Brief Fact Summary. An Association owns a parcel of land that borders a beach and restricts access to that portion of the beach to members only.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. The public has a right of access through private property to get to a public beach.
Issue. Does the public have a right of access through and to use a beach area not owned by a municipality but by a quasi-public body?
The public trust doctrine guarantees to the pubic the right to use a portion of the ocean shore (the land below the mean average high water mark) for swimming, bathing and recreational purposes.
The state must preserve the public trust right even when the beach property is transferred to private hands.
Exercise of the right to swim and bathe in the ocean depends upon a right to pass across the beach. Without some means of access the public right to use the beach would be meaningless. The public interest is satisfied as long as there is reasonable access to the ocean, which is not necessarily an unrestricted right to cross.
The public must be given reasonable access through private property to get to the publicly-owned shore front. Further, the public also has a right to sunbath on privately owned dry sand areas.
The State can no more abdicate its trust over property in which the whole people are interested, like navigable waters and the soils under them, so as to leave them entirely under the use and control of private parties than it can abdicate its police powers in the administration of government and the preservation of peace.View Full Point of Law