“This has been a very long case.”

CLF attorney statement on Champlin’s decision

Fri, 02/14/2020 - 3:15pm
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Statement issued by Jerry Elmer, Senior Attorney, Conservation Law Foundation:

I am delighted to report that the Superior Court today issued its long-awaited decision in the Champlin’s Marina case. We won a complete victory; the Superior Court upheld the 2011 CRMC decision denying Champlin’s Marina a permit to expand into the Great Salt Pond.  I attach a PDF of the Superior Court’s 55-page ruling, which was issued just a few minutes ago. (This email is not confidential, and you may forward it.)

Judge Rodgers’s decision is a thoughtful review of the evidence. Her conclusion, found on page 55, is that the CRMC decision, denying Champlin’s application in its entirety, was “rational, logical, and supported by substantial evidence.” 

You will recall that Champlin’s filed its original application to expand its marina in May of 2003. After the (most recent) CRMC decision in 2011, denying the application, Champlin’s had a legal right to appeal to the Superior Court under the “Administrative Procedures Act,” (APA), which it did. Importantly, the legal standard that the Superior Court uses in such an APA appeal is very, very deferential to the decision made by CRMC.  Specifically, if the Court finds that there is any evidence at all in the record of the case to support the CRMC decision, then the Superior Court must uphold the decision. In this context, it is a very good thing that Judge Rodgers spends many, many pages going through the volumes of evidence that support the decision.  This is a careful, thoughtful ruling from the Superior Court.

This has been a very long case. The original hearing before the CRMC (starting in 2003) took years. There have been two separate APA appeals to the Superior Court, one of which involved a six-week hearing.  The case has been to the Rhode Island Supreme Court twice. There was a related (spurious) federal civil rights lawsuit that Champlin’s brought in federal court.

It is technically, legally possible, but by no means certain, that Champlin’s will appeal to the Supreme Court again. However, this would not be an appeal as of right – in other words, it is discretionary whether the Supreme Court would even want to hear such an appeal. (The length and careful drafting of the decision may make it less likely that the Supreme Court would even want to hear the appeal; usually APA appeals end in the Superior Court.) And, of course, even if the Supreme Court did hear the appeal, there is every reason to expect that it would affirm Judge Rodgers’s well-reasoned decision.

Today’s Superior Court ruling is a great victory for the environment.  Block Island’s Great Salt Pond is an environmental gem, and allowing Champlin’s Marina to expand into the Pond would have been very, very bad public policy. Today, the people of Block Island and all of Rhode Island won a victory that is worth savoring.