The National Sea Grant Law Center


  • Court Affirms Public Rights to Connecticut Beach

  • December 5th, 2022 — by Lourdes Carreras-Ortiz — Category: Miscellaneous

  • In 2017, the Miami Beach Association built a fence with an entry gate and implemented a permitting system for access to Miami Beach in Old Lyme, Connecticut due to an increase of inappropriate behavior and trash. As this system placed restrictions on the public’s use of the beach, residents of Old Lyme living near Miami Beach sued the Association. However, almost seventy years ago, a Connecticut court ruled that the Miami Beach Association could not interfere with the public’s access to Miami Beach.

    In 1951, the Association constructed a six-foot-high fence that blocked public access to Miami Beach. Outraged by this, twenty-six residents joined together as plaintiffs and sought an injunction against the Association to remove the fence. In 1953, in Vitello v. Corsino, the trial court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. Based on a review of previous deeds and the property’s history, the court determined that the land’s first owner had dedicated to the public perpetual unimpeded access to the beach, which precluded the Association from building such a fence.

    Fast-forward to 2017 and the Miami Beach Association has once again erected a fence and also imposed fees and permits to access the beach through their “Clean Beach Program.” The Association feels that it is their duty to “defend” the beach from inappropriate visitor use and that these measures do not violate the holding of the 1953 decision. A new group of residents are fighting an almost identical battle with the Association over seven decades later.

    The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction for the removal of the fence and the beach access requirements. The lawsuit seeks to force the Association to abide by the Vitello v Corsino decision. A Connecticut trial court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on January 15, 2020. The Association appealed and argued that the “Clean Beach Program and new fence only ‘regulate’ access and use of the beach and therefore are not in violation of any past judgment.” (Tracey v Miami Beach Ass'n, 216 Conn. App. 379 (2022)).

    On appeal, the plaintiffs relied on the 1953 judgment that the beach was dedicated to public use by the first owner. The Appellate Court noted that when a “judgment calls for performance over a period of time” they consider whether circumstances have changed to make enforcement inequitable. (Tracey v Miami Beach Assoc. (2022)). The court said that the fact that the public had been freely accessing Miami Beach for over sixty years demonstrates that both the defendant and the general public expected the terms of the 1953 judgment to govern use of Miami Beach in perpetuity.

    The Appellate Court affirmed the superior court’s determination that the 1953 judgment “concluded any controversy on the defendant's restriction of the public's access.” The court therefore upheld the public’s rights to freely access Miami Beach and found that the Association is in violation of the 1953 ruling and must end its program and take down the fence.

  • Lourdes Carreras-Ortiz
    Ocean and Coastal Law Fellow

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