Matthew v. Bay Head Improvement Association Case Brief

Summary of Matthew v. Bay Head Improvement Association, 471 A.2d 355 (N.J. 1984)

Facts: In the Borough of Bay Head, private properties corner the beach and there are 6 parcels that are owned by Bay Head Improvement Association (D). D is a non-profit association whose purpose is improving and beautifying of the Borough of Bay Head by cleaning, policing, etc. This beach is only assessable to members of the association who pay fees.

Issue: Does the public has the right to gain access through and to use the dry sand area not owned by a municipality but by a quasi-public body?

Holding: Yes

Some History: In Borough v. Avon-by-the-Sea, ct. held: “…land covered by tidal waters belonged to the sovereign, but for the common use of all the people.

“…the public trust doctrine dictates that the beach and the ocean waters must be open to all on equal terms and without preference and that any contrary state or municipal action is impermissible."

Rationale : If public has the right to use the beaches, but has no way to access the water because the beach is surrounded by private property, then the Avon ruling will be useless. Therefore, the ct. stated: “…recognizing the increasing demand for our State’s beaches and the dynamic nature of the public trust doctrine, we find that the public must be given both access to and use of privately-owned dry sand areas as reasonably necessary." In the current case, a quasi-public organization is involved and it can exclude public from its property only when exclusion is lawfully exercised in furtherance of the public welfare related to its public characteristics. The practices of D in this case are not furthering any public good. Therefore, D will have to open up its property for people to reasonably access the sand are and the water front. P argues that all of private property should be opened to the public. But that is not necessary at this time. If D sells all its property to some private entity, then it will become necessary to decide on the issue of whether private property should be opened to public. But at this time, it is not necessary. So held for P.

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