Monday, November 25, 2013

Matthews v. Bay Head Improvement Association case brief

Matthews v. Bay Head Improvement Association case brief summary
471 A.2d 355 (N.J. 1984)

Plaintiff, New Jersey Public Advocate, appealed a judgment of the Superior Court, Appellate Division (New Jersey), which granted summary judgment to defendant association, on a claim that defendant prevented nearby inhabitants from gaining access to the Atlantic Ocean and beachfront in the area.

  • The Bay Head Improvement Association, which was a quasi-public entity, owned portions of the beach in Bay Head, a town on the Atlantic coast. 
  • Only members of the Association were allowed to use these portions of the beach during the day in the summer months. 
  • Furthermore, the Association generally allowed only Bay Head residents memberships. 
  • Thus, non-residents of Bay Head were generally not granted the right to use these portions of the Bay Head beach in the summer. 
  • Because there were no public beaches in Bay Head, non-residents were usually prohibited from using the beach anywhere in the town of Bay Head unless they knew a private beachfront owner.

The issue before the court was whether, ancillary to the public's right to enjoy the tidal lands, the public had 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.

Summary judgment in favor of defendant was reversed.

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