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As property values increase in coastal Rhode Island and residents of other states purchase beachside homes as retirement or vacation properties, the long-standing conflicts over public beach access in the state will continue to worsen. Wealthy landowners and developers of luxury properties have a financial incentive to restrict public access to beaches in order to advertise their properties as more exclusive. Although the vast majority of beaches and land immediately adjacent to the coastline are public property, without public access from the road, residents and visitors have practically no way to use the public beaches. A recently published news report discusses a legal battle over beach access in Westerly, Rhode Island, specifically noting how the discovery of a historical survey map could turn the tide of the battle in favor of public beach access.

According to the report, the beach known as Quonochontaug, is one of the most beautiful beaches in the state. As beautiful as the beach is, there is currently no public access to the shore. Developers have purchased all of the land adjacent to the beach and blocked any public paths leading to the shore, creating what amounts to a private beach for their residents and customers. The article notes that one 50-foot wide trail that was previously used as public access has been blocked with a fence and is not currently usable. An attorney fighting for public access to the beach has been on a mission to prove that the fenced-off trail does not belong to the adjacent property owners and is in fact a public pathway that should remain passable to allow anyone to access the beautiful beach.

In an effort to make his case, the attorney combed through public historical documents to support his case. In the basement document repository of the Westerly town hall, the attorney found a document from 1939 known as a plat map that might prove his case. Plat maps are scale drawings of land that are approved and filed with the state and municipality to show the ownership and characteristics of the land as it is being developed. In the 1939 plat map that was prepared before the property surrounding Quonochontaug was developed, the 50-foot wide section of land was designated as a public road. According to the attorney quoted in the article, that designation has not been changed in the decades since the map was made, and the path remains public. If the attorney’s arguments are accepted by the state Coastal Resources Management Council, the fencing will need to be removed, and public access to the beach can be restored.

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The laws of trespass are generally understood to apply to people who enter or remain on a piece of personal property without the consent of the owner or the legal right to do so. From a legal standpoint, the theory of trespass is much broader. Trespass to land is generally understood to entail a wrongful interference with one’s possessory rights in real property and can extend both underground and into airspace. In the event that a neighboring property owner modifies their own property in a manner that disrupts their neighbor from possessing or using their property, a trespass may have occurred. A Rhode Island Superior Court recently found that the state of Rhode Island is liable for trespass based on a stormwater drainage pit maintained by the state that repeatedly overflowed into a cemetery.

The plaintiff in the recently decided case is a cemetery that was founded in 1902 in North Kingstown, Rhode Island. Adjacent to the cemetery is a roadway that is maintained by the defendant, the State of Rhode Island. Until 1984, the state road had problems with flooding during times of heavy rain. In 1984, the plaintiff gave permission for the defendant to construct a drainage ditch and seepage pit on the cemetery property to alleviate the roadway flooding. Pursuant to the agreement, the defendant compensated the plaintiff and agreed to make reasonable attempts to reconstruct the road in a way that would alleviate the flooding and return the plaintiff’s property. The defiant never reconstructed the road, and the drainage system remains on the plaintiff’s property. According to the facts discussed in the judicial ruling, during times of heavy rains, the seepage pit overfills with water, which flows onto other parts of the plaintiff’s property.

The plaintiff filed suit against the defendant in state court in 2015, challenging the easement for the drainage ditch and alleging that the defendant has committed an actionable trespass against the plaintiff by allowing the seepage pit to overflow and flood the plaintiff’s property. The court rejected the plaintiff’s claims that the easement was invalid. The court did find that because the pit overflows and floods into areas of the plaintiff’s property not included in the easement, that a trespass had occurred. The court ruled in favor of the plaintiff on that issue, reserving the question of damages for a later date.

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Across the United States, municipalities, states, and even the federal government have the right to seize the property of private citizens under some circumstances. Although the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure of their property, government actors have carved out a range of “reasonable” seizures that are permitted under the law. Some of these seizures are defined under the term “eminent domain.”

Rhode Island has codified the standards for the state and municipalities to take real property from citizens under Rhode Island General Laws, 42-64.12. The laws under this chapter are designed to set the process for an eminent domain taking and ensure that persons who have property seized by the government for any purpose are compensated fairly for their loss.

