Champlin’s Marina: Updates on CLF’s Oldest Active Case

Jerry Elmer

Champlin’s Marina may be CLF’s oldest active case. Originally filed in 2003, the case has been to the Supreme Court (more than once), Superior Court (more than once), and the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) (more than once).

The most recent hearing before CRMC was Tuesday evening, July 31, 2012. Here is how this came about.

In January 2011, the full CRMC voted unanimously to deny Champlin’s a permit to expand its marina in Block Island’s Great Salt Pond. Champlin’s appealed to the Superior Court, as it had a legal right to do. In the Superior Court, Champlin’s filed a brief raising a curious issue: Champlin’s claimed that it had suffered a violation of its equal protection rights because CRMC had granted a permit for Payne’s Dock to expand, but had denied Champlin’s application to expand.

In the Superior Court, CLF argued that, for two different reasons, Champlin’s should not be permitted to make this argument:

  • As a strictly procedural matter, Champlin’s had not included this argument in its Complaint; and court rules usually prohibit arguing issues not presented in the Complaint.
  • As a substantive matter Champlin’s had already presented its equal protection argument in court and had had the argument dismissed; raising the same losing argument again was frivolous and abusive.

You can see CLF’s Superior Court brief on this subject here.

The Superior Court Judge ruled that Champlin’s could at least try to present its equal-protection argument, but that Champlin’s had to do so first in the CRMC. So the Judge sent the case back to the CRMC. That is how we got to the CRMC on July 31.

The hearing was long and contentious. Champlin’s lawyer tried repeatedly to put improper matters into the record. Objections to Champlin’s improper actions were made by lawyers on our side, and those objections were sustained by the CRMC. Evidently deeply frustrated, Champlin’s lawyer lost his temper and became insulting toward members of the CRMC.

At the close of the hearing, it was clear that Champlin’s would not be successful in its efforts to have the CRMC rule that Champlin’s had suffered unequal treatment at the hands of the CRMC.  This is true for at least two different reasons:

  • As a matter of fact and of law, Champlin’s did not suffer any equal protection violation.  While it is true that CRMC approved Payne’s permit to expand its marina and denied Champlin’s application, the two situations were entirely different.  Payne’s marina is at a different location than Champlin’s; Payne’s is a different size; Payne’s presents different environmental impacts and different navigational challenges than Champlin’s; and Payne’s expansion does not impinge on other mooring fields as Champlin’s did. That is, the CRMC treated the Payne’s application differently than it treated the Champlin’s application because it was different – not because of improper bias.
  • As a practical matter, Champlin’s lawyer only alienated and offended CRMC members with his rudeness. Shouting at CRMC members and interrupting them when they speak is not conduct likely to persuade skeptics of your position.

The next step in the process is that the parties will file written briefs. Champlin’s will try to persuade the CRMC that it (Champlin’s) was a victim of bias. This will be difficult for Champlin’s to do, because there is not a shred or scintilla of evidence of bias in the record. Objectors will argue that there is no evidence of bias. Briefing will take until mid-autumn. After the CRMC opines on whether or not Champlin’s was a victim of bias, the case will return to Superior Court, probably early in 2013.

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