Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken is a great American poem about choices. In the poem, the fork where the two roads diverge provides no indication which path is the better path to travel. In life and law, sometimes the better path is remarkably clear, but not everybody takes it. (I guess some like taking risks without any possibility of a higher return.)
Readers of this blog will recall a blog post describing in detail the type of findings which should be included in a Superior Court’s judgment ruling on a judicial review of a quasi-judicial land use decision. If you need a refresher, please see here.
The recent opinion written by North Carolina Court of Appeals of Campbell v. City of Statesville __ N.C. App.__, 2016 WL 574608(October 4, 2016)(unpublished)(Campbell I) proves the point of these earlier posts. Why?
There are two Campbell appellate decisions arising from the same controversial truck stop in the City of Statesville – the opinion of Campbell v. City of Statesville, ___N.C. App.__, 786 S.E. 2d 433 (May 3, 2016), disc. rev. denied, __N.C. ___, ___S.E. 2d ___(August 18, 2016)(Campbell I) and Campbell II.
Put aside any judgment of the outcome in these cases and juxtapose the decisions. What does this exercise tell you?
Campbell I involved a single straightforward legal issue: Is a truck stop a permitted use in a particular zoning district. The opinion is 11 pages and the North Carolina Court of Appeals stated that “the superior court’s analysis introduced considerable confusion into its review of the local government’s board decision that a truck stop is a permitted use.” The Court of Appeals concluded that because the issue in Campbell I “is a question of law, we conduct a de novo review.” In other words, the Court of Appeals stopped looking at the Superior Court judgment and dug into the record to decide the case.
Campbell II involved 4 issues; some required the North Carolina Court of Appeals to dig into the evidence taken at a hearing before a local government board where the board approved development of the truck stop. Other issues did not require review of the evidence, but are significant issues. The opinion is barely 7 pages. In much of the opinion, the Court of Appeals sets out large portions of the findings in the Superior Court judgment, uses them to focus its review of each of the 4 issues and says “we agree.”
The opinions in Campbell I and II are written by the same judge, arise out of the same land use controversy and affirm the local government decisions.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood… and I took the smooth, safe path of a well-written Superior Court judgment.