Judge rules against RI in DMV IT project lawsuit

Photo: Gloria So/WPRI 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A judge on Tuesday dealt a blow to the Raimondo administration in its lawsuit over the long-delayed R.I. Division of Motor Vehicles computer project, setting the stage for a trial to start in about two months.

R.I. Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein denied the state’s request for a preliminary injunction against Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, the company building the DMV system, court spokesman Craig Berke said. The state filed suit last fall after HP Enterprise threatened to walk off the job if it didn’t receive more money.

Silverstein also quashed the state’s temporary restraining order, but stayed his decision until the close of business March 17 so the state can decide whether to appeal, Berke said. The restraining order, granted last fall, had forced HP Enterprise to stay on the job as the judicial process unfolded.

A spokesman for the company said in an email, “HPE is pleased with the court’s decision on the RIMS contract, and we continue to hope both parties can agree to a resolution regarding this dispute.” (RIMS is short for the Rhode Island Motor Vehicle System, the project’s formal name.)

Paul Grimaldi, a spokesman for the DMV, said the administration was “disappointed” about Silverstein’s ruling.

“Today’s decision does not change the fact that Hewlett Packard Enterprise has a contractual obligation to provide the citizens of Rhode Island with a DMV computer system,” he said. “We will continue to evaluate our options as we prepare for trial May 15.”

Berke said the judge’s decision was based primarily on the fifth amendment to the state’s contract with HP Enterprise, and the fact that the state’s lawyers did not demonstrate a likelihood their side would prevail at trial.

Silverstein has set a May 15 start date for the trial in the lawsuit.

The DMV’s notorious effort to replace its Reagan-era computer system has dragged on for nearly a decade, having begun under the Carcieri administration. The state has spent about $13 million on the project so far, but HP Enterprise claims the actual cost is approaching $50 million. State officials say they expect the system will finally be ready to go live this summer, possibly on the 4th of July weekend.

The system “is now frozen and working for the first time in our history,” R.I. Department of Revenue Director Rob Hull told lawmakers last week. “Every goal we’ve set over the last year, we’ve achieved.”

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram