Big PLF win: Texas Supreme Ct. says storms can’t take beach property


AUSTIN, TX, Nov. 5, 2010 — Ruling today in the Pacific Legal Foundation case of Severance v. Patterson, the Texas Supreme Court rejected the state’s claim that beach easements “roll” with the vegetation line.  In other words, the state may not seize private beach land and homes for a “public” beach when storms blow away the vegetation or move the vegetation line landward.

“Today’s ruling is a forceful victory for property owners everywhere, because it deals a powerful blow against government schemes to seize private property without just compensation,” said PLF Principal Attorney Dave Breemer, who argued the case before the Texas Supreme Court.

For some years, Texas officials have been promulgating a “rolling” beach easement policy whereby they purported to be able to declare private land “public” when the vegetation line moved landward after a storm.  “Today’s Texas Supreme Court ruling rejected the state’s creative—and confiscatory—concept of shifting beach easements, because it washes away fundamental property rights,” said Breemer.  As quoted today by the Houston Chronicle, Breemer said, “You will no longer wake up after a storm and find your house on a public beach.”

Breemer and PLF represent Carol Severance, who owns beachfront property in Galveston.  After 2005’s Hurricane Rita moved the vegetation line, state officials said her homes were on “public” beach.  She was prevented from excluding unwanted strangers or building on her land, and her homes were subject to removal at the state’s whim.  The court ruling today recognized that the state’s claim had no validity.

“As the Texas Supreme Court has clearly held today, state officials have no basis in state law for trying to push their so-called ‘rolling’ beach easement policy,” said Breemer.  “Government can’t sanitize an unconstitutional taking of property by cloaking it in creative theories such as ‘rolling easements.’  A taking is still a taking, no matter the slogan you use.  This is a bedrock constitutional principle, and the Texas Supreme Court today has said that government can’t try to erode it.”