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Matthews v. Bay Head Improvement Association

Decided: February 2, 1984.

VIRGINIA MATTHEWS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT, AND STANLEY C. VAN NESS, PUBLIC ADVOCATE OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-INTERVENOR-APPELLANT,
v.
BAY HEAD IMPROVEMENT ASSOCIATION, A NON-PROFIT CORPORATION OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY; PHILIP D. REED, JR.; PAUL E. PARKER & CATHERINE PARKER, H/W; JAMES L. TYSON & DAVID O. TYSON; JOHN BOWMAN DELANEY; ROBERT L. JOHNSON & ROBERTA JOHNSON, H/W; HELEN LOBLEIN; MARTHA L. VAN EMBURGH; H. CORBIN DAY; CAROL C. SCHMITZ; BENJAMIN BARNETT & CATHERINE, H/W; KATHERINE W. FORTENBAUGH; GEORGE P. EGBERT; LESTER D. EGBERT; GEORGE O. NODYNE; ANDREW H. CAMPBELL; JOSEPH SHELBY & MIRIAM ROHRER SHELBY; BRUCE B. SWENSON & NANCY T. SWENSON, H/W; FERDINAND W. ROEBLING, III; DOROTHY ANDERSON & CLIFFORD O. ANDERSON; ESTATE OF EILEEN RUCKER; MARY G. HILL; ROBERT S. CORBIN; JOHN A. BROWN; GEORGE R. SCHULTZ; EDWARD MCGRATH & ELIZABETH MCGRATH, H/W; WALTER H. BROWN & CATHERINE BROWN, H/W; ALFRED E. JOHNSON, JR.; EDWARD F. & JOAN VAN JOHNSON, H/W; JOHN MAGEE & ELIZABETH MAGEE, H/W; FRANK J. O'BRIEN; EDITH WELLS PARDOE; GEORGE H. & ESTELLE M. SANDS, H/W AND CLYDE A. SZUCH, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS, AND JOSEPH DECIBUS & HAZEL DECIBUS, H/W; FREDERICK MELLOR; WILLIAM DE BRAY & VILMA DE BRAY, H/W; ELIZABETH M. HEATH; F.W. CLARK & LUCILLE CLARK, H/W; HENRY THUMAN; ELIZABETH MATTHEWS; PAUL SAMBORN; HOWARD MCCLINTIC; DONALD LUSARDI; HENRY C. DAY; M. DICKINSON; MARGARET B. DUNN; DICK ZUVER & JEAN ZUVER, H/W; ALBERT ROBERT JOHNSON; ANDREW CONTE; RICHARD OTTO & JUDITH OTTO, H/W; GORDON A. WILLSPANGH; ELIZABETH HANUS; REBEKAH COLLINS; MARIA A. CARMICHAEL; HERBERT J. GARMBOW; CAROLYN L. OTTLEY; FRANK E. CURRAN, JR.; DARWIN JAMES, JR.; WILLIAM H. NIMICK, III; CLARK ESTATE; MARIAN R. REICHEL; LAWRENCE BATHGATE & PAMELA BATHGATE, H/W; RICARDO MESTRES; BEVERLY ROBERTSON; WILLIAM SPOFFORD; AUSTIN STARKEY; HENRY GIBSON; HENRY SMITH; BARR ELIZABETH LOIZEAUX; ALBERT DITTMAN; TRISTINA JOHNSON; QUAIL HILL ESTATES; ASH ASSOCIATION; MALVERN C. BURROUGHS; HERB & ANN DRAESEL, H/W; FLORENCE EBERHARDT; PETER HAUSMANN; THOMAS JONES & VERA JONES, H/W; JAMES W. KELLEY; MORGAN MACOM & MARY MACOM, H/W; JOHN F. MOORE; DONALD A. PICKERING & DOROTHY PICKERING, H/W; ELIZABETH H. STRECCH; ZORLAS, JAMES & BARBARA, H/W; WALTER & MARION BRAUN, H/W; DAVID & SHIRLEY GAESFORD, H/W; HERBGMARTH-TAYLOR ROSS & AMY WRIGHT, H/W AND MARX & GUILIANA RENZULLI, H/W, DEFENDANTS, AND MRS. PAUL HAY; EDWARD H. HEIN; HAROLD L. HERBERT; ROBERT KING; HERMAN SCHMITZ; CHRISTINE WILDER; SAMUEL B. FORTENBAUGH, JR.; GREGORY GIBSON; ANN F. MESTRES; DOROTHY L. CORBIN; MAX HABERNICKEL, III & GAEL S. HABERNICKEL, H/W; J. STUART HILL; RICARDO A. MESTRES, JR.; ANNE K. NODYNE AND ELIZABETH B. REED, RESPONDENTS NOT NAMED IN THE COMPLAINT



