NC Supreme Court to Review Emerald Isle Property Rights Case

Today, the North Carolina Supreme Court agreed to review a lower court decision in a property rights lawsuit brought against the city of Emerald Isle by the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF). PLF filed a petition for discretionary review with the Court in December of 2015. In its order granting the petition, the Court did not make clear on what grounds it is reviewing the case.

At issue is whether local governments in North Carolina must respect private property rights in dry beach land and pay compensation when occupying such lands for public use. J. David Breemer, an attorney with PLF, summarizes the facts of the case:

The case arises from Emerald Isle, a barrier island on North Carolina’s Atlantic shore. Gregory and Diane Nies own a residential, beachfront lot that extends seaward to the high tide mark. Their ownership includes the dry sand beach area in front of their home.

After they acquired the property, the Town of Emerald Isle enacted an ordinance that made a 20-foot ribbon of their dry sand beach area into an “unimpeded Town vehicle lane” for police cars, ATV’s, garbage trucks and the like. It also passed an ordinance that allowed the public to drive  and park on all private dry sand areas, like that owned by the Nieses, after payment of a fee to the Town. The facts of the case are set out in more detail here and here.

The result is that the Town converted the Nieses’ dry sand property into a Town expressway and a parking lot and dirt road for the public, without consent and without paying them anything. The Nieses therefore sued the Town, contending it had taken their property, and particularly their right to control or deny access to it, in violation of the North Carolina and United States Constitution.

Learn more about the case here.

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