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Sams Food Mart, LLC v. Town of Middletown

Superior Court of Rhode Island, Newport

October 30, 2018

SAMS FOOD MART, LLC, ABDUL KAHN, SAUDABBAD CONVENIENCE, INC., MOHAMMAD SIDDIQUI, Plaintiffs,
v.
TOWN OF MIDDLETOWN, Defendant, and THE STOP & SHOP SUPERMARKET COMPANY, LLC, MAXI DRUG SOUTH, L.P., COLBEA ENTERPRISES, LLC, CUMBERLAND FARMS, INC., AQUIDNECK PACKAGE STORE, INC., SHAWS SUPERMARKET, INC., BJS WHOLESALE CLUB, INC., NEWPORT NATIONAL GOLF CLUB, INC., MICHAEL SANTOS d/b/a SANDY'S LIQUORS, SKEES REALTY, LTD., BEACH LIQUORS, LLC, SPEEDWAY, LLC, 7-ELEVEN, INC., WALGREEN EASTERN CO., INC., ANDREW'S AT EASTGATE, LTD., SPLASH ECIG AND VAPOR EMPORIUM, LLC, Interested Parties.

          For Plaintiff: Peter F. Skwirz, Esq.

          For Defendant: Peter B. Regan, Esq.; Mark T. Boivin, Esq. (Interested Parties): Joseph Avanzato, Esq.; Sonja L. DeYoe, Esq.; Joshua Carlin, Esq.; Speedway, LLC

          DECISION

          NUGENT, J.

         Before this Court is a complaint for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief with respect to the Town of Middletown's (Middletown) Tobacco Ordinance. Plaintiffs seek a declaration from the Court that the Tobacco Ordinance is unconstitutional, exceeding the constitutional authority of the municipality. Jurisdiction is pursuant to the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act (UDJA), G.L. 1956 §§ 9-30-1, et seq.

         I

         Facts

         On December 4, 2017, the Middletown Town Council adopted an ordinance regulating the sale of tobacco (Tobacco Ordinance). Middletown Code of Ordinances § 119; Am. Compl. ¶ 26. The Tobacco Ordinance requires anyone selling tobacco products in Middletown to obtain a "tobacco dealer's license from the Town Council," and pay an annual fee of $100. Middletown Code of Ordinances § 119.02. Additionally, the Tobacco Ordinance prohibits the use of coupons or volume discounts with the sale of tobacco as well as the sale of any flavored tobacco products. Middletown Code of Ordinances §§ 119.05(D), (E).

         The Plaintiffs are owners and operators of retail stores in Middletown which sell tobacco products. Plaintiffs Mohammad Siddiqui and Saudabbad Convenience, Inc. operate a store known as Newport Mart located at 52 East Main Road in the Town of Middletown. Am. Compl. ¶ 1. Plaintiffs Abdul Khan and Sams Food Mart, LLC operate a store known as Sam's Food Mart located at 356 West Main Road in the Town of Middletown. Am. Compl. ¶ 2. The Plaintiffs have separate licenses to sell tobacco products from the State Division of Taxation under G.L. 1956 §§ 44-20-1, et seq. and/or from the Department of Health pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 23-1-56. Am. Compl. ¶ 31.

         The Middletown Town Council initially enacted a similar ordinance on June 19, 2017, but the Plaintiffs asserted a violation of the Open Meetings Act, G.L. 1956 §§ 42-46-1, et seq. as part of their initial Complaint on October 26, 2017. See Middletown Code of Ordinances § 118; Compl. ¶¶ 33-39. Pursuant to a consent order entered on December 4, 2017, enforcement of Chapter 118 was stayed. The new Tobacco Ordinance Chapter 119 was enacted on December 4, 2017. See Am. Compl. ¶ 26. In their Amended Complaint filed on December 5, 2017, the Plaintiffs request declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging the Tobacco Ordinance is unconstitutional under the Rhode Island Constitution and is therefore null and void. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 37-40. Pursuant to a consent order entered on February 6, 2018, Middletown agreed to be temporarily enjoined from enforcing the Tobacco Ordinance until further order of this Court.

         II

         Standard of Review

         Under the UDJA, the Superior 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; see also P.J.C. Realty, Inc. v. Barry, 811 A.2d 1202, 1207 (R.I. 2002) (quoting § 9-30-1). The Court's power under UDJA is broadly construed, and allows the trial justice to "facilitate the termination of controversies[.]" Malachowski v. State, 877 A.2d 649, 656 (R.I. 2005). Therefore, the plaintiff must present the Court with an actual controversy when seeking declaratory relief. Millett v. Hoisting Eng'rs' Licensing Div. of Dep't of Labor, 119 R.I. 285, 291, 377 A.2d 229, 233 (1977). Further, it is well-established that a trial court's "decision to grant or to deny declaratory relief under the [UDJA] is purely discretionary." Sullivan v. Chafee, 703 A.2d 748, 751 (R.I. 1997).

         "[I]n deciding whether to issue a preliminary injunction, the hearing justice should determine whether the moving party (1) has a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits, (2) will suffer irreparable harm without the requested injunctive relief, (3) has the balance of the equities, including the possible hardships to each party and to the public interest, tip in its favor, and (4) has shown that the issuance of a preliminary injunction will preserve the status quo." Iggy's Doughboys, Inc. v. Giroux, 729 A.2d 701, 705 (R.I. 1999). When deciding upon the constitutional validity of a municipal enactment, it is true that "[a] plaintiff is generally entitled to injunctive relief when a municipality seeks to enforce an invalid ordinance." Women & Infants Hosp. v. City of Providence, 527 A.2d ...


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