A county in Florida that took over private beach property and opened it to the public has had its hand slapped by a new state law that reverses its “theft.”
Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott has signed House Bill 631, which allows homeowners to expel from their property anyone who doesn’t have their permission to be there.
According to Christina Martin of the Pacific Legal Foundation, which defended landowners Edward and Delanie Goodwin, the county not only took the land, it banned the landowners from even expressing their opinions. The Goodwins were fined for having two “private property” signs and another that said “If Walton County Wants My Property, It Must Pay For It – U.S. Constitution.”
The new law, addressing “Possession of Real Property,” will be effective July 1.
The law “authorizes person with superior right to possession of real property to recover possession by ejectment; provides that person entitled to possession of real property has cause of action to regain possession from another person who obtained possession of real property by forcible entry, unlawful entry, or unlawful detainer; prohibits local government from enacting or enforcing ordinance or rule based on customary use; provides an exception; creates, revises, & repeals related procedural provisions.”
Martin said the case dates back 40 years when the Goodwins built a beachfront home in Walton County.
Like other waterfront owners, they own the land from their home to the mean high water line of the Gulf of Mexico.
“Even though Walton County is home to many, large public beaches, the local government decided in 2016 that it wanted private beaches, too. Instead of paying for the property, like the Constitution requires, the county tried to steal it,” PLF said.
First came a law banning the use of any signs, including “no trespassing” signs on all private beaches.
When the Goodwins sued, the county “doubled down.”
“It passed an ordinance declaring that the public has a ‘right of custom’ to use private beaches across the entire county. Walton County’s ordinance tried to steal the use of private property across the county. According to the ordinance, the Goodwins had no right to eject rowdy strangers or drunk spring-breakers out of their own backyard.”
Ordinarily, if the county wants to impose a “right of custom” use over land, it must go to court and document that the specific parcels have been used, in undisputed and uninterrupted fashion, for those purposes already.
“Proving the right in court would’ve been difficult (to say the least), because the county until relatively recently enforced trespassing laws and recognized private property rights on private beaches. Moreover, the county would have to prove the particular type of customary use (e.g., fishing or sunbathing) on specific parcels. It could not prove a narrow public right on one part of the beach and then claim a broad public right to all private beaches in the county,” PLF said.
Now, the case abruptly has ended.
“The new state law requires counties to go to court the old fashioned way if they want to claim a right of custom for the public to use private property,” PLF said.
When the fight erupted, WND reported people had even entered the Goodwins’ home without permission.
One issue was that the county wouldn’t enforce trespassing complaints, unless there was a “no trespassing” sign, which it banned. And there was no authorization for the county to silence the Goodwins’ speech.
“The Goodwins have a First Amendment right to speak – and to use signs as a means of speech, a way to convey the message that their beach is not public, and that they value and insist on their property rights,” said PLF Principal Attorney J. David Breemer at that time. “The county is robbing them of that fundamental right of free speech. Denying them the use of signs denies them the ability to let the public and the county itself know that their land is private and trespassing will not be allowed.”
The county even was caught driving its trash trucks across the private land.
The Goodwins said they don’t object to pedestrians occasionally crossing their land, but they have the right to stop objectionable activities.