Matthews v. Bay Head Improvement Ass'n

95 N.J. 306, 471 A.2d 355 (1984)



The public must be given both access to and use of privately-owned dry sand areas as reasonably necessary. While the public's rights in private beaches are not co-extensive with the rights enjoyed in municipal beaches, private landowners may not in all instances prevent the public from exercising its rights under the public trust doctrine. The public must be afforded reasonable access to the foreshore as well as a suitable area for recreation on the dry sand.


Borough of Point Pleasant instituted this suit against the Borough of Bay Head and the Bay Head Improvement Association (Association), generally asserting that the defendants prevented Point Pleasant inhabitants from gaining access to the Atlantic Ocean and the beachfront in Bay Head. The proceeding was dismissed as to the Borough of Bay Head because it did not own or control the beach. Subsequently, Virginia Matthews, a resident of Point Pleasant who desired to swim and bathe at the Bay Head beach, joined as a party plaintiff, and Stanley Van Ness, as Public Advocate, joined as plaintiff-intervenor. When the Borough of Point Pleasant ceased pursuing the litigation, the Public Advocate became the primary moving party. The Public Advocate asserted that the defendants had denied the general public its right of access during the summer bathing season to public trust lands along the beaches in Bay Head and its right to use private property fronting on the ocean incidental to the public's right under the public trust doctrine.



Did the public have a right to gain access through and to use the dry sand area not owned by a municipality but by a quasi-public body?




The court held the public trust doctrine did not allow the sovereign of New Jersey to abdicate its trust over the dry sand beaches to defendant association. The court further stated that the public trust doctrine included bathing, swimming and other shore activities and that the public had a right to access defendant's beaches to engage in such activities. Furthermore, although defendant was a private association, because it was a nonprofit corporation and its activities paralleled those of a municipality, the court was able to interfere with its internal affairs and compel it to open membership to the public at large.

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