Edgewater v. Walton County 2008 lawsuit has been reopened, order of contempt sought

THE EDGEWATER BEACH property. (Photo by Dotty Nist)

By DOTTY NIST

The Edgewater Beach Owners Association (EBOA) has reopened a lawsuit originally filed against Walton County in 2008. Among other requests, the plaintiffs are seeking to have the court find Walton County in contempt of the agreement that settled the lawsuit in December 2009.

EBOA’s Motion to Show Cause and for Contempt was filed in Walton County Circuit Court in February 2019, reopening the case that had been closed more than nine years earlier.

Edgewater Beach is a condominium property located on the gulf in Miramar Beach, and EBOA is a Florida Corporation with Miramar Beach its principal place of business.

The original lawsuit

The original 2009 lawsuit involved a volleyball net located on the beach at Edgewater that Walton County Code Enforcement had cited as in violation of Walton County Code Section 22-54, the “Leave No Trace,” section. This section deals with personal property left on the beach in the evening. In the lawsuit, EBOA had asked the court to bar Walton County from enforcing the code section and from removing or disturbing the volleyball net in any way.

Later in 2009, Walton County amended the Leave No Trace section, allowing large items such as the volleyball net to remain on the beach at night with a county permit.

In April 2009, EBOA president Suzanne Harris had brought suit against Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) in a separate complaint, alleging that Walton County had not complied with public records requests that she had filed in connection with the EBOA v. Walton County lawsuit.

The December 2009 settlement agreement incorporated with a Final Judgment closed the EBOA lawsuit. Harris also agreed to the settlement, and a final judgment conditioned on the settlement closed her public records lawsuit as well.

The settlement agreement

The settlement agreement stipulated that Walton County “does not dispute that Edgewater is the exclusive, fee-simple absolute owner of the private, beachfront real property” from the toe of the dune to the Erosion Control Line (ECL) on the south.

(As the result of a large-scale beach renourishment project having been conducted in the area of Edgewater, the ECL rather than the mean high water line serves as the southern boundary of the privately-owned property.)

The agreement also provided for Edgewater to maintain and use its personal property such as umbrellas, beach chairs, the volleyball net, etc., “as it sees fit” without interference by the county except as is stated in the agreement. There was a requirement for rules in connection with Edgewater’s personal property on the beach to be “at least as restrictive” a Walton County Ordinance 2008-25 (the Leave No Trace Ordinance) in the form of the ordinance at the time of the agreement.

The agreement relieved Edgewater of the requirement to obtain event permits and transferred responsibility of beach trash pick-up on the Edgewater property from the county to Edgewater. The county agreed to limit traversing Edgewater’s privately-owned property to a 10-foot-wide corridor, including trucks passing across the property to remove trash from other beach areas.

As part of the agreement, Edgewater agreed to “respectfully examine” any future rules changes made to county code and “consider in good faith” whether to make changes in their rules consistent with the code changes.

The Motion to Show Cause and for Contempt

In the February 2019 motion, EBOA contends that Walton County “has failed to perform and strictly comply with all terms” of the December 2009 final judgment and associated settlement agreement.

In support of the claim, the motion details Walton County’s adoption in 2017 of the county’s customary use ordinance. The ordinance, now invalidated by state law, had affirmed customary recreational use of the beach on all properties, including those u

nder private ownership.

After remaining in effect for a little over a year, the customary use ordinance was negated in July 2018 when Florida Statutes 163.035, a law stemming from HB 631, new state legislation, took effect.

EBOA’s motion to show cause and for contempt also references Walton County’s Complaint for Declaration of Recreational Customary Use filed in December 2018, which seeks to affirm customary recreational use on privately-owned beachfront parcels throughout the county, including the Edgewater property. The complaint was filed as part of a process set forth in section 163.035 for use by local governments.

The EBOA motion charges that the Edgewater property was included as one of the parcels for which the county is currently seeking to affirm customary use despite, according to the motion, the county having recognized the Edgewater property in the settlement agreement as having been “historically and at all times for the exclusive use of Edgewater’s owners and guests.”

The latter language comes from directly from the settlement agreement, with the full sentence reading: “Since 1976, Edgewater has continuously claimed and asserted that its Beachfront Property is and has at all times been for the exclusive use of Edgewater’s owners and guests.”

EBOA contends in the motion that Walton County’s inclusion of the Edgewater property in the complaint for declaration of recreational customary use, and the county’s attempt to “subject Edgewater’s Beachfront Property” to customary use, have violated the terms of the 2009 final judgment.

Requests included in the motion include an order finding Walton County in contempt of the settlement agreement and final judgment, together with an order barring the county from any claim that the Edgewater property is subject to customary use and an award of attorney’s fees to the plaintiffs.

Executive session, other motion and upcoming hearing

The county commission held a special meeting and closed executive session on July 9 in connection with the Edgewater v. Walton County lawsuit. No action was taken.

A hearing on EBOA’s motion has been set for November 7, 2019 in Walton County Circuit Court.

In addition to filing the motion, EBOA has filed to intervene in the county’s customary use complaint as an opposing party. EBOA has also filed a motion in that lawsuit seeking award of attorney fees.