• March 2, 2016

JOE CAVANAGH PRESENTS BEFORE RHODE ISLAND SUPREME COURT

On March 2, 2016, Joe Cavanagh presented an argument before the Rhode Island Supreme Court in a case that was the first serious test of the 2012 amendment to the Rhode Island Access to Public Records Act. This change allowed the use of a balancing test, between the public interest and the legitimate privacy rights of individuals, in determining whether law enforcement records could be released.

Joe represented the Providence Journal, a long time client of Blish & Cavanagh, which had sued the R.I. State Police for their refusal to release the records from their investigation of a high school graduation party on property owned by then-Governor Lincoln Chafee. This party had been hosted by the Governor's 18 year-old son, Caleb, and an 18 year-old woman who attended was hospitalized for alcohol poisoning. A 3 month state police investigation ensued, and Caleb Chafee was charged with and pleaded to a violation of the state's social host law.

The lower court decision upheld the state police refusal to release these records on the basis that any disclosure would be an unwarranted invasion of the privacy interests of people involved in the police records and the public interest would not be advanced by disclosure. On appeal, the Journal contended that the lower court took a too-narrow view of the issues and failed to property weigh the public's substantial interest in learning how the police had conducted its investigation, given that the Governor appoints the head of the state police and the state police also provide personal security for the governor and his family.

  • June 16,2015

    SMITHFIELD ZONING BOARD DECISION

    On June 16, 2015, the Rhode Island Superior Court upheld a decision of the Smithfield Zoning Board denying a variance which would have allowed construction of a house, garage, and deck on environmentally sensitive property abutting the Woonasquatucket River. The Court found that the Zoning Board correctly determined that the proposed project would conflict with provisions of the Town’s Comprehensive Plan. Ed Alves represented the Zoning Board before the Superior Court in his capacity as Smithfield Town Solicitor with the able assistance of Bob Cavanagh and Tom Alves.
    The full text of Superior Court Justice Susan McGuirl’s decision in Folco v. Zoning Board of Review of the Town of Smithfield, C.A. No. PC 2013-3267 can be read by clicking here (www.courts.ri.gov/Courts/SuperiorCourt/Superior Decisions/13-3267.pdf).
  • April 10,2015

    WOONSOCKET SUPPLEMENTAL TAX LITIGATION

    Ed Alves led a team of Blish & Cavanagh attorneys in the successful defense of the $2,500,000 supplemental tax levied by the Woonsocket Budget Commission for Woonsocket Fiscal Year 2013. The supplemental tax was an essential component of the Budget Commission's Five-Year Plan to return Woonsocket to fiscal stability. The tax was challenged in Providence County Superior Court by 179 taxpayers on constitutional and statutory grounds. If the supplemental tax had been declared illegal, the State would have been required to appoint a receiver for the City of Woonsocket. Blish & Cavanagh attorneys, Joe Cavanagh, III, Lynne Dolan, Bob Cavanagh and Tom Alves all provided valuable assistance in defense of this suit.

    The full text of Superior Court Justice Netti Vogel's decision in Cournoyer, et al v. City of Woonsocket Budget Commission, et al, C.A. No. PC 2013-4082 can be read by clicking here.  (www.courts.ri.gov/Courts/Superior Decisions/13-4082.pdf.)
  • September 2014

    Westerly Beach Access Decision

    September 04, 2014 Bill Landry successfully represented a group of Westerly landowners who were sued by the Rhode Island Attorney General, who claimed the general public had a dedicated right of access to use a portion of the beach they owned. This dispute related to an approximately 2 mile long stretch of beach, between 80 and 120 feet deep, along the Atlantic Ocean in the Misquamicut beach area. The Attorney General sought a declaratory judgment that the general public had a right of access to this strip of beach based on a public easement created by the recording of a 1909 plat plan and indenture which had labeled the disputed area as "Beach". The State also sought an injunction to prevent our clients from interfering with this alleged public right of access in any way, including the erection of fences across the Beach area.

    Following 11 days of trial, submission of briefs, and oral argument, Justice Stern issued a decision on September 4, 2014 on the issue of whether there was an offer of easement. He identified 3 core legal issues which needed to be decided: (1) whether the so-called platters, who signed the recorded plat and owned some but not all of the land designated as Beach in the plat, had the power to dedicate the entire Beach area as an easement; (2) whether the easement could have been dedicated to the public by means of the 1909 plat; and (3) whether the platters intended to offer such an easement to the general public and whether the plat and/or indenture clearly and unambiguously manifested that intent. Finding in favor of the landowners on all three of these legal issues, Justice Stern denied the Attorney General's request for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief.

    The full text of this decision, in the matter of Peter Kilmartin v. Joan Barbuto, et al., Washington Superior Court C.A. No. WB-12-0579, can be read by clicking here.