Seider v. City of Malibu

Property rights on the line in family’s battle for beachfront signage

Cases > Property Rights > Seider v. City of Malibu
Active: Federal lawsuit challenges unconstitutional sign restriction

Dennis and Leah Seider simply want to alert beachgoers to where the public right of access to the beach ends, the Seiders’ private Malibu property begins, and the way to the nearby public beach. Their best hope to protect their property rights and avoid potential confrontations with beachgoers would be a sign. But that hope faded when they learned the city prohibits signs that mark property boundaries. Worse, even if they wanted to try, they’d need to apply for a sign permit and agree to an indemnification clause that might require them to pay the city’s costs of any legal challenge to their permit. While the city can require permits for signs, it can’t prohibit speech about property lines to surreptitiously expand public beach access across private land. To restore their property rights, including the right to exclude trespassers, the Seiders are challenging the sign restrictions in a federal lawsuit. 

Dennis Seider is a retired attorney in California. Given that much of his 40-year career was spent practicing maritime law, it was only fitting that Dennis and his wife, Leah, settled at their beachfront home in Malibu. 

Situated next to a public beach, the Seiders’ property includes an easement for beachgoers that covers a section of the beachfront from the water up to their private land. 

It’s not clear where the public beach ends and the private property begins. So a neighbor helpfully posted a “Private Beach” sign to keep beachgoers from wandering onto the Seiders’ private propertyonly to be threatened by the California Coastal Commission, which considered the sign unpermitted development. 

Dennis took down the sign, but without it, people assume all the land behind his house is entirely public. A growing number of people now walk across and even hang out on the Seiders’ private property, often disputing that their beach is private. The problem has become worse, as many public beaches are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

When Dennis asked the city about getting a permit for another sign, he was told Malibu’s Local Implementation Plan, foisted on the city by the CCC, prohibits any signs that identify the boundary between public property and private property. 

Dennis considered applying for a permit until he discovered the application included an indemnification clause that might require him to pay the city’s tab for any legal challenge to his permit. Many coastal permits are challenged by environmental groups in court, so a simple permit application could result in tons of costs down the road. 

The Seiders not only want to facilitate beach access but also want a sign to protect their private property and direct beachgoers to the nearby public beach. Represented by PLF free of charge, Dennis and Leah are fighting back with a federal lawsuit to restore their private property rights, including the right to use a true and accurate sign to exclude trespassers. 

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What’s at stake?

  • Property owners have the right to tell the public where their property begins and ends. The California Coastal Commission shouldn’t deprive property owners of reasonable means of enforcing this right.
  • Government can’t chill free speech by forcing people seeking a permit to pay a city’s legal fees should anyone challenge the permit grant.

Case Timeline

September 24, 2020


US District Court, Central District of California

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