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Appeal court rules in favor of Lake Martin business

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Posted at 2:48 PM, Aug 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-21 16:07:56-04

LAKE CHARLES, La. — The Third Circuit Court of Appeal has ruled 3-2 in favor of a Lake Martin swamp tour and shop owner upholding a decision from a lower court allowing him to stay in business over the objections of the St. Martin Parish Government.

Last year, 16th Judicial District Judge Keith Comeaux denied a petition for injunctive relief filed against Bryan Champagne and his two businesses – Champagne’s Cajun Swamp Tours and the Wharf on Lake Martin – both of which are located in Breaux Bridge along the shores of Lake Martin.

You can read more on that here.

The motion was filed by SMPG in April 2016, alleging that Champagne was operating his business in violation of certain zoning regulations.

Comeaux ruled that Champagne had done what the parish had required of him and that his rights would be violated if the injunction were to be enforced.

SMPG then appealed the decision to the Third Circuit Court of Appeal who issued an opinion on Wednesday where a panel of judges ruled to uphold the lower court’s ruling that Champagne could continue operating his business.

"It was a long battle, but we felt we did everything right from the beginning,” Champagne told KATC. “We did everything the legal way that is why we fought it. My attorney called me Wednesday and said we won. That felt good because we did everything by the book."

In writing for the majority, Judge Candyce Perret wrote that Champagne relied in good faith, to his detriment, on the permits issued by the parish and incurred expense as a result. Perret wrote that this gave Champagne a "vested right."

In a dissenting opinion, Judge John Conery wrote that while the parish incorrectly issued the building permits, Champagne had no legal authority to construct commercial buildings on Lake Martin.

Conery also disagreed with Champagne’s “vested right” to operate a commercial business from structures he built on Lake Martin, which is state-controlled nature preserve.

The dissenting opinion also referred to testimony in the trial from St. Martin Parish President Chester Cedars, which could set the stage if the decision is taken up to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

“We believe the dissent set forth the appropriate issues with a great deal of clarity and we think the result suggested by the dissent is the appropriate decision,” said Cedars.

Cedars said that he will submit his formal recommendations to the parish council on how to proceed in seeking relief from the supreme court at the next meeting on Sept. 1.

“We want to get this matter resolved within bounds of law as quickly as possible,” said Cedars. “The parish will continue to enforce its zoning regulations as it relates to protection of nature of Lake Martin.”

You can read the full decision below.


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