Sound Rivers weighs in on public trust case

Sound Rivers is lending its support to a court decision acknowledging the state can be held accountable for its obligation to protect lands, waters or resources.

On behalf of Sound Rivers, the North Carolina Wildlife Federation and the North Carolina chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, the Southern Environmental Law Center filed an amicus brief with the courts to bolster a lawsuit filed against the State in November 2020 by Coastal Conservation Association and 86 citizen plaintiffs.

The lawsuit itself argues that by failing to properly manage coastal fisheries, allowing maximal, commercial exploitation and overfishing, the State has violated the North Carolina Constitution and the public trust doctrine, a legal doctrine under which the State holds certain natural resources in trust for its current and future citizens.

That public trust doctrine now being tested as the State, in response to the lawsuit, asked the court to dismiss the motion and to give it immunity from lawsuits of this kind — essentially denying responsibility to hold in trust and manage coastal fisheries resources for the benefit of its citizens.

In July, the court rejected the State’s motion to dismiss “in its entirety.” The State is now seeking to appeal that ruling.

The amicus brief filed by Sound Rivers addresses how the state government must be held responsible for protecting public resources and held accountable by its citizenry when it does not.

“With this brief, we are supporting the trial court’s denial of the State’s motion to dismiss this case on the grounds of ‘sovereign immunity.’ The State has an obligation to protect public resources, and if they don’t fulfill that, the public should have a right to bring forth cases like this,” said Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper Jill Howell.