Napeague Beach in Amagansett, East Hampton, New York has been used by the public for decades. In 2009, Homeowner Associations above the beach commenced an action claiming that they owned title to the beach. They also claimed that the use of the beach by trucks driving on the beach and parking whilst enjoying the ocean constituted a nuisance.
After a 5-day trial in the Supreme Court in Riverhead, the Trial Court, Hon. Ralph T. Gazzillo dismissed the action. The Trial Court found that plaintiffs did not establish their ownership to the beach. The Court also found that the defendants demonstrated the historical use of the beach.
On appeal, the Appellate Division, Second Department modified and held that the Homeowner Associations established title to the beach. The Appellate Court did not touch on the other issues such as the prescriptive right of the public to use the beach for recreation.
On behalf of the Town of East Hampton, I have today filed a Motion for Leave to Appeal to the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court.
These are the points we made:
Point I: Because the original Dongan Patent conveyed the subject beach to the trustees under a public trust, it was not validly conveyed under the Benson Deed and never entered the chain of title.
Point II: Alternatively, a prescriptive easement for public use has arisen with respect to the subject beach by operation of law.
Point III: The effect of the subdivision plats at issue, which disclaimed any ownership interest in the subject beach area, was to offer the property dedication for a public easement.
Point IV: This Court should adopt Supreme Court’s finding – that Plaintiffs failed to establish title ownership by a preponderance of the evidence, because it more nearly comports with the weight of the evidence than the Appellate Division’s contrary finding.
Point V: The Appellate Division’s Decision is internally inconsistent and improperly impairs the town’s right to regulate a public easement for fishing and fishing-related purposes.
We also filed a Motion for a Stay Pending Decision on the Motion so that the public can continue to use Napeague Beach pending a final determination of the Motion.
It is believed that the Court of Appeals will grant leave because the case presents an important issue of broad application to Napeague Beach and other similarly situated New York beaches whether the public trust doctrine precluded a grant (Benson Deed) by the Trustees of the beach. The applicability of the public use doctrine is further supported by the long recognized historical of protecting the public’s right of use and access to the shoreline.
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