Fighting government seizure and removal of homes
Severance v. Patterson
Contact: J. David Breemer
Status: The parties reached a settlement agreement in July, 2013. The court dismissed the case with prejudice on Oct. 11, 2013.
Summary: Texas Officials interpret the Texas Open Beaches Act to impose a public beach access easement on all property up to the natural vegetation line, regardless of whether the public has ever used the property claimed as an easement or acquired rights in such land. When a storm or other event pushes the vegetation line inland of private property, Officials contend that the purported public easement “rolls” inland and instantly converts private property into a "public beach." According to the Officials, this means the property owner may not exclude trespassers and that any homes on the new "public" beach can be removed without compensation.
Carol Severance is a citizen of California which owns homes in Galveston, whom she often rents to local Texas families. In 2006, she received letters stating that because her homes became seaward of the vegetation line after 2005's Hurricane Rita, the homes were now on the public beach and a violation of the Open Beaches Act. Under this position, the Officials read state law to categorically prevent Severance or her renters from excluding unwanted strangers, to preclude her from building anything, and to subject her homes to removal at the Officials' discretion. Ms. Severance asked PLF to sue State officers charged with enforcing the Open Beaches Act in federal District Court to establish that the Officials' policy of rolling a public beach easement onto her land without any proof that the public has acquired common law easement in the land is an unconstitutional taking and seizure of her land . The Texas District Court dismissed the suit, but on appeal in the Fifth Circuit, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's dismissal of the seizure claim and asked the Texas Supreme Court to clarify the nature and source of the "rolling" easement policy.
On November 5, 2010, the Texas Supreme Court issued a favorable decision, ruling that there is no rolling easement in Texas. Furthermore, the case was transferred to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal to decide on the mootness of the case. The parties' filed supplemental briefs on mootness. On Sept, 28, 2011, the Fifth Circuit concluded that the case is not moot and denied Appellees' motion to vacate opinion and withdraw questions certified to the Supreme Court of Texas. A huge win for Ms. Carol Severance!