The Maine Superior Court dismissed all claims against five intertidal landowners represented by Verrill in Masucci vs. Judy’s Moody, LLC. The landowners had been prosecuted for contacting the Maine Marine Patrol to report the illegal removal of rockweed from their intertidal lands and for advocating for rockweed conservation.
Rockweed harvesters and other plaintiffs have singled out these coastal landowners and others as defendants in an attempt to convince the Maine judiciary to undo hundreds of years of property law by reallocating all intertidal land to state property. Since 1641, intertidal lands in Massachusetts and what is now Maine have been privately owned, usually by the owner of the adjacent lands. The Superior Court rejected the plaintiffs’ unsubstantiated arguments that all intertidal lands belong to the state.
The claims against Verrill’s landowner customers were dismissed pursuant to a special motion to dismiss based on Maine’s anti-SLAPP law. SLAPP stands for strategic pursuit against public participation. The law protects people who have been sued solely because they exercised their First Amendment right to petition the government or otherwise engage in lawful public speech. The court found that four of Verrill’s clients were prosecuted because of “their respective reports to Maine Marine Patrol” regarding the illegal harvesting of bladderwrack on their property. The court found that another Verrill client was sued as a “direct result of her defense of bladderwrack conservation.” The court found that this First Amendment activity had a reasonable basis in fact and law, and was therefore protected under the anti-SLAPP law.
The legal basis for the landowner reports and defense is the 2019 Maine Supreme Court decision in Ross v. Acadian Seaweedwhich ruled unanimously that the public could not harvest the attached intertidal kelp without permission from the landowner.
Only one plaintiffs claim survived the dismissal. This claim is against three property owners on Moody Beach in Wells and asks the court to find that the public has the right to use private intertidal land to walk, run or conduct scientific research.