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Kilmartin v. Barbuto - 158 A.3d 735 (R.I. 2017)

Rule:

The factual findings of a trial justice sitting without a jury are accorded great weight and will not be disturbed unless the record shows that the findings clearly are wrong or the trial justice overlooked or misconceived material evidence.

Facts:

The State of Rhode Island (State) asserted that in 1909, the landowners (Plattors) of the beach property dedicated the disputed beach area to the public through the recordation of a Plat and Indenture. The State, through its Attorney General, Peter F. Kilmartin, brought suit against the current beachfront landowners in the disputed area, seeking injunctive relief to stop them from preventing public access to this beach area.  Following a bench trial, the State appealed from the entry of final judgment in favor of the defendants and the defendant-intervenors (defendants). On appeal, in addition to the state and defendants, Save the Bay and the Surfrider Foundation, Pleasant View North Homeowners, and the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) and the Town of Westerly filed helpful briefs as amici curiae. The Supreme Court of Rhode Island noted, in particular, that the CRMC and the Town of Westerly expressed concern with the trial justice's suggestion that the marked rights of way on the Plat do not enable access to the shore. 

Issue:

Did the 1909 Plat, along with the Indenture's language, demonstrate the Plattors' manifest intent for a public dedication of the beach area?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The superior court properly entered a judgment to the disputed stretch of beach in favor of the current owners and against the State because, while the original owners (Plattors) discussed the rights of way and had the power to dedicate, the 1909 plat and indenture did not reveal their manifest intent to dedicate an easement over the disputed beach area, and, even if the 1909 plat and indenture were ambiguous, the first deeds out of the plat listed the Atlantic Ocean as the southerly boundary and any findings made regarding the "line of foot of bank" and the lots' southerly boundary were made only to assist the trial justice in determining the Plattors' intent.

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