Like waves hitting a sandcastle, the Appellate Division, Second Department, dealt a serious blow to the perceived authority and jurisdictional reach of the Southampton Town Trustees in three recent decisions, (Semlear v. Incorporated Village of Quogue, 2015 NY Slip Op 03345 (April 22, 2015), Semlear v. Albert Marine Construction, 2015 NY Slip Op 03344 (April 22, 2015) and Incorporated Village of West Hampton Dunes v. Semlear, 2015 NY Slip Op 03325 (April 22, 2015).
In suits against the Village of Quogue and Albert Marine Construction, the Trustees sought to enjoin the defendants from placing structures along the shoreline without a Trustee permit. The Trustees contended that the installation of shoreline protection structures violated their right to regulate such activities along ocean beaches of the Town. Around the same time, the Village of West Hampton Dunes also filed a suit against the Trustees, seeking a declaration that the Trustees have no regulatory authority in the Village or along its waterfront.
Dealing squarely with the subject matter of the Trustees’ regulatory jurisdiction, the Court held in all three decisions that the Trustees have no lawful power to grant or deny permits in connection with development, construction, or use of shore hardening structures anywhere within the ocean beach areas of the incorporated villages of Quogue and West Hampton Dunes. Relying on two acts passed by the State Legislature in 1818 and 1831, the judges declared that the Trustees could only regulate enumerated activities stated in those acts such as collecting natural resources like seaweed and fish from the shoreline and nothing more. The Court went on to state that “any attempt” to exercise such power over the ocean beaches within these villages is “null and void”.
Although the Trustees have long defended their right to regulate structures and activities along the shoreline by virtue of the 1686 Dongan Patent, these three decisions drastically erode their authority in the incorporated villages of the Town of Southampton. The ripple effects of these cases will likely impact how property owners go about protecting their waterfront homes in the Town of Southampton and incorporated villages located within its boundaries.