U.S. Supreme Court Strikes Blow Against Beachfront Property Owners’ Rights

David Levin 15/04/2016

The U.S. Supreme Court has just released its long-awaited decision in a landmark Florida case concerning ownership rights along Florida’s beaches. The decision styled Stop The Beach Renourishment, Inc. v. Florida Department of Environmental Protection upholds a determination by the Florida Supreme Court that when a state authorized beach renourishment project adds sand waterward of privately owned uplands, the newly created beach is publicly owned, and the upland property owner is not entitled to damages as a consequence of its loss of some common law riparian rights due to the separation of the upland property from the waters’ edge.

While under the challenged State Statute (Section 161.191, Florida Statutes) regarding beach renourishment, beach front owners would retain common law riparian rights such as the right of access and unobstructed view to the Gulf or ocean waters, the upland owners would no longer have the riparian right to expand their property ownership due to the slow and imperceptible addition of sand, known as accretion.

Beachfront property owners in the City of Destin and Walton County, in Florida’s panhandle, had challenged a proposed beach renourishment project on the grounds that the resultant improvement, under the provisions of relevant State Statutes, would deprive the owners of the valuable riparian right of accretion, without just compensation.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the determination of the Florida Supreme Court that beach front property owners do not have a protected property right to be able to maintain contact with the water. Thus, when the State authorizes the placement of fill between the beach front property owner’s property and the water’s edge to create a new beach, while the upland owner no longer has exclusive rights between the waters edge and his upland property, and no longer is entitled to natural accretions to his land, as long as the beach owner retains the legal right to access the waters, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, the property owner has lost no property right for which compensation must be paid by the State.

This case could have devastating consequences for private property owners who own property along renourished beaches which are impacted by the Deep Water Horizon oil spill. The damages to beaches that are likely to occur from the spill may not be considered as damages to the upland owner if such damage takes place waterward of the recorded Erosion Control Line. It may be difficult for a private upland property owner to prove a loss of property value due to damages to beach area which the owner no longer owns due to the beach renourishment project.

I will continue to analyze the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision and will revise this report as necessary.

The complete Decision of the U.S. Supreme Court may be found at http://bit.ly/c9Y1Xu

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