Readers may recall that a lawsuit brought by a California-based “public interest” law firm resulted in a ruling by the Texas Supreme Court that sudden (the technical legal term is “avulsive”) changes in the profile of the beach due to storms could erase public rights of access that have been recognized by Texas courts in several precedents and in the state constitution. This holding, which favored private property rights over public rights, created considerable controversy. The State asked for a motion for rehearing, which was granted. The case was reargued on April 19, and not a peep has been heard from the Court over the past two months. Subsequently, the case has taken a course favorable to the protection of public rights. The Attorney General’s office sent the following letter to the Court upon learning that the plaintiff had sold all of her beachfront property: The State respectfully submits this letter to notify the Court that Carol Severance has rendered this case moot by selling her last remaining property at issue in this lawsuit. We respectfully urge the Court to follow the established practice of vacating the last opinion—issued before this Court granted rehearing—and returning this matter to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to dismiss as moot. Assuming that the Court does as the AG’s office has asked, the State and the people of Texas will win a significant victory. However, if the case is indeed moot, the legal issues–foremost among which is whether the public’s easement to have access to the beach “rolls” or shifts to follow the changes in the shoreline–remain in legal limbo, to be decided at some future date. For now, it seems as if public rights are secure once more, notwithstanding the Court’s earlier decision to eviscerate them.
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