Press Release

May 4: High Court hearing on commission’s anti-seawall crusade

Where: California Supreme Court, 350 McAllister Street, San Francisco, CA 94102.
What: Oral Argument in Lynch v. California Coastal Commission, Pacific Legal Foundation’s challenge to illegal Coastal Commission restrictions on seawalls and private beach staircases.
Who: John Groen, PLF Executive Vice President and General Counsel, will argue for PLF’s clients, Encinitas residents whose right to protect their coastal homes from storms and erosion is under attack.
When: Thursday, May 4, 2017; 9:00 a.m. (PDT) docket.

ENCINITAS, CA; May 1, 2017:  This Thursday, May 4, the California Supreme Court will hear Pacific Legal Foundation’s challenge to the California Coastal Commission’s attack on some Encinitas residents’ right to protect their oceanfront homes from storms and erosion.  The court will hear Lynch v. California Coastal Commission in its San Francisco chambers, as part of the 9:00 a.m. docket.

PLF represents, free of charge, two Encinitas bluff-top homeowners, Thomas Frick and the neighboring property owner, Jennifer Lynch.  A monster storm in 2010 destroyed their seawall.  When Thomas, along with Jennifer’s late mother Barbara Lynch, sought to rebuild it, the Coastal Commission refused anything other than a temporary permit.  They were told they must re-apply for a new permit after 20 years — an ultimatum that could force the rebuilt seawall to be torn down at that time.

“The Coastal Commission’s treatment of these homeowners is part of an anti-seawall agenda that the agency has been imposing up and down the coast,” said John Groen, PLF’s Executive Vice President and General Counsel, who will argue the case for Lynch and Frick before the California Supreme Court.  “This case offers the state Supreme Court an opportunity to affirm the rule of law against an agenda-driven bureaucracy.  Coastal homeowners have a statutory and constitutional right to protect the integrity of their property, and the commission’s subversion of that right must end.”

Background:  The Coastal Commission picked up where a violent storm left off

The homeowners’ troubles date back to December, 2010, when a severe storm and erosion destroyed their seawall and the lower portion of their long-existing stairway that led from their homes down to the beach.

The City of Encinitas gave Lynch and Frick permission to rebuild the seawall and the stairway.  But the Coastal Commission balked, and refused to affirm that approval.  Instead, the commission attached a condition that the seawall permit would expire in 20 years, forcing the homeowners to apply again or tear out the seawall.

In April, 2013, a trial court struck down the Coastal Commission’s anti-seawall restriction as a violation of the commission’s duty under the Coastal Act to allow people to protect their property from erosion. However, a panel of the California Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed that decision by a 2-1 vote and sided with the commission.  The panel’s majority claimed that landowners’ legal right to protect their property from erosion is subject to any limitation the commission wants to impose.  In contrast, the dissenting judge held that regulations cannot be so excessive that they cancel statutory and constitutional rights, and imposing a 20-year expiration date on a seawall permit was an unnecessary, extreme, and invalid demand that did not constitute genuine mitigation.

The appellate court majority also held that the homeowners waived their right to challenge the time limit on the seawall and the denial of their right to rebuild their stairway, by going ahead and rebuilding.  But as PLF is arguing to the Supreme Court, the homeowners preserved their right to challenge these conditions by clearly objecting to them at every stage, and expeditiously challenging them in court.  As a practical matter, they had no choice but to proceed this way, because of the urgent need to rebuild in order to protect their property — as is their right under state law and the U.S. Constitution.

About Pacific Legal Foundation
Pacific Legal Foundation, America’s most powerful ally for justice, litigates in courts nationwide for limited government and property rights.  Up and down the California coast, PLF is the leading litigator against abuses of coastal property rights by governments at all levels.  PLF represents all clients without charge.

Case Attorneys

Jeremy Talcott


Jeremy Talcott joined the Pacific Legal Foundation in 2016. He focuses on property rights, administrative law, and the separation of powers and federalism principles that (ought to) define American government. … ›

View profile

John M. Groen

Executive Vice President and General Counsel

John Groen has extensive experience in public interest litigation before all levels of federal and state courts.  He began his law career with Pacific Legal Foundation in 1987 and launched … ›

View profile

Case Commentary

See all posts

By Jeremy Talcott

Homeowners in Lynch file petition for rehearing in California Supreme Court

Today, Thomas Frick and the heirs of Barbara Lynch filed this petition, asking the California Supreme Court to grant rehearing in Lynch v. California Coastal Commission. In that decision, the Court held … ›

Read more

By Larry G. Salzman

California Supreme Court deals blow to coastal property owners

In a disappointing blow to property rights this morning, the California Supreme Court ruled against Encinitas, California homeowners who had raised a constitutional challenge to conditions imposed on their seawall-construction permit by the California Coastal Commission

PLF represented Thomas Frick and the heirs of Barbara Lynch pro bono, in Lynch v California Coastal Commission (more…)

Read more

By Jeremy Talcott

Oral Argument in Lynch v. California Coastal Commission

PLF Attorney John Groen with clients Jennifer Lynch and Marian Frick

Today, PLF attorney John Groen argued our seawall condition case, Lynch v California Coastal Commission, in front of the California Supreme Court

The CA Supreme Court keeps an archive of oral argument webcasts, which will be available at this location

Both sides were given tough questions by the justices, and it is always impossible to know exactly where the court stands, but the clear focus of the oral arguments was the threshold issue of whether or not the homeowners “waived” their right to judicial review of their

Read more