R.I. Supreme Court to hear appeal in Champlin’s Marina case

Fri, 10/23/2020 - 9:45am

The Rhode Island State Supreme Court has decided to hear an appeal of a lower court’s decision denying Champlin Marina’s application to expand into the Great Salt Pond. The decision to hear the appeal was made on Tuesday, Oct. 20.

While the attorney representing the Committee for the Great Salt Pond called the decision a “disappointment,” Champlin’s attorney Robert Goldberg said that the Supreme Court would not “grant a writ of certiorari if they don’t see an issue for an appeal.”

Goldberg said there were two what he termed “substantive issues” with the ruling denying Champlin’s application. One was a six-year hiatus at the Superior Court where no movement was made on the case, and the other issue he said was one of “fairness,” in that the Superior Court granted the expansion at “Payne’s Dock immediately after they denied this. Fair treatment is what is at issue here,” he said.

Attorney Dan Prentiss, who represents the CGSP, the Town of New Shoreham and the Land Trust, made his remarks at the annual CGSP Annual meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 21.

“This has been a very, very long battle,” said Prentiss, who spent a few moments recapping the past 17 years of legal wranglings, which sent the lawsuit back and forth in court, as well back to the Coastal Resources Management Council for further hearings and review.

It was a Superior Court decision last February denying Champlin’s application to expand into the Pond that the Supreme Court will hear on appeal.

Prentiss said in the Zoom meeting on Wednesday that he did not think there were any procedural irregularities that would cause the court to overturn the February ruling, and speculated that the Supreme Court had decided to hear the appeal out of “even-handedness” given that The Supreme Court had heard an earlier appeal made by the town, the Land Trust and the CGSP to deny the application.

“I don’t think you can read too much into that in the sense of what we know about the case and applicable law. There’s nothing here to excite the Supreme Court to say we need to reverse that miscarriage of justice, but why they decided to hear this is anybody’s guess,” Prentiss said. The attorney also said that the high court had recently been exercising its authority to hear appeals more frequently than it has in the past.

Committee for the Great Salt Pond member Henry duPont asked “What will happen if the Supreme Court rules in Champlin’s favor?”

“That’s hard to say. If they were to find there was some procedural error it could go back to the CRMC to correct that, but I just don’t see that,” adding, “It’s been 17 years and the Supreme Court decision is intended to be a final conclusion. That’s my guess.”

Goldberg, in his phone call to The Block Island Times, said the Supreme Court, after it hears all the arguments, “can do whatever it wants. They can see fit to send it back to the CRMC, they can send it back to Superior Court, they can dismiss it or grant the petition.”

Prentiss said that the entire case record has to be delivered to the Supreme Court, which could take a couple of weeks. At that point a briefing schedule will be created, with Goldberg filing the first brief, to which Prentiss will respond, and then Champlin’s will respond to that.

Prentiss and Goldberg said they expected oral arguments to begin in 2021 and a decision will be handed down sometime next year as well.