One reason the government commonly uses eminent domain powers is to construct or modify roadways or other infrastructure or utility improvements. Because this use is widely understood to be in furtherance of the public good, the government need only compensate private citizens for the property’s fair market value. In addition to infrastructure uses, the government often seeks to seize private property for economic development purposes. Because economic development is not as widely agreed to be for the public good, the government needs to compensate private citizens whose property is seized for economic development more generously than for other uses. Specifically, the government must pay at least 150% of the property’s fair market value, as well as for relocation and moving expenses incurred by the person whose property was seized.

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Jurisdictions across the United States have different laws and traditions concerning how property is divided during a divorce. Generally, judges are not required to follow any strict formula for property division; however, the guidelines and laws offer factors for courts to consider in awarding property to each spouse. Rhode Island courts divide marital property using the doctrine equitable distribution, meaning a court divides marital property in a fair and equitable manner between the spouses, taking several factors into account to determine the equitable distribution for each spouse.

The division of marital property in Rhode Island is governed by state law, codified under R.I. GEN. LAWS § 15-5-16.1, which lists several factors for judges to consider in property division. These factors include the length of the marriage, the conduct of the parties during the marriage, contributions from each party to the marital estate, the contributions of each party as a homemaker, the occupation and employability of each party, and the best interests of any children shared by the parties, among others factors.

In evaluating the conduct of the parties during the marriage, courts are allowed to consider any infidelity or abuse in making an equitable distribution of the marital assets. Additionally, financial misconduct by either party (wasteful dissipation of assets or hiding or encumbering assets in anticipation of divorce without equitable consideration) can be grounds for awarding more property to the other spouse.

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Although trespassing is against the law in Rhode Island, adverse possession is legal a loophole that allows individuals to secure an ownership interest in a piece of property after a certain amount of time has passed. To avoid this issue, landowners should familiarize themselves with the basics of adverse possession claims in Rhode Island so they can best protect their property right and their ownership over their land.

In general, adverse possession laws allow people who improve and live on otherwise neglected property or land to gain legal title after a certain period of time has elapsed. Although this period of time varies from state to state, Rhode Island’s temporal requirement is ten years. This means that an individual who is a continuous trespasser could claim legal title to otherwise neglected land after openly living on it for at least ten years.

Although the Rhode Island law appears simple, there are additional requirements that must be met by the individual who is “squatting” on the land. Courts in Rhode Island have held that “squatters” seeking to establish a claim of adverse possession must prove that their possession of the land has been “actual, open, notorious, hostile, continuous, exclusive, and under a claim of right.”

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Any time you enter into a contract, it is crucial that you understand all of the terms and conditions of the agreement you are entering into. This is of especially high importance for agreements such as insurance policies on major purchases in your life, such as your car or your home.

Although many insurance policies or similar contractual agreements can often be long and tedious to read through, it is essential that you, as the policyholder, understand the obligations that you are bound to by entering into the agreement, as well as what the other party has agreed to. This way, you are more likely to know when you can invoke specific clauses of an agreement and defend yourself when issues arise.

In a recent Rhode Island Supreme Court opinion, the court considered whether a couple was entitled to receive a subsequent appraisal of damage to their property in addition to compensation for damage incurred. The plaintiffs, who were insured by the defendant, notified the defendant of water damage to their home that was the result of snow that had accumulated on the roof. The plaintiffs submitted a claim to the defendant, which detailed the damage. Shortly after, the plaintiffs received a check for $14,549, which they cashed. More than a year later, the plaintiffs requested an appraisal for the original loss, which was rejected by the defendants because the plaintiffs failed to dispute the scope of payment, more than a year had elapsed, and the claim was categorized as resolved. The plaintiffs sued the defendant, claiming that the denial of the claim constituted a breach of their insurance contract.

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Recently, the Rhode Island Supreme Court issued a decision affirming the decree of a family court terminating a mother’s parental rights to her four children. The Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCFY) became involved with the family after the mother was hospitalized for mental health issues. DCFY filed a neglect petition to remove four of the woman’s children, and three were placed with their maternal grandmother, and the youngest was placed with a foster family. DCFY contends that the mother failed to fully engage in counseling and other steps to address her mental health. Further, the mother’s engagement with the children declined over several months. DCFY noted that their initial goal was reunification with the mother; however, the goal changed to termination of parental rights and adoption as time progressed.

