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Mall at Coventry Joint Venture v. McLeod

Citation: 29 ELR 20430
No. 97-64-Appeal, 721 A.2d 865/(R.I., 12/09/1998)

The court holds that a state environmental agency did not have a duty to ascertain the accuracy of the location of wetlands on developers' property. The court first holds that the duty to depict accurately the location of wetlands was properly the duty of the developers and their representatives. It was not the duty of the state environmental agency to make a final response in an application for preliminary determination. The state environmental agency had every right to investigate more thoroughly and did so. Indeed, the state environmental agency's first official response to the request for preliminary determination indicated clearly and unequivocally that the proposal involved a significant alteration of freshwater wetlands and that, therefore, a formal application would be required. Further, the state environmental agency's preliminary determination letter that identified the location of the swamp edge on the developers' property did nothing to create an equitable estoppel against further investigation of the developers' proposal.

The court then notes that only in the most egregious circumstances, not present in this case, would an applicant for alteration of a wetland ever be justified in bringing an action under the state Wetlands Act against the state environmental agency before having filed a formal application, having had that application denied, and further having availed itself of judicial review as required by the state Administrative Procedure Act. An applicant that ignores this process will be faced with the doctrine of quasi-judicial administrative immunity that will serve as a bar to seeking relief outside the method provided by the legislature. The court next holds that the trial court properly denied the developers' petition for mandamus because the state environmental agency had no duty to grant the developers' application on the basis of a mere preliminary determination relating to the flagging of wetlands.

Counsel for Plaintiff
James V. Paolino
Law Offices of James V. Paolino
51 Jefferson Blvd., Warwick RI 02888
(401) 461-0100

Counsel for Defendants
Jametta Alston
Attorney General's Office
150 S. Main St., Providence RI 02903
(401) 222-2424

Before Lederberg, Bourcier, Flanders, and Goldberg, JJ.