The North Carolina Supreme Court dismissed the court case Nies vs. Emerald Isle on Wednesday, safeguarding public trust rights to the state’s beaches.
The case sparked concern along the coast, as a ruling in favor of the Nieses had widespread implications for the future of public beach access in North Carolina. Many towns, counties and organizations — including the North Carolina Coastal Federation — filed amicus briefs in support of Emerald Isle.
Gregory and Diane Nies, a retired couple from New Jersey who formerly owned an oceanfront house in Emerald Isle, contended the town violated their property rights by using the dry sand beach in front of their home without permission. In 2010, Emerald Isle adopted an ordinance that prohibited “beach equipment” within 20-feet of the base of the frontal dune so the town could use a 20-foot lane on the dry sand beach for town vehicles, such as police cars and garbage trucks.
Represented free of charge by Pacific Legal Foundation — a top property rights law firm — the Nieses argued that the dry sand beach on their property should not be open to town use without their permission or without compensation.
Emerald Isle, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, argued that the 20-foot stretch set aside for town use did not interfere with the couple’s use of the beach.
In July, the Southern Environmental Law Center filed an amicus brief on behalf of North Carolina Coastal Federation and the North Carolina Wildlife Federation. The two nonprofits supported Emerald Isle in the case. They posed two arguments in their brief — that North Carolina citizens have always had a right to access ocean beaches and that the couple’s home state, New Jersey, has similar public trust rights.
The Nieses had previously lost in Carteret County Superior Court and in the state Court of Appeals. The state Supreme Court had initially granted a review of the case in April.