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Manafort Brothers, Inc. v. State

Superior Court of Rhode Island, Providence

June 24, 2019

STATE OF RHODE ISLAND, by and through SETH MAGAZINER, in his capacity as General Treasurer, and RHODE ISLAND DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, by and through PETER ALVITI, JR., P.E., in his capacity as Director, Defendants.

          For Plaintiff: John A. Donovan, III, Esq.

          For Defendant: William M. Dolan, Esq.


          SILVERSTEIN, J. (Ret.)

         Pending before the Court for Decision are a number of motions as hereinafter indicated. This case arises out of a contract awarded to Plaintiff with respect to the construction of a new independent 1290 foot (more or less) southbound four lane bridge, as well as an adjacent ramp structure north and south of the Providence Viaduct.

         Heretofore, this Court has entered partial summary judgments in favor of Plaintiff with respect to certain affirmative defenses asserted by the Defendants (hereinafter referred to collectively as "the State") see Order dated Dec. 29, 2017, and partial summary judgments in favor of Plaintiff with respect to all remaining affirmative defenses asserted by the State as well as summary judgment in favor of the Plaintiff against the State with respect to the State's breach of contract counterclaim against Plaintiff. See Order dated May 14, 2018. Further, the Court has granted summary judgment as to liability in favor of Plaintiff against the State in connection with Plaintiff's Counts I (Breach of Contract); II (Breach of Implied Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing); and, III (Quantum Meruit) (further see Order dated May 14, 2018).

         Because the Orders referred to above did not provide for full relief (inter alia), they essentially provided that such defenses were not available to Defendants but left open the question of damages for Plaintiff with respect to the various counts of its Complaint (wherein summary judgment was granted as aforesaid). Here, the State seeks relief from the referenced Orders as well as from an Order of this Court dated December 11, 2017 nunc pro tunc to October 13, 2017 dealing with the Court's refusal to grant the State's motion to withdraw certain admissions deemed admitted by the State. That motion was dated October 3, 2017. (The State essentially argues that the various summary judgments herein referred to all flowed directly from the admissions which it says the Court wrongfully declined to permit the State to withdraw). Also, this Decision deals with an Order entered herein on November 10, 2017 (the Administrative Claims Order) granting Plaintiff an extended time to file a claim with the State.

         Further, the Court is asked by the State to determine that the Court is without jurisdiction of the subject matter of this case because, the State, as sovereign, enjoys immunity from suits of this nature and has not waived such immunity. In connection with that belatedly raised issue (see the State's motion dated July 20, 2018), the Court notes that initially this suit was commenced by Plaintiff on September 28, 2016, almost two full years before the State saw fit to raise the jurisdictional issue, and then only after a trial date had been established. The Court acknowledges that the issue of subject matter jurisdiction can be raised at any time.

         If the State's jurisdictional issue is meritorious, then as a matter of law the Court would have to treat all of the proceedings before it (described in seven pages of docket entries) as nullities. Accordingly, the Court will take up that issue first before, if ever, dealing with the other issues referred to above or otherwise pending before the Court at this time.

         Sovereign Immunity

         On July 20, 2018, the State, purporting to act "pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Rhode Island Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure, move[d] to dismiss the Complaint and all counts of the within action on the grounds that the Court lacks jurisdiction over the subject matter of the Complaint."

         In the battle of paper that ensued (together with oral arguments), it became obvious that Plaintiff relies on its compliance with G.L. 1956 § 37-13.1-1(a) as the basis for its claim that the General Assembly, through that provision, has specifically authorized actions of the nature pending before the Court so long as such action is brought in the Superior Court sitting in Providence County. That section of our General Laws reads as follows:

"§ 37-13.1-1. Suits allowed - Jurisdiction - Statute of limitations -- Procedure.
(a) Any person, firm, or corporation which is awarded a contract subsequent to July 1, 1977, with the state of Rhode Island, acting through any of its departments, commissions, or other agencies, for the design, construction, repair, or alteration of any state highway, bridge, or public works other than those contracts which are covered by the public works arbitration act may, in the event of any disputed claims under the contract, bring an action against the state of Rhode Island in the superior court for Providence county for the purpose of having the claims determined, provided notice of the general nature of the claims shall have been given in writing to the department administering the contract in accordance with the contract specifications set forth for the specific contract. No action shall be brought under this section later than one year from the date of the acceptance of the work by the agency head as so evidenced; provided, however, that no action shall be brought under this section on any contract awarded prior to July 1, 1977. Acceptance of an amount offered as final payment shall preclude any person, firm, or corporation from bringing a claim under this section. The action shall be tried to the court without a jury. All legal defenses except governmental immunity shall be reserved to the state. Any action brought under this section shall be privileged in respect to assignment for trial upon motion of either party."

         A thorough analysis of the arguments advanced by the parties leads the Court to conclude that the parties would undoubtedly agree that the referenced section of the General Laws indeed is the controlling statutory provision and that compliance or non-compliance with the provisions thereof is the ...

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