; (3) to
specific hourly rates; and (4) to pay firefighters
time-and-one-half their hourly rate when they work outside
their regular shift schedule. (Ex. A §§ 26, 36,
39.) Finally, the parties agreed that the firefighters'
pay would not be docked when they are representing the
interests of their fellow bargaining unit members. Under the
CBA, any dispute between the parties regarding conditions of
employment shall be determined by an arbitrator. Id.
Town alleges that it intends to reorganize the EGFD and
implement a three platoon structure, rather than the current
four platoon structure as is delineated in the CBA. Although
very few facts have been included in the pleadings with
respect to the initial notice of the Town's intent to
reorganize and the subsequent negotiations arising therefrom,
the Union, in its initial objection to the Town's Motion
for Judgment on the Pleadings, provided a rather extensive
history as to this development. The Town, in its Reply in
Further Support of its Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings,
objected to these facts as prejudicial and unsupported but
ultimately did not deny or contradict them. Though this
"history" is not established as part of the record,
it may be helpful in terms of understanding context. The
Union provided the following:
"On December 5, 2017, the Union and Town met to discuss
some pending grievances. During the meeting, one of the
Town's attorneys . . . gave [fire fighter] Lt. Perry a
letter from [the Town Manager] dated the same day. The letter
provides that [the Town Manager] discussed her intentions
'with the Council to reorganize the line firefighting
rescue division into a three-platoon, 56-hour workweek
structure.' According to the letter, the Council
authorized her to engage in negotiations over the effects of
'that reorganization prior to its full implementation. .
"On December 6, 2017, the Union and Town reached a
tentative agreement whereby the Town agreed that it would
not reorganize the fire department in exchange for certain
concessions from the Union. In addition, the Town agreed
to extend the collective bargaining agreement an additional
two years, and provide wage increases. (Emphasis added).
"On December 11, 2017, [one of the Town's Attorneys]
sent two documents to a representative from the Rhode Island
State Association of Firefighters "reflecting our
tentative agreement in East Greenwich." One week later,
on December 18, 2017, the Town filed the instant lawsuit. . .
"On January 3, 2018, the Union . . . went to Town Hall
for the scheduled meeting . . . . Before the Union could
provide the Town representatives with written copy of the
tentative agreement, [the Town Manager] advised the Union
that there was no deal. She asserted that on December 18,
2017, in executive session, the Town Council unanimously
rejected nearly every single promise it had made the Union at
the December 6, 2017 bargaining session." (Emphasis in
significant portion of the decision to reorganize the EGFD
was first raised on December 5, 2018, in which a letter from
the Town Manager detailed her intentions to reorganize, and
it appears negotiations ensued. Just under a month later, on
January 3, 2018, it appears the issue of reorganization was
decided and off the table without any discussion or
negotiation with the Union. Although these facts are not
agreed upon, there are letters-provided to this Court from
the Union-documenting such. This history, of course, only
goes to the issue of negotiations undertaken-or not
undertaken-regarding the decision to reorganize the EGFD.
Town now alleges that "[t]he Town Manager has decided to
exercise her non-delegable statutory power, responsibility
and obligation to reorganize the Fire Department into a
three-platoon structure, and she has received approval and
obtained authority from the Town Council to commence
negotiations over the effects of the decision to implement
the three-platoon structure." (Am. Compl. ¶ 47.)
to a conference in chambers, in which the issue of
justiciability was brought to light,  the Town Council took a vote
relevant to the issues of justiciability and ripeness. The
Council ultimately voted to accept the Town Manager's
recommendation to reorganize the EGFD from its current four
platoon structure to a three platoon structure. The Town
Council also noted that, although they had voted to implement
the reorganization of the EGFD, they would nonetheless hold
the reorganization in abeyance pending this Court's
decision on Plaintiff's pending motion. The Union agreed
that it was in the best interest of both parties to hold the
implementation in abeyance until a decision had been
Town now alleges that "[a] controversy exists between
the Town and the Union concerning the Town's assertion of
management right to decide to implement three-platoon
structure in the Town's Fire Department."
Id. ¶ 51. The Town brings this action for
declaratory judgment to resolve disputes and have declared
the rights, status and other legal relations of and between
the Town and the Union concerning the Town's assertion of
its fundamental and non-delegable management rights to decide
the organizational structure, the size and the appropriate
staffing levels of the EGFD.
Declaratory Judgments Act
declaratory judgment '"is neither an action at law
nor a suit in equity but a novel statutory proceeding . . .
."' Northern Trust Co. v. Zoning Bd. of Review
of Town of Westerly, 899 A.2d 517, 520 n.6 (R.I. 2006)
(quoting Newport Amusement Co. v. Maher, 92 R.I. 51,
53, 166 A.2d 216, 217 (1960)). Our Supreme Court recognizes
that the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act (UDJA) "vests
the Superior Court with the 'power to declare rights,
status, and other legal relations whether or not further
relief is or could be claimed.'" Malachowski v.
