June 4 and 5 hearings set in Walton County customary use case

TWO DAYS of hearings are on the horizon in June for Walton County’s Complaint for Declaration of Recreational Customary Use. (Photo by Dotty Nist)

By DOTTY NIST

In a March 30 order, Walton County Circuit Court Judge David Green determined that the court will conduct two days of hearings in connection with Walton County’s Complaint for Declaration of Recreational Customary Use, on June 4 and 5.

The two days of hearings had previously been envisioned for mid- to late May at the last hearing on the case on March 2.

As agreed to at that hearing, with the March 30 order Judge Green lifted a stay on the proceeding in the case in order to prepare to hear motions for more definite statement, motions to sever, and “dispositive motions that do not require discovery to be conducted.” The latter may include motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgment.

Discovery involves obtaining information before a trial, such as through production of documents and depositions.

As ruled by Judge Green at the March 2 hearing, the deadline for filing of all dispositive motions not requiring the conducting of discovery is April 16.

With the March 30 order, Judge Green also directed that an existing abatement (suspension) of discovery in the case would continue.

Judge Green accepted, as well, a Verification of Service of Notice signifying that a notice and copy of the complaint had been provided to beachfront property owners who had not filed to intervene in the case and for whom the county had not previously received a return receipt or confirmation of delivery of the notice. This was the fourth such verification submitted by Walton County.

Judge Green also directed that by April 1 Walton County deliver the notice and copy of the complaint to the one remaining beachfront property owner for whom the county had not previously received a return receipt or confirmation of delivery of the notice, John B. Higdon, Jr. (Higdon has not filed to intervene in the lawsuit.)

There had been efforts by Walton County to provide the notification to Higdon that had been stymied due to, as explained by Walton County Attorney Sidney Noyes on March 3, the only contact information in the county’s possession for Higdon being a post office box in Quincy, Fla., along with his failure to responded to attempts to notify him, with all mail sent to him having been returned to the county.

The complaint for declaration of customary use is part of a process detailed in Florida Statutes 163.035, which had negated Walton County’s customary use beach ordinance and had set up the process for the use of local governments in affirming a public right to recreational use of the beach on privately-owned property. With the filing, Walton County is seeking to affirm customary use on all privately-owned parcels along the county’s 26-mile beachfront.

A Notice of Hearing to be filed by the county after the previously-mentioned April 16 deadline will list the motions to be heard on June 4 and 5.