Attorney General Peter Kilmartin
Rhode Island Constable Rules - LICENSING AUTHORITY
A. Licensing Authority
The Chief Judge of the District Court has the sole authority to license constables to serve District Court writs and process. Constables are licensed by the Chief Judge with two levels of powers, limited and full.
- LIMITED POWERS LICENSES
The statutory authority of the Chief Judge to issue a limited constable's license is found in R.I. Gen. Laws § 45-16-4.1:
All constables, except police and special constables provided for in this chapter shall be licensed by the chief judge of the Rhode Island District Court to serve civil process as provided in ß 9-5-10. Every constable shall at the time of being sworn into office give bond with sufficient sureties to the clerk of district court in the sum of five thousand dollars ($5,000) for the faithful performance of his or her office.
This section gives the Chief Judge the power to license constables to serve civil process, i.e., summonses and complaints. The bond for such a license is $5,000.
- FULL POWERS LICENSES
The following section grants the Chief Judge the authority to license constables to serve and execute District Court writs to the same extent as a deputy sheriff; R.I. Gen. Laws § 45-16-4.3 states
The chief justice of the supreme court and the chief judge of the family and district courts upon application made by a constable authorized or licensed to serve process under this chapter may authorize the constable to serve or execute any process or writs issued by or returnable to the court. Upon being so authorized or licensed, the constable shall have the power and authority to serve or execute all writs and process which may issue from the court in like manner and at such fees authorized to sheriffs and deputy sheriffs. Each constable shall at the time o licensing or authorization give additional bond with the clerk of the district court in the sum of give thousand dollars ($5,000) or the faithful performance o the duties of the office. Any appointee serves at the pleasure of the appointing authority.
The foregoing section thus creates a class of constables with full powers, which requires an additional $5,000 bond.
The powers and duties of a constable (with basic or full powers) will be described in the chronological order they are exercised within a civil court, i.e., from the beginning of the suit to supplementary proceedings.
- TERMINATION OF LICENSE
As indicated in R.I. Gen. Laws § 45-16-4.3, a constable serves at the pleasure of the Chief Judge.
N.B.! This is unlike the situation of constables elected by cities or towns, who have a right to a hearing before a town council or the District Court. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 45-16-11 and 45-16-13. Constables appointed by the Chief Judge have no right to such a hearing.
B. POWERS - GEOGRAPHICAL LIMITS
May a constable exercise his/her powers everywhere in the State? No. A constable's authority is limited to the area or which he or she was appointed. The powers of a constable are explained in R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-5-10, which states in pertinent part:
Writs and summonses issued by a district court shall be made returnable to the court at the place and on the day and hour provided by law, to be named in the writs and summonses, and shall, except as otherwise specifically provided, be directed to the sheriff, the sheriff's deputies, or to either of the town sergeants or constables licensed pursuant to § 45-16-4.1 of the county in which the action shall be brought, or pursuant to § 45-16-4.3 for statewide service; provided, that writs of arrest and writs, summonses, and executions issued by a district court in actions for possession of tenements or estates let or held at will or by sufferance shall be directed to the sheriff or the sheriff 's deputies in the county in which the action shall be brought and service thereof shall be made by the sheriff or the sheriff 's deputies; and provided, further, that in actions wherein the debt or damages demanded exceed three hundred dollars ($300), a town sergeant of the county in which the action is brought shall have power to serve the writs or summonses only if his or her certificate of appointment has been endorsed approving such use thereof by the judge of the district court having jurisdiction in the city or town by which the sergeant was appointed or elected. In case any person upon whom it is necessary to make service of any writ, summons, or execution issued by a district court is, or has estate, in any other county than the one in which the action is brought, the writ, summons, or execution may also be directed to and served by the like officer of such other county.
- ACTIONS ON THE BOND
The bond is required to insure that the constable faithfully performs his or her duties; if a constable breaches, the bond can be sued upon to provide some measure of redress to the injured party.
R.I. Gen. Laws § 45-16-4.2 Action on bond of constabes. "Any person injured by the breach of the bond of any constable, may commence an action in the name of the clerk of the district court, for his or her own use, under like circumstances and in the same manner and subject to the same provisions as that person might do in the name of the general treasurer upon a bond given by the sheriff, if the person were injured by the breach of the bond.
The issue of constable's liability is governed by R.I. Gen. Laws § 45-16-4.5:
No constable, while serving or executing any process or writ issued by or returnable to the supreme, superior, family, or district court, is liable in any civil action to respond in damages as a result of his or her acts of commission or omission arising directly out of his or her negligent serving or executing the process or writ. In the event a civil action is brought against a constable as the result of the performance of his or her duties, the constable is entitled to recover all costs and attorney's fees incurred by the constable incidental to the civil action.
D. A NOTE ON REFERENCES
It should be noted that whenever in the following texts there are references to amounts of money for filing fees or other costs may not be correct as of date. Such amounts may change from time to time through legislative amendment.