State of Rhode Island, 877 A.2d 649 (R.I. 2005)
(citations omitted) (quoting § 9-30-1); see also
Sullivan, 703 A.2d at 750 (stating that trial
court's "decision to grant or to deny declaratory
relief under the [UDJA] is purely discretionary").
"This power is broadly construed, to allow the trial
justice to 'facilitate the termination of
controversies.'" Bradford Assocs. v. R.I. Div.
of Purchases, 772 A.2d 485, 489 (R.I. 2001) (quoting
Capital Properties, Inc. v. State, 749 A.2d 1069,
1080 (R.I. 1999)).
well settled that a justice of the Superior Court has
discretion to grant or deny declaratory relief under the
UDJA. Sullivan, 703 A.2d at 751 (citing
Woonsocket Teachers' Guild Local Union 951, AFT v.
Woonsocket School Comm., 694 A.2d 727, 729 (R.I. 1997)
and Lombardi v. Goodyear Loan Co., 549 A.2d 1025,
1027 (R.I. 1988)). '"A decision to grant or deny
declaratory relief is addressed to the sound discretion of
the trial justice and will not be disturbed on appeal unless
the record demonstrates a clear abuse of discretion or the
trial justice committed an error of law."'
Imperial Cas. & Indem. Co. v. Bellini, 888 A.2d
957, 961 (R.I. 2005) (quoting Hagenberg v.
Avedisian, 879 A.2d 436, 441 (R.I. 2005)).
the function of the trial justice to undertake fact-finding
and then decide whether declaratory relief is appropriate.
Providence Lodge No. 3, Fraternal Order of Police v.
Providence External Review Auth., 951 A.2d 497, 502
(R.I. 2008). "It is well-established that 'the
findings of fact of a trial justice, sitting without a jury,
will be given great weight and will not be disturbed absent a
showing that the trial justice overlooked or misconceived
material evidence or was otherwise clearly wrong."'
Id. (quoting Casco Indemnity Co. v.
O'Connor, 755 A.2d 779, 782 (R.I. 2000)). In a
nonjury action where a special master has been appointed, the
trial justice "shall accept the master's findings of
fact unless clearly erroneous." Super. R. Civ. P.
UDJA "gives a broad grant of jurisdiction to the
Superior Court to determine the rights of any person that may
arise under a statute not in its appellate capacity but as
part of its original jurisdiction." Canario v.
Culhane, 752 A.2d 476, 479 (R.I. 2000) (citing Roch
v. Garrahy, 419 A.2d 827, 830 (R.I. 1980)).
Additionally, the UDJA '"neither imposes an
unflagging duty upon the courts to decide declaratory
judgment actions nor grants an entitlement to litigants to
demand declaratory remedies."' Pardee v.
Consumer Portfolio Servs., Inc., 344 F.Supp.2d 823
(D.R.I. 2004) (quoting El Dia, Inc. v. Hernandez
Colon, 963 F.2d 488, 493 (1st Cir. 1992)).
Thus, the purpose of such 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." Millett v.
Hoisting Eng'rs' Licensing Div. of the Dep't of
Labor, 119 R.I. 285, 377 A.2d 229 (1977) (citing 1
Anderson, Actions for Declaratory Judgments § 4
(2d ed. 1951) (citations omitted). Such a purpose of the UDJA
is valuable in that "[i]t is designed to enable
litigants to clarify legal rights and obligations before
acting upon them." Ernst & Young v. Depositors
Econ. Prot. Corp., 45 F.3d 530 (1st Cir.
on the Pleadings
12(c) Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings provides a trial
court with the ability to dispose of a case early in the
litigation process "when the material facts are not in
dispute . . . and only questions of law remain to be
decided." Haley v. Town of Lincoln, 611 A.2d
845, 847 (R.I. 1992) (citation omitted). The Court is
restricted to a review of the alleged facts presented in the
pleadings in a manner most favorable to the nonmoving party.
Id. As such, the allegations made in the nonmoving
party's pleadings are deemed true for the purpose of the
motion. Haley, 611 A.2d at 847; see also
Centerville Builders, Inc. v. Wynne, 683 A.2d 1340, 1342
(R.I. 1996). However, "allegations that are more in the
nature of legal conclusions rather than factual assertions
are not necessarily assumed to be true." DiLibero v.
MERS, 108 A.3d 1013, 1016 (R.I. 2015).
a judgment on the pleadings is to be given, it is because it
is apparent beyond a reasonable doubt that a trial would be
of no use in determining the merits of the plaintiff's
claim for relief." Haley, 611 A.2d at 849;
see also 1 Robert B. Kent et al., Rhode Island
Civil and Appellate Procedure § 12:13 (2016-2017)
(when made by the defendant, a motion for judgment on the
pleadings attacking the sufficiency of the complaint is
"in effect, a motion to dismiss for failure to state a
claim"). Thus, "[a] Rule 12(c) motion is tantamount
to a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, and the same test is applicable to
both." Chariho Reg'l School Dist. v. Gist,
91 A.3d 783, 787 (R.I. 2014) (citation omitted). If a Rule
12(c) motion is "made by the plaintiff, the motion is
analogous to a demurrer to the answer in that it tests the
legal sufficiency thereof. The plaintiff can succeed with
such a motion only if the answer admits the material
allegations of the complaint and sets forth no
affirmative" defenses. 1 Robert B. Kent, Rhode
Island Civil and Appellate Procedure: Rules of Civil
Procedure With Commentaries § 12:13 (2016-2017)
"If the answer contains both denials and affirmative
defenses, the plaintiff desiring to test the sufficiency of
the latter . . . cannot obtain judgment on the pleadings in
the face of defendant's denials." Id.