On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division.

For reversal in part; affirmance in part -- Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Clifford, Schreiber, Handler, Pollock and O'Hern. Opposed -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Schreiber, J.

Schreiber

The public trust doctrine acknowledges that the ownership, dominion and sovereignty over land flowed by tidal waters, which extend to the mean high water mark, is vested in the State in trust for the people. The public's right to use the tidal lands and water encompasses navigation, fishing and recreational uses, including bathing, swimming and other shore activities. Borough of Neptune City v. Borough of Avon-by-the-Sea, 61 N.J. 296, 309 (1972). In Avon we held that the public trust applied to the municipally-owned dry sand beach immediately landward of the high water mark.*fn1 The major issue in this case is whether, ancillary to the public's right to enjoy the tidal lands, the public has a right to gain access through and to use the dry sand area not owned by a municipality but by a quasi-public body.

The Borough of Point Pleasant instituted this suit against the Borough of Bay Head and the Bay Head Improvement Association (Association), generally asserting that the defendants prevented Point Pleasant inhabitants from gaining access to the Atlantic Ocean and the beachfront in Bay Head. The proceeding was dismissed as to the Borough of Bay Head because it did not own or control the beach. Subsequently, Virginia Matthews, a resident of Point Pleasant who desired to swim and bathe at the Bay Head beach, joined as a party plaintiff, and Stanley Van Ness, as Public Advocate, joined as plaintiff-intervenor. When the Borough of Point Pleasant ceased pursuing the litigation, the Public Advocate became the primary moving party. The Public Advocate asserted that the defendants had denied the general public its right of access during the summer bathing season to public trust lands along the beaches in Bay

Head and its right to use private property fronting on the ocean incidental to the public's right under the public trust doctrine. The complaint was amended on several occasions, eliminating the Borough of Point Pleasant as plaintiff and adding more than 100 individuals, who were owners or had interests in properties located on the oceanfront in Bay Head, as defendants.

Both sides moved for summary judgment. The trial court granted the defendants' motions except with respect to the plaintiff's claim that the public had acquired rights in the dry sand beach resulting from an implied dedication or prescriptive easement prior to 1932. When the plaintiff abandoned these claims, the trial court entered a final judgment in favor of the defendants. Upon plaintiff's appeal, the Appellate Division affirmed, one judge dissenting. Plaintiff appealed as of right, R. 2:2-1(a), and also filed a petition for certification, which we granted. 91 N.J. 559 (1982).

The facts as gleaned from the record consisting of depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions*fn2 and the pleadings are substantially undisputed.

I

Facts

The Borough of Bay Head (Bay Head) borders the Atlantic Ocean. Adjacent to it on the north is the Borough of Point Pleasant Beach, on the south the Borough of Mantoloking, and on the west Barnegat Bay. Bay Head consists of a fairly narrow strip of land, 6,667 feet long (about 1 1/4 miles). A beach runs along its entire length adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean. There are 76 separate parcels of land that border the beach. All

except six are owned by private individuals. Title to those six is vested in the Association.

