Ore. Landowner group files brief with US Supreme Court

OIA Legal Center Files Brief With United States Supreme Court
BY Oregonians In Action,

The Oregonians In Action Legal Center has filed a brief with the United States Supreme Court in Stop the Beach Renourishment v. Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection, an important property rights case involving title to riparian and beachfront property.

In the case, the Florida Supreme Court held that a Florida statute authorizing the state to deposit sand along beaches on the Florida coast did not result in a taking of the rights of private property owners holding beachfront property, even though the sand that was deposited would create an upland between the private property and the beach.

Under the Florida statute, title to the property upon which the sand was deposited would remain with the State of Florida.  The end result of the legislation, therefore, would be that the private property owners would no longer have beachfront property, as the State of Florida would deposit enough sand to create a beach of approximately 70 yards of additional width, and would own all the land between the water and the private citizens property line.  According to the property owners, this action would severely diminish the value of their property, and result in a taking.

The Florida Supreme Court upheld the new law, finding that the new law did not create a taking requiring the payment of just compensation.  According to the court, because the new law expressly provided that the beachfront property owners could still have access to the shoreline through the new upland property, the law did not result in a taking of private property.

The property owners appealed to the United States Supreme Court, arguing that the new law wiped out constitutionally protected rights to accretion that had been recognized by Florida courts since statehood.  Under the doctrine of accretion, additional uplands on riverfront, lakefront, or beachfront properties that are formed by new soil deposits or declines in water levels become the property of the riparian owner, and are added to his/her title.

The new Florida law would alter the accretion rights of the private property owners, giving the state title to the new uplands formed by the deposits of sand.

The Oregon Supreme Court has consistently held that the title to land resulting from accretions belongs to the riparian property owner.  However, the Oregon legislature has passed legislation affecting that title in some circumstances, and the Oregon attorney general has opined that that legislation may survive a constitutional challenge.  Thus, for purposes of Oregon property owners, the Florida case is important.

Should the Supreme Court uphold the Florida decision, it would be a significant blow to the rights of property owners owning waterfront land across the United States, including Oregon.  Conversely, a victory by the property owners in this case would cause state legislature’s to pause before they undertook efforts to change the rights of riparian owners to accreted property, as the property owners would have protection under the Takings Clause should a state legislature try to alter their rights.

A decision on this case is expected by next summer.

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