Adams v. Rhode Island Dept. of Corrections – Case Brief Summary (Rhode Island)

In Adams v. Rhode Island Dept. of Corrections, 973 A.2d 542 (R.I. 2009), the plaintiff became ill after eating a box of raisins distributed by the Department of Corrections as part of a federal food program administered by the state for the benefit of needy citizens.

The Court in Adams took a narrower view of the activity at issue than it did in Brady or in Matarese. Noting "that administration of a federally funded program could, potentially, be considered a governmental function," the Court found that "the actual government function at issue in Adams namely, the storage and distribution of food is an activity that business entities and private persons can and do perform regularly." Id. at 546.

The Supreme Court, therefore, held that the public duty doctrine could not properly be invoked, as "the plaintiff does not argue that his alleged injuries arose out of the discretionary decisions of government agents in administering the TEFAP program; instead, his allegations concern the relatively commonplace task of storing and distributing foodstuffs." Id.

In explaining the public duty doctrine, the Adams court reiterated language from its O'Brien holding; stating that, "the state as a landowner . . . performs the identical function that a private person might perform or which a private person might well parallel, and therefore, the duties of the state as a landowner . . . should be the same as that of any private person or corporation . . . ." Id. at 546.