Map note: The property in question is the dry beach area listed below as the "Atlantis Beach Club Property." To its south is property of the United States Coast Guard which is closed most of the summer. To its north is Seapointe Village's Beach, which is open to the public.
Facts: Tony Labrosciano, a member of the Raleigh Avenue Beach Association, was issued a summons for trespassing when he attempted to leave the wet sand area and walk across the private property of the Atlantis Beach Club to the eastern terminus of Raleigh Avenue in Cape May, New Jersey. The Association, which consists of individuals who reside on Raleigh Avenue in the Diamond Beach neighborhood, filed a complaint against Atlantis, and claimed that Atlantis was in violation of the public trust doctrine and sought free public access through the Atlantis property to the beach, and to a sufficient amount of dry sand above the mean high water line to permit the public to enjoy the beach and beach-related activities. The public trust doctrine is the principle that certain resources are preserved for public use, and that the government is required to maintain them for the public's reasonable use. The doctrine was born in Roman times, when Justinian ruled that seashores were open to the public, so that fishermen could dry their nets.
Trial Court: The trial court held that the public was entitled to a right of horizontal access to the ocean by means of “a three-foot wide strip of dry sand, immediately landward of the mean high water line and extending from the northern to the southern boundaries of [the Atlantis] [p]roperty, which may be utilized by the public, at no charge, for the purpose of entering into and exiting from” the area located below the mean high water line. The trial court also held that the public was entitled to limited vertical access to the ocean, consisting of a path from the bulkhead through the dunes on the property. The trial court also ruled that the Public Trust Doctrine does not apply to permit the Department [of Environmental Protection] to regulate the use of the Beach Area. (emphasis added)”