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Addressing Issues with Ownership and Control of Utility Service Infrastructure in Rhode Island

In a recent judicial opinion, the question of property ownership takes center stage as the court delves into the intricacies of water distribution systems and their responsibilities for maintenance and repair. The case at hand revolves around a dispute between an individual property owner, the appellant, and a local utility, the Narragansett Water Department (NWD). The central issue revolves around the ownership of certain water distribution facilities and the associated maintenance and repair obligations.

According to the facts discussed in the recently published judicial opinion, the legal dispute originated when the Appellant filed a complaint, seeking to reverse an administrative decision and hold the NWD responsible for maintaining and repairing specific water distribution facilities. The Appellant also claimed reimbursement for repairs made and sought attorney’s fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act.

The court’s review of the case was guided by § 42-35-15 of the Administrative Procedures Act, which outlines the standard of review for administrative decisions. The court’s role was to determine whether there was legally competent evidence to support the agency’s decision, rather than substituting its judgment for that of the agency on questions of fact.

The court examined various pieces of evidence, including historical records, testimonies, and regulations, to determine the ownership of the water distribution facilities in question. The Appellant argued that specific pieces of the water infrastructure were owned by the NWD, while the NWD maintained that these were privately owned by individual property owners. The court upheld the Hearing Officer’s determination that the utility service equipment was privately owned. This conclusion was based on a careful analysis of historical records, including notations and diagrams in the Register Books, which indicated ownership by property owners. The court deferred to the Hearing Officer’s application of the “incidents of ownership” standard, emphasizing that as long as the conclusion was supported by legally competent evidence, it should stand.

The court addressed the NWD’s actions in relation to the water distribution facilities, including turning the water off and on during construction and repairing leaks. The court clarified that these actions did not constitute an exercise of dominion and control over the facilities but were part of the NWD’s responsibility to provide reliable service to its customers. As a result of the court’s decision, the city will not be held responsible to repair and service the utility access lines.

Addressing Questions Concerning Utility Service and Equipment in Rhode Island

This recent opinion underscores the importance of admissible evidence in the court’s limited role in reviewing administrative decisions. People with questions about the ownership or responsibility to maintain utility infrastructure can find answers by retaining a qualified Rhode Island real estate attorney. The experienced Rhode Island property lawyers at Bilodeau Capalbo, LLP can assist you by performing a thorough analysis of historical records, legal statutes, and precedent, to answer your questions and advocate for your cause. Our lawyers represent people in Rhode Island in all types of property issues, including disputes with municipalities over administrative decisions. If you have questions about a Rhode Island property law issue, we’re here to help. Call us at 401-300-4055 for a free consultation.

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