A Happy Ending to a Lawsuit

By: Michael Seinberg

old one dollarSome months ago we wrote about a New Jersey couple that was suing the town of Harvey Cedars over their use of eminent domain to construct a 22-foot high sand dune on a portion of the couple’s property. The dune later saved the home from being severely damaged or destroyed by Superstorm Sandy, but in the aftermath the suit was not withdrawn.

Well, the suit between Harvey and Phyllis Karan and the town has now been settled for $1 (and $24,000 in litigation costs being paid to the couple). The thing about this suit is that it never should have been filed in the first place. It came about after the town asked the couple for an easement to build a protective dune between the house and the ocean. The couple, suggesting such a dune would lower their property value, refused. Eventually, Harvey Cedars used its power of eminent domain to get the easement and build the dune and the rest, as they say, is history.

It’s not clear whether public embarrassment, common sense, decency, or something else altogether finally took hold, but the couple agreed to settle and everyone appears happy with the outcome. The state is happy because the ruling in the case will likely prevent future suits of this type from being filed. “This settlement represents an important outcome for the citizens of New Jersey, for our precious natural resources along the coast, and for the rebuilding of our Jersey Shore communities,” said Acting Attorney General John Hoffman in a statement.

If you’re worried about the payment for legal fees setting a bad precedent and enticing legal bottom feeders to jump into the fray, don’t be. “The reimbursement for litigation costs was appropriate in this situation because the Karans’ original complaint long predated the recent change in law by the Supreme Court,” according to the attorney general’s office. “No post-Sandy cases going forward will be treated similarly in this regard.” Problem solved.

It’s nice to see restraint and intelligence win out in a case such as this. Having your view of the ocean obstructed by a dune is an issue if you have a certain value assessed, or in your mind, based on the view. But at the same time, you have to figure the value of the house will be a lot lower if, after a super storm, it’s found in several different zip codes or floating a mile off shore.

In the future, the state should now be able to build more protective dunes up and down the shoreline with far fewer legal complications. Heck, if common sense truly prevails, those houses with protective dunes should actually go up in value.

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