Intertidal Court Victory for Property Rights, Marine Conservation, and Public Participation
The Maine Superior Court has dismissed all claims against five intertidal landowners represented by Verrill in Masucci v. Judy’s Moody, LLC. The landowners had been sued because they contacted Maine Marine Patrol to report the illegal removal of rockweed from their intertidal land and because they advocated for rockweed conservation.
The rockweed harvesters and other plaintiffs chose these and other coastal landowners as defendants to try to convince the Maine judiciary to reverse hundreds of years of property law by reallocating all intertidal land into state ownership. Since 1641, intertidal land in Massachusetts and what is now Maine has been privately owned, usually by the adjacent upland owner. The Superior Court rejected the plaintiffs’ unfounded arguments that all intertidal land is state-owned.
The claims against Verrill’s landowner clients were thrown out under a special motion to dismiss based on Maine’s Anti-SLAPP statute. SLAPP stands for strategic lawsuit against public participation. The statute protects people that have been sued solely because they exercised their First Amendment rights to petition the government or otherwise engage in lawful public discourse. The court found that four of Verrill’s clients were sued because of “their respective reports to Maine Marine Patrol” regarding illegal rockweed harvest on their property. The court found that another Verrill client was sued as “a direct result of her rockweed conservation advocacy.” The court found that this First Amendment activity had a reasonable basis in fact and law, and thus was protected under the Anti-SLAPP statute.
The legal basis for the landowners’ reporting and advocacy is the Maine Supreme Court’s 2019 decision in Ross v. Acadian Seaplants, which held unanimously that the public could not harvest attached intertidal rockweed without the landowner’s permission.
A single claim of the plaintiffs survived dismissal. That claim is against three owners of property on Moody Beach in Wells and asks the court to find that the public has a right to use private intertidal land for walking, running, or scientific research.