Court has held that the "availability of a Rule 12(c)
motion to terminate litigation is severely limited in light
of the rules of pleading employed by the Superior Court of
Rhode Island." Haley, 611 A.2d at 848.
"The plaintiff is not required to plead the ultimate
facts that must be proven in order to succeed on the
complaint." Id. "All that is required is
that the complaint give the opposing party fair and adequate
notice of the type of claim being asserted."
Id.; see Friedenthal, Kane, and Miller,
Civil Procedure §§ 5.7 and 5.8 at 252-56
(West 1985). "The policy behind these liberal pleading
rules is a simple one: cases in our system are not to be
disposed of summarily on arcane or technical grounds."
Haley, 611 A.2d at 848. "In light of the
simplified pleadings permitted under Rule 8, however, it is
most unusual that the information contained on the face of
the pleadings will alone be sufficiently definite and
complete to allow the court to grant a Rule 12(c)
standard to be applied to a Rule 12(c) motion is
'restrictive,' particularly when 'the questions
of law applicable to the controversy are fact
intensive."' Heritage Healthcare Servs., Inc. v.
Beacon Mut. Ins. Co., 109 A.3d 373, 377 (RI. 2015),
citing Haley, 611 A.2d at 847-48. The court must
accept that "[t]he factual allegations contained in the
nonmovant's pleadings are admitted as true for purposes
of the motion," and "[a]ll proper inferences . . .
are to be drawn in favor of the nonmovant."
Haley, 611 A.2d at 847.
"[a] motion seeking judgment on the complaint may only
be granted if all of the defenses raised in the answer are
legally insufficient." Qwest Commc'ns Corp. v.
City of Berkeley, 208 F.R.D. 288, 291 (N.D. Cal. 2002)
(citing William W. Schwarzer et al., Federal Civil
Procedure Before Trial § 9:328). A plaintiff is not
entitled to judgment on the pleadings if the answer raises
issues of fact or an affirmative defense which, if proved,
would defeat plaintiff's recovery. General Conference
Corp. of Seventh-Day Adventists v. Seventh-Day Adventist
Congregational Church, 887 F.2d 228, 230 (9th Cir.
respect to Count I of the Complaint, and after review of the
pleadings and parties' arguments, there appear to be no
questions of fact remaining. Rather, only questions of law-
pertaining to whether the Town has a management right to
reorganize the fire department during the life of a valid
CBA-are left to be resolved.
only question of fact raised at this stage was that of the
Town's motivation in seeking to reorganize the EGFD. The
Union argues that the State Labor Relations Board (SLRB) has
jurisdiction over this issue-given that a number of pending
grievances exist before the SLRB pertaining to the
reorganization-and therefore, the Town's motive in
reorganizing the EGFD is relevant. In support of its
argument, the Union points to a number of labor relations
board cases-involving both the National Labor Relations Board
(NLRB) and the SLRB-to suggest that a Town's motivation
in reorganizing a department is pertinent to the validity of
said reorganization. Essentially, the Union alleges that the
Town's primary motivation is merely to retaliate against
the Union and certain firefighters and that such motivation
is relevant in analyzing the merits of this motion.
Union contends that the Town cannot exercise its statutory or
managerial right to reorganize for the purpose of interfering
with the existence of a bargaining unit, namely the Union.
The Union believes that Plaintiff violated Section 13 of the
State Labor Relations Act (SLRA) when its Town Manager
recommended reorganizing the EGFD-laying off six lateral
transfers as a result-and the Town Council, without
performing any type of investigation or fiscal impact
statement, approved the recommendation.
this Court finds the Union's argument as to this point
unpersuasive. In this instance, the Town is simply asking the
Court to declare whether it has the legal authority to
exercise its statutory power to reorganize the EGFD from a
four platoon structure to a three platoon structure. This is
purely a question of statutory and contract interpretation
that requires no inquiry into any legislative motive.
well settled in Rhode Island that the motive of individual
legislators is irrelevant to the validity of certain
legislation. "[A] valid exercise of legislative power
will not be invalidated because certain legislators may have
had invalid motives . . . when the legislation in question
was enacted." R.I. Liquor Stores Ass'n v.
Evening Call Pub. Co., 497 A.2d 331, 335 (R.I. 1985).
Only when a legislative act has declared purpose in the
legislation will Rhode Island courts look to legislative
intent, and even then, courts accept that stated purpose
rather than ...