U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson of the Northern District of Florida heard arguments from both attorneys representing the plaintiffs and attorneys representing Walton County by phone on Monday, and denied an emergency motion that would have allowed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and other beach-front owners near Pensacola to be exempted from an order that closed all public and private beaches in their county amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Huckabee, a Republican, and more than a dozen other owners of beachfront property along the Gulf of Mexico in Walton County sued last week after the county closed the beaches in an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus.
The complaint said that the plaintiffs have been following the federal government’s social distancing guidelines and have never had more than 10 people together at a time. They also said in their complaint that county officials and officials from the local sheriff’s office had been patrolling and occupying their private properties and that “through threats of prosecution including fines of up to $500 and jail (up to 60 days), have physically prevented Plaintiffs from being able to use or even set foot in their own backyards.”
The plaintiffs also asked that the court declare the county’s decision to close private beaches unconstitutional and to award them “just compensation” for the temporary use of their properties by the county.
According to local newspaper The Walton Sun, Vinson said Monday that, “Public beach on the Gulf of Mexico is not defined by legal ownership, but by what is the beach.”
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