The Westerly Sun
WAKEFIELD — In Washington County Superior Court Monday, Justice Sarah Taft-Carter dealt a blow to opponents of a proposed commercial solar project in Hopkinton by granting two motions to dismiss a complaint brought by 97 Hopkinton residents against members of the Town Council, town Finance Director Brian Rosso and developers Hopkinton Land I LLC, Skunk Hill Solar Road LLC, Donald G. Gordon and Gordon Building and Excavating Inc.
Filed on Aug. 16 in Washington County Superior Court by James Donnelly, the attorney for the plaintiffs, the 162-page complaint sought to reverse the council’s approval on June 10 of comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance amendments to permit the construction of a commercial solar energy facility consisting of 45 acres of solar panels on a 75-acre residential property at 145 Skunk Hill Road.
The complaint argued that the town did not follow required legal procedures in approving the zoning and comprehensive plan amendments.
The action also asked for financial compensation, requesting “money damages for the willful and unlawful interference with their property rights by Defendants Landolfi, Thompson and Capalbo.”
One of the motions to dismiss was filed by Attorney Robert Craven, representing the developer, and the second motion was filed by Hopkinton Town Solicitor Kevin McAllister.
Rule 8 of the Rhode Island Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure requires that complaints be succinct, stating: “A short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.”
McAllister attributed the judge’s dismissals to the length of the original complaint.
“They have this rule and it works with other rules of civil procedure on motions to dismiss and the judge heard the argument and ruled that it was in violation of Rule 8 and dismissed the whole case without prejudice,” he said.
Hopkinton Town Council President Frank Landolfi described the decision as a major victory for the town.
“The town is very, very happy with the outcome,” he said. “The judge saw our point of view and our argument and ruled in favor of the town, so very good news.”
However, the decision has not put an end to the case. The plaintiffs are free to re-file their complaint, because the motions to dismiss were granted “without prejudice,” and Donnelly said he planned to do so.
“I’m just going to re-file it,” that’s all,” he said. “Basically, she [the judge] agreed with them that the complaint was too long, so I’m going to chop it up and make it simpler and re-file it.”
Eric Bibler, who founded a citizens’ group that opposes approving zoning and comprehensive plan amendments in order to accommodate commercial solar facilities in residential zones, said this recent setback would not dissuade residents from pursuing their case.
“I’m disappointed, because obviously we were looking forward to having our day in court, and this is going to be a setback in terms of timing,” he said. “But because the judge didn’t say a word about the merits of our case, there’s nothing in this ruling that can be construed as her having any opinion on the merits of the case going forward.
“We’re going to bring the same case going forward. We’re just going to bring it in a condensed version.”
In his 38 years of practicing law, McAllister said he had never seen such a long and detailed complaint.
“It’s just a basic violation of a rule of civil procedure,” he said. “That’s not a technicality. Those rules apply to every civil case in the country.”
Donnelly said his intent in submitting a detailed complaint had been to inform and assist, not to annoy.
“I was trying to be particular and convenient for people so they didn’t have to go and look up things themselves, they’d have it right in front of them,” he said. “But I guess they don’t like that, so I’ll just refer to things by name and I won’t quote anything.”