According to the relevant part of the statute, Rhode Island General Laws 1956 § 15-7-7, explains the court shall terminate any and all legal rights of a parent to a child if the court finds:

  • With clear and convincing evidence that the parent is unfit by conduct or conditions detrimental to the child
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For homes located between two towns, homeowners will often struggle with water service rights. Sometimes, neither town will claim responsibility to provide the landowners with water and other natural resources. However, owners can bring what is called a “friendly lawsuit” against a city, in order to speed along the process of providing water to residents. In a recent Rhode Island Supreme Court case, the court upheld a superior court decision that required the defendants, the Portsmouth Water & Fire District, to provide the plaintiffs’ homes with water.

In the recently decided case, an eleven-lot subdivision falls between the border of two cities. A farm in this subdivision, the plaintiffs, brought a “friendly lawsuit” to speed up the time to have the defendants, the water supplier of one of the cities, provide their lot with water. However, shortly thereafter, the defendants refused to permit the plaintiffs to connect the lots on the property to their water main. After this refusal, the plaintiffs sought to require the defendants to provide water services to the subdivision lots.

During the trial in the superior court, the plaintiffs argued that the lots were entitled to water service from the defendants because the lots had a portion of its property in the city they were seeking the water from. Additionally, the homeowners on these lots paid taxes to this city—if they paid taxes, they believed they were entitled to water service. On the other hand, the defendants asserted they could not provide water to the subdivision lots because their interpretation of the city’s charter required only providing water to buildings fully located within their city.

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Divorce and parentage settlements and orders in Rhode Island often contain provisions for the parents to split private school or other childcare expenses that are incurred by a parent while the child is under the age of 18. Divorcing parents may also agree to share expenses for children after they reach the age of majority, however, such orders may not be enforceable by the family court. The Rhode Island Supreme Court recently entered a ruling in a case revolving around a father’s agreement to pay for his child’s college as part of a divorce settlement.

The plaintiff in the recently decided case was married to the defendant, and the parties had one child together. According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the parties reached a settlement for their divorce terms, including issues such as child support, payment of private school expenses, as well as custody and visitation. Several years after the parties divorced, they modified the agreement with what is called a consent order. Under the consent order, the father’s child support obligation would be reduced by approximately $400 per month, and he would agree to pay for one-half of the cost of post-high school education for the child.

After the consent order was put into place, the father reduced his child support payment as agreed. When the child entered college, however, the father refused to pay for one-half of the tuition as discussed in the consent order. The mother sued the father in family court, arguing that he was in contempt of the consent order and should be ordered to pay his share of college tuition. The family court agreed with the mother and ordered the father to pay one-half of the college costs.

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Agreements and plans to develop real property into commercial or residential real estate are often reliant on several conditions being met before the agreement can be fully executed and construction begins. Developers must often obtain financing, zoning rights, and natural resources clearance before constructing a development. When unexpected or unforeseen obstacles to any of these conditions arise, a real estate deal can begin to fall through. The Rhode Island Supreme Court recently affirmed a lower court ruling that denied a developer’s request to force the owners of land to sell the land to the developers after conditions for the sale were not being met.

The plaintiff in the recently decided case is a real estate development company who entered into a purchase agreement with the defendants to buy several parcels of land with the intention of constructing a residential subdivision. As part of the purchase agreement, the plaintiff was supposed to secure financing for construction, as well as approval and permits from the town. The defendants agreed to be flexible with deadlines for the financing and approval, where appropriate. According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the plaintiff faced unexpected obstacles in obtaining approval for the construction. Because neither the approval nor the financing had been obtained, the defendants stopped cooperating with the plaintiff in extending deadlines.

The plaintiff sued the defendants in state court, asking the court to force the plaintiff to follow through on the purchase contract. The defendants requested that the contract be voided because the plaintiff did not obtain financing in accordance with the terms of the purchase agreement. The court sided with the defendants, finding that the plaintiff cannot demand specific performance of a contract under Rhode Island state law if they are not ready, willing and able to perform the contract at that time. Because the plaintiff did not secure financing as agreed to in the purchase agreement, the defendants were not required to uphold their end of the contract.

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