Providence County Superior Court Taft-Carter, J.
case involves disputes arising out of the construction and
renovations of the Sakonnet River Bridge. Defendant Cardi
Corporation, Inc. (Cardi) and Cashman entered into a
subcontractor agreement, should Cardi be awarded the Sakonnet
River Bridge project by the Rhode Island Department of
this Court is Plaintiff Cashman Equipment Corporation,
Inc.'s (Cashman) Motion to Strike Defendants RT Group,
Inc. (RTG), James Russell, and Steven Otten's Jury
Demand. RTG, James Russell, and Steven Otten object to the
motion. Cashman, Cardi, Cardi Materials, LLC and Specialty
Diving Services, Inc. (SDS) have all consented to a bench
trial. At issue here is whether the above-referenced action
must be tried without a jury.
in Rhode Island, there is an inviolate right to a trial by
jury. "The Rhode Island constitution declares in art. 1,
sec. 15, that the right of trial by jury shall remain
inviolate." Briggs Drive, Inc. v. Moorehead,
103 R.I. 555, 557, 239 A.2d 186, 187 (1968) (citing
Merrill v. Bowler, 20 R.I. 226, 38 A. 114 (1897)).
However, "[t]hat declaration preserves the right to a
jury trial in proceedings which were triable to a jury at the
time of the adoption of the constitution; it does not create
rights where none preexisted." Id. As such, if
the right to a jury trial exists, "its origins must be
found either in the constitution or in some legislative
federal level, "[i]t has long been settled that the
Seventh Amendment right to trial by jury does not apply in
actions against the Federal Government. . . . 'It hardly
can be maintained that under the common law in 1791 jury
trial was a matter of right for persons asserting claims
against the sovereign.'" Lehman v.
Nakshian, 453 U.S. 156, 160 (1981) (quoting Galloway
v. United States, 319 U.S. 372, 388-89 (1943)).
Similarly, in Rhode Island, "under the common law, the
state, as well as a municipality, enjoyed sovereign immunity,
which could be waived only by the state's deliberate and
explicit waiver." Graff v. Motta, 695 A.2d 486,
489 (R.I. 1997) (citing Mulvaney v. Napolitano, 671
A.2d 312, 312 (R.I. 1995)). It follows that since no right to
a jury trial existed for individuals asserting a claim
against the State of Rhode Island prior to the adoption of
the state constitution, parties are only entitled to the
right of a jury trial through legislative enactment. See
Briggs Drive, Inc., 103 R.I. at 557, 239 A.2d at 187
(citing Ronci Mfg. Co. v. Director of Pub. Works, 99
R.I. 723, 725, 210 A.2d 585, 587 (1965)).
the applicable statute provides that:
"[a]ny 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" and that
"[t]he action shall be tried to the court without a
jury." G.L. 1956 § 37-13.1-1(a) (emphasis
under this statute, the Rhode Island General Assembly has
relinquished the State's sovereign immunity as it relates
to actions involving contracts with the State for the design,
construction, repair, or alteration of a bridge. However,
this statute clearly states any action of this type
"shall be tried to the court without a jury."
questions whether Cashman's claims, since none are
directed specifically at RIDOT, fall under § 37-13.1-1.
The Rhode Island Supreme Court has not addressed the issue of
whether § 37-13.1-1's requirement of a bench trial
applies in cases such as this, where the original case is
brought by a subcontractor against the party to a public
works contract with the State. However, our Supreme Court has
stated that it "find[s] it obvious that the Legislature
intended to have a judicial determination concerning those
disputed claims which arise under a public-works contract.
The relevant phrase . . . is 'disputed claims.' The
Legislature was clearly limiting a plaintiff's cause ...