November 3, 2009
Drawing a Line in the Sand?
Florida Beach Case Asks U.S. Supreme Court to Recognize Novel Category of Property Takings
In Stop the Beach Renourishment, Inc. v. Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the stakes for environmental protection are immense: every coastal state and locality that is preparing to fight flooding and erosion from sea-level rise and intensified storms due to climate change is watching closely. Will the Supreme Court announce new constitutional restrictions on states’ ability to regulate the critical point where land meets sea? And, in so doing, allow for a new level of federal scrutiny over the way that state courts interpret state law?
In this case, Florida beachfront property owners are asking the justices to recognize a new doctrine of judicial takings. A 1961 Florida law designed to combat beach erosion deemed a state emergency allows localities to replenish beach sand. This alters a private landowner’s seaward property line from the traditional mean high water line (which fluctuates gradually over time) to an erosion control line (which is fixed). Any new beach becomes public land.
A group of Florida beachfront landowners sued in state court when the law was applied to them, arguing that the loss of contact between their property lines and the Gulf of Mexico was a taking of property without just compensation. When the Florida Supreme Court rejected their claim, plaintiffs sought review in the U.S. Supreme Court now arguing that the state court had so altered established principles of state property law that the state court ruling itself caused an unconstitutional taking. Oral arguments are scheduled for December 2.
Doug Kendall, President & Founder, Constitutional Accountability Center
Ilya Shapiro, Senior Fellow, Cato Institute
Julia Wyman, Policy Analyst, Coastal States Organization
Bruce Myers, Senior Attorney, Environmental Law Institute
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