EMERALD ISLE — In a ruling issued Monday, the United States Supreme Court has denied a request to review a case that could have affected the public’s access to oceanfront beaches.
Emerald Isle officials announced Monday the ruling in the case, Nies v. Emerald Isle, unless reconsidered by the Supreme Court, effectively ends the town’s six-year legal battle with the Nieses, former town residents whose case challenged the state’s public trust doctrine.
The November 2015 ruling of the North Carolina Court of Appeals remains the definitive case law regarding the public’s right to use the ocean beaches of North Carolina.
“The Town is pleased with the US Supreme Court’s decision, and is even more pleased that the public’s historical use of the beach since time immemorial remains intact and that current and future generations will continue to enjoy this special place in Emerald Isle and every other NC beach community,” according to the announcement.
Gregory and Diane Nies, who had owned a second home on the oceanfront in Emerald Isle, contended that the town used their private property for town vehicle traffic without permission. The Nieses, who sold the home in September, were represented at no cost to them by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a California property rights group that had previously vowed to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The Nies are of course disappointed that the Supreme Court denied review of their case. But the fight for coastal property rights in North Carolina will continue. The Nies hope and expect that, in the next case, the state courts will get it right and void any need to go to the US Supreme Court,” J David Breemer, Pacific Legal Foundation Senior Attorney, told Coastal Review Online in an email Tuesday.
Beach towns and advocates of the state’s public trust doctrine had said a ruling against Emerald Isle could lead to limitations on public beach access.
The case began in 2011, and Emerald Isle prevailed in Carteret County Superior Court and the state Court of Appeals.
The Nieses had objected to Emerald Isle’s use of a 20-foot lane on the dry sand beach for town vehicles, including police vehicles. The Nieses sued the town, arguing that Emerald Isle’s action amounted to a taking of property without just compensation.
The appeals court affirmed the public’s access to and use of the entire width of the flat-sandy beach, from the base of the dunes to the water.