Supreme Judicial Court Rules for the Town of Dennis in Beach Nourishment Case

In the case of Miramar Park Association, Inc. v. Town of Dennis, SJC-12449, Attorney Gregg J. Corbo successfully defended the Town of Dennis in an important case before the Supreme Judicial Court relating to the Town’s obligation to provide sand for the nourishment of privately-owned beaches. The plaintiffs are the owners of a private beach located on the Nantucket Sound shoreline and adjacent to the mouth of the Swan Pond River. The plaintiffs alleged that a stone jetty on the western shore of the River blocked the natural flow of sediment along the shore line and was causing erosion to their property. Notwithstanding the presence of the jetty, the mouth of the Swan Pond River would become partially blocked with sediment from time-to-time, and the Town would periodically dredge the area to facilitate navigation and improve water flow.

When the Town proposed such a dredging project in 2014, the plaintiffs brought suit in Barnstable Superior Court and sought an injunction in accordance with G.L. 214, §7A to require the Town to use sand dredged from the River to provide nourishment for their private beach. The plaintiffs alleged that by using the sand to provide restoration of public beaches in the Town, the Town was violating a Department of Environmental Protection performance standard for the construction of jetties, which they claimed required the Town to periodically nourish any downdrift beaches suffering erosion as a result of the presence of the jetty. Although the Barnstable Superior Court initially denied the plaintiff’s Motion for Temporary Restraining Order, after consideration of the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment, the Superior Court issued a judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, requiring the Town to periodically provide sand for the nourishment of their beach. Although the Superior Court found that the dredging project challenged by the plaintiffs did not trigger an obligation to provide beach nourishment to the plaintiffs, it found that such requirement arose when the Town expanded and repaired in the jetty in the 1990’s.

After transferring the case from the Appeals Court on its own initiative, the Supreme Judicial Court reversed the judgment of the Superior Court in its entirety and issued a ruling in favor of the Town. In short, the Court held that any requirements relating to the 1990s jetty project should have been included in the order of conditions for that project. Because the order of conditions for the jetty project was not part of the record before the Court, the plaintiffs’ could not show that the Town committed any violation of it. In the absence of an order or permitting decision requiring the Town to provide nourishment to the plaintiffs’ private beach, the Court found that the Town is under no obligation to do so. Therefore, the Court reversed the prior ruling and directed that judgment enter for the Town. We are pleased to have secured this important victory of the Town of Dennis, insofar as it reaffirms the authority of municipalities to allocate their limited resources for the general public good.