Property Rights Advocates Celebrating TX Supreme Court Ruling

Bolivar Peninsula after Hurricane Ike
Property rights advocates are still basking in the glow of the Texas Supreme Court's ruling late last week involving a beach dispute on West Galveston Island. The case seems to indicate a judicial swing to private property rights.

The Texas Supreme Court ruling was part of the re-hearing of a case involving a home that ended up on a public beach after Hurricane Rita as a result of erosion. The state claimed the property was now on public beach and should be torn down. In a ruling similar to its earlier decision, the Court ruled private property rights superseded the state's claim to the property as part of the Open Beaches Act.

Terri Hall heads Texas TURF, an organization that fights to protect property rights.

"The Supreme Court has been moving in the direction of affirming property rights in several cases in the last year or two, and it's for good reason. Our property rights have been encroached upon by government, whether it's state government or federal government, even local government for a very long time, and it's time now for the courts to start swinging that pendulum back in the direction of property owners."

Matthew Festa is an associate professor at South Texas College of Law here in Houston and is an expert on property and land use law. He says the decision could change the way the state goes after private property.

"It does seem to me that what the Court's decision stands for is that a government agency from this point forward is going to have to make a case-by-case determination about particular properties to prove-up whether there was an easement or not first. Now the government can always prove one through the common law means or take it through eminent domain, but in the future, it will be more of an ad-hoc determination of rights."

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson is asking voters to remember the justices who decided against the state in the West Galveston Island case. He says the decision essentially wipes-out the Open Beaches Act that allows public access at least up to the vegetation line on beaches along the Gulf Coast.