Appeals court overturns Redington Beach access ruling

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TALLAHASSEE — A federal appeals court on Friday overturned a ruling that backed waterfront property owners in a battle with a town in Pinellas County over public beach access.

The ruling by a panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals focused, in part, on a highly controversial 2018 Florida law that imposed restrictions on so-called “the customary use” of beaches.

The panel said U.S. District Judge James S. Moody should not have granted summary judgment to a group of landowners in Redington Beach who argued that an order allowing public access to parts of the beach violated the 2018 law. The Atlanta Court of Appeals also rejected Moody’s finding that the order resulted in a “taking” of property.

Friday’s ruling sent the case back to the district court for a “further determination” of whether the city had properly established customary use of the disputed portions of the beach. Summary judgments are rendered without a full trial.

The Florida Constitution guarantees public access to portions of beaches “below mean high water lines”, often described as beach wetlands. But the lawsuit and the 2018 state law focused on the dry sandy stretches of beaches closer to homes.

Related: Beach fishing, sex and defecation prompt Redington Beach neighbors to file lawsuits

Customary use is a legal concept that implies that people have access to property “on the basis of long-standing customs”, the appeals court said on Friday. The 2018 law set up a broad process for local governments that want to have ordinances to secure customary use of beach areas above the mean high water mark, including requiring them to receive approval judicial.

The law went into effect on July 1, 2018, but Redington Beach approved an ordinance on June 6, 2018, designed to allow the public to continue regular use of dry sand areas of the beach.

The seven beachfront owners sued in 2019, challenging the ordinance and claiming their property boundaries included stretches of dry sandy beach. In a brief filed in the appeals court, attorneys for the owners said the order violated state law and that Moody’s 2020 decision should be upheld.

“The District Court correctly declared the Customary Use of the City Ordinance to be void as violating (state law),” the brief reads. “There’s simply no way to read (state law) as authorizing the city’s decision to keep its customary use ordinance in effect beyond July 1, 2018.”

But the appeals court disagreed with the owners’ reading of the law and said Moody erred in discounting evidence “in support of customary use”. He pointed to evidence dating back to Charles Redington, who founded the town in 1935 and donated beach access points.

“As such, the city has provided evidence to suggest that residents and non-residents use the dry sand beaches, including residents who do not own beachfront property,” the 24-year ruling said. pages, written by Judge Beverly Martin and joined by Judges Britt Grant and Andrew. Inferno. “This overview of the evidence is not exhaustive. Nonetheless, it reflects the competent evidence adduced by the city in support of its defense of customary use.

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By Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida

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