The Association was founded in 1910 and incorporated as a nonprofit corporation in 1932. Its certificate of incorporation states that its purposes are

the improving and beautifying of the Borough of Bay Head, New Jersey, cleaning, policing and otherwise making attractive and safe the bathing beaches in said Borough, and the doing of any act which may be found necessary or desirable for the greater convenience, comfort and enjoyment of the residents.

Its constitution delineates the Association's object to promote the best interests of the Borough and "in so doing to own property, operate bathing beaches, hire life guards, beach cleaners and policemen . . . ."

Nine streets in the Borough, which are perpendicular to the beach, end at the dry sand. The Association owns the land commencing at the end of seven of these streets for the width of each street and extending through the upper dry sand to the mean high water line, the beginning of the wet sand area or foreshore. In addition, the Association owns the fee in six shore front properties, three of which are contiguous and have a frontage aggregating 310 feet. Many owners of beachfront property executed and delivered to the Association leases of the upper dry sand area. These leases are revocable by either party to the lease on thirty days' notice. Some owners have not executed such leases and have not permitted the Association to use their beaches. Some also have acquired riparian grants from the State extending approximately 1,000 feet east of the high water line.

The Association controls and supervises its beach property between the third week in June and Labor Day. It engages about 40 employees, who serve as lifeguards, beach police and beach cleaners. Lifeguards, stationed at five operating beaches, indicate by use of flags whether the ocean condition is dangerous (red), requires caution (yellow), or is satisfactory (green). In addition to observing and, if need be, assisting those in the water, when called upon lifeguards render first aid. Beach

cleaners are engaged to rake and keep the beach clean of debris. Beach police are stationed at the entrances to the beaches where the public streets lead into the beach to ensure that only Association members or their guests enter. Some beach police patrol the beaches to enforce its membership rules.

Membership is generally limited to residents of Bay Head. Class A members are property owners. Class B are non-owners. Large families (six or more) pay $90 per year and small families pay $60 per year. Upon application residents are routinely accepted. Membership is evidenced by badges that signify permission to use the beaches. Members, which include local hotels, motels and inns, can also acquire badges for guests. The charge for each guest badge is $12. Members of the Bay Head Fire Company, Bay Head Borough employees, and teachers in the municipality's school system have been issued beach badges irrespective of residency.

Except for fishermen, who are permitted to walk through the upper dry sand area to the foreshore, only the membership may use the beach between 10:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. during the summer season. The public is permitted to use the Association's beach from 5:30 p.m. to 10:00 a.m. during the summer and, with no hourly restrictions, between Labor Day and mid-June.

No attempt has ever been made to stop anyone from occupying the terrain east of the high water mark. During certain parts of the day, when the tide is low, the foreshore could consist of about 50 feet of sand not being flowed by the water. The public could gain access to the foreshore by coming from the Borough of Point Pleasant Beach on the north or from the Borough of Mantoloking on the south.

Association membership totals between 4,800 to 5,000. The Association President testified during depositions that its restrictive policy, in existence since 1932, was due to limited parking facilities and to the overcrowding of the beaches. The Association's avowed purpose was to provide the beach for the residents of Bay Head.

There is also a public boardwalk, about one-third of a mile long, parallel to the ocean on the westerly side of the dry sand area. The boardwalk is owned and maintained by the municipality.

The trial court held that the Association was not an arm of the Borough of Bay Head, that the Association was not a municipal agency, and that nothing in the record justified a finding that public privileges could attach to the private properties owned or leased by the Association. A divided Appellate Division affirmed. The majority agreed with the trial court that the Association was not a public agency or a public entity and that the action of the private owners through the Association established no general right in the public to the use of the beaches.

Judge Greenberg dissented. He argued that the Association's beaches are de facto public to a limited extent, being public to residents and visitors who stay in hotels. They are private to everyone else. He reasoned that Bay Head residents have the advantage of living in a municipality with public beaches, but are not troubled by having their beaches made available to outsiders. Judge Greenberg concluded that the Association's beaches must be open to all members of the public. However, he would not preclude any ...


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