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Open Beach Case Goes On

Photo by Joe Y Jiang
The Texas Supreme Court is asking the case of Severance v. Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson to be moved to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In a case challenging the Texas Open Beaches Act, the Texas Supreme Court ruled today that it cannot decide whether to proceed with the case. Instead, the question must be answered by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The case was brought by Carol Severance, who owned several homes in Galveston damaged by Hurricane Rita in 2005. She challenged the Open Beaches Act after she was told to either move or knock down her houses due to the shift of the shoreline caused by the storm. The Open Beaches Act guarantees the open access to public beaches "from the line of mean low tide to the line of vegetation bordering on the Gulf of Mexico."  This means, the beach is in essence moveable, given the amount of change to the shoreline after storms like Rita and 2008's Ike.

In November, a ruling backed Severance, saying the law put private property rights at risk by allowing the state to condemn homes that fall on the public portion of beaches after a storm reshapes the shoreline.

Five months later, the court took another look at arguments in the case however, gave no reasons for allowing the rehearing.

Today the Austin American-Statesman reports:

The legal question about the state’s Open Beaches Act originated from the federal appeals court, so the answer will have to come from there as well, the Supreme Court said. The Texas Attorney General’s Office last month asked the Supreme Court to vacate its 2010 ruling on the Open Beaches Act, criticized by state officials who said it jeopardized public access to the Gulf of Mexico shoreline. The court is reconsidering that 6-2 opinion after granting a rare motion to rehear the case. But Attorney General Greg Abbott asked the court to dismiss the case and vacate its prior ruling, saying property owner Carol Severance has no standing to pursue her legal challenge after selling her last Galveston home on June 24.