Posted by: Patricia Salkin | July 4, 2017

RI Supreme Court Finds that Adjoining Property Owners had Standing to Seek a Declaratory Judgment Against Brown University over Construction of Artificial Turf Hockey Field

Plaintiffs, Stephen L. Key, as Trustee of the Stephen L. Key Trust—2008, and Melanie D. Mitchell, appealed from a judgment entered in Superior Court, which held that plaintiffs lacked standing and found in favor of the defendants, Brown University and the City of Providence. The first count of the plaintiffs’ verified second-amended complaint sought a declaration that Brown University’s construction of an artificial-turf field hockey field with attendant bleachers, press box, electronic scoreboard, and public-address system was an unlawful use under the Providence zoning ordinances. Specifically, the plaintiffs contended that the hearing justice erred in holding that they had no standing to seek a declaratory judgment against Brown University for zoning violations and unlawful use of the field hockey field because they “have a personal stake in the outcome of the controversy” and suffered and continue to suffer personalized injuries as a direct result of Brown’s violation of the Providence zoning ordinances.
Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, the court found that plaintiffs had alleged an injury in fact related to their home: physical damage to their home, a decrease in their home’s value, and a diminished use and enjoyment of their property. The court held these allegations provided measurable economic injuries that plaintiffs could have suffered as a result of Brown’s project. Furthermore, the court determined that plaintiffs’ failure to pursue whatever administrative remedies that were available to them did not preclude them from seeking declaratory relief under the UDJA. Here, plaintiffs’ ability to challenge the decision of the zoning board had long passed and they were not seeking to compel the city to enforce the zoning ordinance. Instead, plaintiffs were merely seeking a declaration that the zoning violations existed and that Brown omitted material elements of its construction project from its IMP, thereby depriving the CPC of an opportunity to review “the true project.”  Accordingly the court vacated the judgment of the Superior Court and remanded the case for further proceedings.
Key v Brown University, 2017 WL 2784864 (RI 6/27/2017)

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