Rhode Island Office Secures Significant Win in Rhode Island Supreme Court Property Tax Matter

Providence, R.I. (June 22, 2023) – Providence Partner and East Providence City Solicitor Michael J. Marcello recently secured a victory in a property tax mater in the Rhode Island Supreme Court on behalf of a Rhode Island municipality. In this case, the appellant, a business advisory company, sought to apply a 10-year statute of limitations for property tax appeals. Specifically, the company appealed a decision of the trial court that granted summary judgment in favor of Lewis Brisbois’ municipality client. The trial court had found that the petitioner’s attempt to challenge a property tax as illegal and excessive was time-barred because it was filed more than 90 days after the initial tax was due.  

Arguing that because R.I.G.L. 44-5-26(c) did not explicitly state that it was subject to a 90-day statute of limitations, the appellant contended that the default 10-year statute of limitations should apply. The municipality, however, argued that applying a 10-year statute of limitations would wreak havoc on municipal finances, and that such a statutory interpretation would lead to an absurd result. The municipality further argued that the entire property tax assessment statute needed to be read as one comprehensive scheme that included a long recognized 90-day statute of limitations period.  

In issuing its decision, the Rhode Island Supreme Court agreed with the municipality. It held, in part, “We will not construe a statute to reach an absurd result. . . . We therefore refuse to interpret the absence of an explicit limitations period in section R.I.G.L. 44-5-26(c) as authorizing the application of the default ten-year statute of limitations. Doing so would depart from an otherwise consistent statutory framework and frustrate the General Assembly’s overall objective for a brief and final tax assessment appeal process.”  

In commenting on the result in this matter, Mr. Marcello noted, “This decision will give great comfort to Rhode Island municipalities in ensuring that property tax appeals must be filed within a short 90-day period. It also clarifies an important area of municipal law in our state. It is a victory for sound tax policy for all local governments in Rhode Island.”  

Mr. Marcello is a member of Lewis Brisbois’ General Liability and Government Practice groups. He handles a variety of matters involving products liability, legal and accounting malpractice, insurance coverage, asbestos/toxic torts, and property loss claims. In addition, Mr. Marcello serves as the city solicitor for the fifth largest municipality in the state, the City of East Providence and also represents the Town of Tiverton and handles issues related to labor and employment, planning and zoning, as well as labor contracts with public safety and municipal unions.

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