Efforts by county officials in the Florida Panhandle to undermine both the property rights and the First Amendment rights of owners of a beachfront home came to naught March 23 when Gov. Rick Scott signed a law reaffirming key foundations of the U.S. Constitution.
Officials in Walton County, eager to throw their weight around, enacted an ordinance banning owners of beachfront homes from posting signs on their property alerting the public that their private property was, well, private and that beachgoers should not trespass on it. The county’s ire was directed against Edward and Delanie Goodwin who were threatened with huge fines unless the couple removed two signs — “Private Property” and “No Trespassing” — plus a third sign that simply said:
“If Walton County Wants My Property, It Must Pay For It – U.S. Constitution”
Instead of meekly submitting to the county’s edict, the couple enlisted the support of the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), and, together, they raised such a stink that the state legislature stepped in and put the county in its place. The new state las now requires the county to go to court if it wants to claim any right for the public to use private property.
The county’s ban left the Goodwins, and other beachfront homeowners and landowners, with no other reasonable alternative to let the beach-going public know about their property boundary and their property rights, or to post messages about any other issues.
Stood to Lose Important Property Rights
Without the ability to put up signs and mark the boundary of their land, the Goodwins stood to lose important property rights, including the right to protect their family’s privacy, and to protect the fragile vegetation along the edge of their beach property, which secures and stabilizes the upland dunes.
Over the years, the Goodwins had to put up with beachgoers who put up tents on their property, left trash behind, allowed their pets to defecate on their property, and, on occasion, even entered their home. Their understandable response was to post signs reminding the public whose property it was and to respect the owners’ privacy.
To the county, which never hesitated to run its vehicles on the couple’s property, this was unacceptable, so it passed an ordinance banning all “obstructions” on the beach, including signs. Ironically, the Walton County Sheriff acknowledged that it was impossible to enforce trespassing laws without such signs.
By standing up to the county, the Goodwins performed a huge service to beachfront property owners everywhere.