Public Trust Doctrine New Jersey

The public trust doctrine derives from Roman law; its original application was to allow all citizens to have access to tidal waters and the seashore. Matthews v. Bay Head Imp. Ass'n, 95 N.J. 306, 316-17, 471 A.2d 355, cert. denied, 469 U.S. 821, 105 S. Ct. 93, 83 L. Ed. 2d 39 (1984); Borough of Neptune City v. Borough of Avon-by-the-Sea, 61 N.J. 296, 294 A.2d 47 (1972). While the doctrine was first "limited to the ancient prerogatives of navigation and fishing," our courts have extended it "to recreational uses, including bathing, swimming and other shore activities." Neptune, supra, 61 N.J. at 309, 294 A.2d 47. In so expanding the doctrine, our Supreme Court opined that the doctrine, "like all common law principles, should not be considered fixed or static, but should be molded and extended to meet changing conditions and needs of the public it was created to benefit." Ibid. In New Jersey the doctrine has been enforced mainly in the context of disapproving municipal regulations that favored residents over non-residents with regard to access to and fees for using beaches and related facilities. See Capano v. Borough of Stone Harbor, 530 F. Supp. 1254, 1269 (D.N.J.1982) (summarizing New Jersey law). In Neptune, supra, 61 N.J. at 310, 294 A.2d 47, the Court cited the doctrine in overturning an ordinance that restricted to residents the sale of beach badges, which restriction resulted in a higher fee for non-residents. In Van Ness v. Borough of Deal, 78 N.J. 174, 180, 393 A.2d 571 (1978), the Court held that, under the doctrine, a municipality could not set aside part of a public beach for use by residents only. In Slocum v. Borough of Belmar, 238 N.J. Super. 179, 569 A.2d 312 (Law Div.1989), the court, adopting the reasoning of Van Ness and Neptune, invalidated beach fees that discriminated against non-residents.