Active: Litigation is ongoing.

Located directly across Puget Sound from Seattle, the City of Bainbridge Island is a residential suburb. Despite the fact that its shorelines have been fully developed for decades, in 2014 the city updated its Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) to require that any “human activity” with the potential of disturbing vegetation within the shoreline be approved by the government and be subject to numerous highly contentious conditions, including requirements that the owner execute a conservation easement of sufficient size to “enhance” and “restore” the marine shoreline. The city then declared it to be a crime punishable by jail time and hefty fines for anyone to engage in such “human activities” on their own property without prior government approval. 

Concerned that this new law would deprive all shoreline residents of their property and privacy rights, a group of Bainbridge Island residents formed Preserve Responsible Shoreline Management (PRSM) to fight the bold incursion into assault on individual rights. 

The city claims that it has the right to strip shoreline residents of their rights under a recent appellate court decision holding that Washington’s legislature, in enacting the Shoreline Management Act (SMA), explicitly rendered property rights “secondary” to the public’s interest in the environment. That decision is wrong. The Constitution cannot be thrown away, whether by an act of legislation or a court decision. It is the fundamental law of the land. 

PLF represents PRSM in a lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of Bainbridge Island’s SMP. Specifically, the lawsuit claims that Bainbridge Island’s demand that residents give the public a conservation easement on their land in order to secure a permit approval is not supported by the scientific record and takes more than is necessary to mitigate any negative impacts caused by development. 

The appellate court ruled to bar PRSM from putting on critical evidence showing that the city’s demands will cause constitutional injuries. PLF has sought reconsideration of that decision. But if the appellate court denies their right to put on evidence, it would limit a property owner’s ability to enforce his or her property rights in the courts. PRSM argues that the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution requires courts to allow a party to put on its own evidence—an argument that is supported by numerous U.S. Supreme Court decisions. 

What’s At Stake?

  • Shoreline permit conditions violate the unconstitutional conditions doctrine if they automatically and uniformly demand the dedication of a conservation easement and are imposed without site-specific considerations.
  • The provisions of Washington’s Shoreline Management Act represent a compromise between the interests of government, environmentalists, industry groups, and property owners. Judicial elevation of environmental interests above all others destroys the careful balance intended by the legislature.

Case Timeline

October 12, 2023
Petition for Writ of Certiorari
United States Supreme Court
February 16, 2023
March 07, 2022
June 18, 2021
December 03, 2020
Petition for a Writ of Certiorari
United States Supreme Court
April 06, 2020
December 19, 2019