NJ Supreme Court Overturns Award in Dune Case
New Jersey's Supreme Court on Monday overturned a $375,000 jury award given to an elderly couple who complained that a protective sand dune behind their house blocked their ocean views.
That same sand dune saved their home from destruction in Superstorm Sandy last October.
The court ruled that the protective benefits of the dune should have been considered along with the loss of the ocean views in calculating the property's true market value. The ruling made clear that a lower court erred in not allowing jurors to also consider the benefits of the dune in calculating its effect on the home's value.
The ruling in the 5-year-old case was eagerly awaited at the Jersey shore, which was battered by Sandy. Officials want to build protective dune systems along the state's entire 127-mile coastline, but towns fear they won't be able to if many homeowners hold out for large payouts as compensation for lost views.
"Had we lost this case, I think beach replenishment would have been (over) in New Jersey," Harvey Cedars Mayor Jonathan Oldham said. "We're very pleased with the court's ruling and look forward to competing with a fair set of rules. I'm happy for the whole island."
The homeowners, Harvey and Phyllis Karan, had rejected the town's offer of $300 in compensation for their lost views and insisted on a trial. Their Long Beach Island home is worth close to $2 million.
"Although the jury found that the Karans' property decreased in value because the dune obstructed their view, a buyer would likely also consider the value provided by the dune in shielding the property from destruction," the court wrote in its opinion. "The court did not allow the jury to consider evidence that the dunes -- constructed at public expense to protect the island's homes from minor and catastrophic storms-- enhanced the value of the Karans' property.
"The jury awarded the Karans $375,000 in damages, premised mostly on the loss of their oceanfront view," the justices wrote. "Homeowners are entitled to the fair market value of their loss, not to a windfall, not to a payout that disregards the home's enhanced value resulting from a public project."
The court said a new trial is needed where jurors would be told to also consider the dune's benefits.
Gov. Chris Christie has repeatedly ridiculed homeowners' complaints about dunes blocking their views, and called the Karans' and others in their circumstances "knuckleheads" during a recent public meeting on Long Beach Island.
Peter Wegener, an attorney for the Karans, argued before the court that the view is a valuable commodity that figures prominently in the selling prices of homes near the beach. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling Monday morning.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)