from the United States District Court for the Middle District
of Florida D.C. Docket No. 8:13-cv-03170-JDW-MAP
ED CARNES, Chief Judge, and NEWSOM and SILER, [*] Circuit Judges.
appeal of an inverse condemnation action, Defendant-Appellant
the City of St. Pete Beach ("the City") challenges
a jury verdict in favor of Plaintiffs Katherine A.
Chmielewski and Paul Chmielewski, as personal representative
of the estate of Chester Chmielewski ("the
Chmielewskis"). The underlying dispute involves a
beachfront parcel, owned by the Chmielewskis, which
experienced significant public usage. At trial, the jury
found that the City encouraged and invited access by the
general public, causing a seizure of the Chmielewskis'
residential property and a taking of their beach parcel.
After trial, the district court denied the City's motions
for judgment as a matter of law and for a new trial. For the
following reasons, we AFFIRM.
BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
beachfront property at issue in this case is located in the
Don CeSar Place Subdivision in St. Pete Beach, Florida. The
subdivision includes two blocks-Block M and Block N-that run
parallel to the Gulf of Mexico. Between Block N to the north
and Block M to the south stands the Don CeSar Hotel
("the Hotel") and the Hotel's privately-owned
beach property. The Chmielewskis' home sits adjacent to
Block M, three lots south of the Hotel. They purchased this
lot in 1972, and as part of a 1975 insurance settlement, they
acquired title to the beachfront portion of Block M
contiguous to their residence, confirming that their property
extended across Block M to the mean high water line
("MHWL") of the Gulf. This property-the "beach
parcel"-is approximately 300 feet deep (east-west) and
includes 50 feet of the Block M sidewalk, dunes, and sand.
Under Florida law, the beach area between the water and the
MHWL is available for public use, regardless of ownership in
2006, the Chmielewskis initiated a quiet title action against
the City, the Hotel, and the Don CeSar Place Property
Association to confirm their ownership of the beach parcel.
The Chmielewskis obtained partial summary judgment in 2008,
establishing their fee simple ownership in the residential
lot and in the contiguous strip of beach parcel, subject to a
1925 plat restriction. The restriction provides that all Don
CeSar Subdivision owners retain their right to use Block M,
including the Chmielewskis' beach parcel, for "beach
and bathing purposes." The plat also prohibits building
any structure on Block M, including on the Chmielewskis'
beach parcel. As part of a settlement in the quiet title
action, the City agreed that its ownership of five lots in
the Subdivision did not give the general public the right to
use Block M, including the Chmielewskis' beach parcel.
original subdivision developer's residence adjoined Block
M, just north of the Chmielewskis' property. During World
War II, the federal government acquired that land, known as
the Don Vista property. In 1975, it deeded this property to
the City with the requirement that the lot ("the
mini-park") could not be used for public beach access.
Renovation of the Don Vista Property
2003 to 2005, the City used a federal grant to renovate the
developer's residence-the Don Vista Building-and turn it
into a community center. As part of those renovations, the
City beautified the mini-park, installed benches, and cleared
a direct public access path from the mini-park across Block M
to the Gulf. For good measure, the City also cleared out the
overgrowth on the Block M sidewalk behind the
Chmielewskis' house. At both the north and south ends of
Block M, the City posted large, circular signs with the
City's emblem stating "Beach Access." These
signs were visible to passing motorists on E1 Centro Street.
City also cleared and improved the parking lot next to the
Don Vista building, grassed and landscaped the area, and
removed the fencing around the parking lot, as well as the
chains and gate that blocked its entrance and had previously
prevented after-hours entry or use. The City made the area
attractive with convenient public parking to facilitate beach
access. In addition, the City installed metered public
parking across the street (within half a block) for Block M
beach access parking and publicly announced that it had
provided parking to allow the public to use the Block M
beach. On its website, the City published a map showing
public access to the Block M beach at the Don Vista Center.
At a public meeting, the City Manager proclaimed that the
City had invested lots of money to have a beautiful center
and needed to put it to full use by having the visiting
public use the Block M beach.
Zoning Maps and Access to Beach Parcel
the City was renovating the Don Vista Center, it also zoned
and mapped Block M, including the Chmielewski beach parcel,
as "recreation open space/public park." This
designated the property as a public beach for public use,
inconsistent with the Chmielewskis' private ownership
rights. A former director of planning testified that the
City's zoning designation for Block M meant that it was
for public use, including the dunes area, and he considered
that area to be public. This former city planner also
testified that he frequented the Block M beach as a private
citizen, parking his car at the Don Vista facility and using
the beach access from there. He believed that the Block M
beach was public and that he was allowed to go there and
engage in normal beach activities. He traversed all over
Block M, observed other individuals coming and going through
the property, and saw nothing to discourage these actions.
the renovations, the City was motivated to encourage use of
the Don Vista Building and its amenities. The City also
entered into an agreement with the SunTan Art Center, a
501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, to operate the Don Vista
Building as a community art center. The facility offered arts
and crafts, yoga, art exhibits, and art sales. On Sundays,
the Suntan Art Center hosted a flea market from 10:00 a.m. to
on the Chmielewskis' Beach Parcel
trial, witnesses testified that before the City's
renovations, the Chmielewskis' property and area around
it "was quiet, serene, pleasant and peaceful, with only
an occasional neighbor coming to the beach and not much foot
traffic or heavy use." However, after the renovations,
members of the public regularly trespassed onto the
Chmielewskis' property, cutting through or walking along
the side of their residence from the public parking areas.
People also walked up the private sidewalk in front of their
house and over dunes, or from the mini-park over the dunes
and across to the Chmielewskis' beach parcel. On weekends
and holidays, beachgoers flocked to Block M in large numbers
and onto the Chmielewskis' beach parcel, often coming
down either end of Block M where City signs stated
Chmielewskis believed the people coming onto their property
were members of the general public, not subdivision residents
who had a legal right to access the beach parcel. Having
lived in the subdivision for forty-one years, the
Chmielewskis knew their neighbors and did not recognize the
people trespassing on their beach property. They testified
that Don CeSar residents "generally walked to the beach
for a short time; unlike the persons using Block M, they did
not drive there, park in the Don Vista lot or at City parking
meters, bring tents, coolers or lots of paraphernalia, stay
all day or into the night, or come in large numbers."
When the Chmielewskis spoke with people they encountered on
their beach parcel, some said they were from out of town and
others refused to answer questions.
Mr. Chmielewski called the City about unauthorized persons on
his beach parcel, the City declined to enforce its
trespassing laws. Instead, when Mr. Chmielewski placed lawn
furniture on the private sidewalk in an attempt to block the
public from walking across his beach parcel, City police
removed the furniture and threatened to arrest him.
City also facilitated public use of Block M. The City Manager
said people who used the Don Vista property could use Block M
for a wedding. And the Chmielewskis often noticed nuptials on
the beach parcel. The City held public events on Block M. It
organized a large wiffle ball tournament in 2009 that
occurred along Block M, including the beach parcel. Several
hundred individuals attended the event. A ...