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Matthews v. Bay Head Improvement Association

    Citation. 95 N.J. 306, 471 A.2d 355, 1984 N.J.

    Brief Fact Summary. The Defendant, Bay Head Improvement Association (Defendant), an unincorporated association, controls beach access during the summer for its membership, which is restricted to property owners and residents of the town of Bay Head. Point Pleasant brought an action asserting that the Defendant prevented Point Pleasant residents from accessing the beach contrary to the rights of the public trust doctrine.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The public must be given both access to and use of privately-owned dry sand areas as reasonably necessary, by allowing membership in the association to be open to the public at-large.


    Facts. The Defendant association, a private entity, owned the access dry sand areas (via revocable leases) and six beach front lots. The public could gain access to the land east of the high water mark and is not stopped from occupying it. Precedent cases found public rights in dry sand areas was limited to those beaches owned by a municipality.

    Issue. Whether ancillary to the public’s right to enjoy tidal lands (to the high water mark under the public trust doctrine), the public has a right to gain access through and use a dry sand area not owned by the municipality, but by a quasi-public body.

    Held. The Defendants activities paralleled those of a municipality in operating the beach front and therefore membership in the Defendant association must be open to the public. Court required the membership of the Association to be open to the public at large.

    Discussion. The Court felt that the public right to use the foreshore would be meaningless if the only feasible access route was cut off, effectively eliminating the rights of the public trust doctrine. However, nothing said that all privately owned beachfront property must also be opened. The case appears to turn on the quasi-public activity of the Defendant association.


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