The Coastal Law Field Lab

Program Overview

Charleston PeninsulaThe Coastal Law Field Lab is an immersive four-week, six-credit course combining an interdisciplinary in-class approach with two weekly field labs. The labs are day-long visits to sites that have been at the heart of important litigation or that illustrate national high-profile issues relating to coastal, environmental and energy law. During each lab day, students will meet on-site with practicing attorneys, parties in current cases, geologists, developers, business managers, government officials, and other experts. In the classroom, coursework will blend traditional law courses with related topics such as coastal oceanography, environmental policy, and the business of private land conservation taught by experts in that particular field.

Schedule Overview

Schedule OverviewThe University of South Carolina School of Law will run The Coastal Law Field Lab from June 18th to July 15th, 2017, in Charleston, South Carolina. Students will arrive in Charleston on Sunday, June 18th, for an opening gala where they will meet fellow students, professors, and guest lecturers and enjoy classic southern cuisine. Students who opt to live in College of Charleston housing (more information under application information) will be able to move in after noon on Sunday. If students want to explore Charleston before the program begins (or stay after the program ends) they are able to request additional days of housing.

Classes will begin on Monday with Coastal Law, the first of three modules. For the first two weeks students will study coastal land use and environmental issues. The second module, Climate Change and the Coast, will cover domestic and international climate change law, disaster law, and coastal development. The final module, Coastal Energy Law, will cover the fundamentals of energy law, offshore oil and gas law, and coastal impacts of on-shore energy. This is not your typical class because by the end of the course students will have spent eight out of the 20 class days in the field. The summer program will end on Saturday, July 15th, with an oyster roast (additional food will be provided for non-seafood lovers) to celebrate the end of the program. Students will receive one grade for the three courses which will combine their individual grades from Coastal Law (3 credits), Climate Change and the Coast (1.5 credits), and Coastal Energy Law (1.5 credits).

Example: Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council, 505 U.S. 1003, 112 S. Ct. 2886, 120 L. Ed. 2D 798 (1992)

Lucas-01To get a better idea about the course, here is an example of the comprehensive learning students will be exposed to. During the first module, Coastal Law, students will learn about Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council, a Supreme Court takings case. Students will not just read Lucas and discuss the case in class; they will learn about environmental policy from a policy expert, visit the two Lucas properties during a field lab to Isle of Palms, and hear about Lucas from individuals who were involved with the case and who deal with the consequences of the holding.

In a typical class setting students would read a description of the Lucas case similar to following: In 1986, Lucas purchased two residential, oceanfront lots for $975,000 on which he planned to build single-family residences. At the time of purchase, the lots "were located approximately 300 feet from the beach." 505 U.S. 1003, 1008 (1992). In 1988, the State of South Carolina enacted the Beachfront Management Act which made it illegal to build seaward of the baseline. Lucas' lots were entirely seaward of the baseline, and he was barred from constructing houses on the oceanfront lots. After reading the above facts, what do Lucas' lots look like? Also, what is the practical effect of the ban on building seaward of the baseline for landowners, environmentalists, state officials, etc.?

While in a typical course these questions may not be answered (with the exception of a black and white photograph in the text book), they will be explored in detail during The Coastal Law Field Lab. After reading and discussing Lucas, students will know that the United States Supreme Court reversed the South Carolina Supreme Court which held that no taking had occurred, and remanded the case. One important part of the holding was that a state can defend a takings claim with a nuisance defense only when background principals of state common law support it.

Lucas-02When students visit the two Lucas properties, they will learn about the practical and legal effects that the case has on coastal communities from discussions with their peers, guest speakers, and professors. At the site, guest speakers will include homeowners, developers, coastal geologists, environmentalists, and lawyers. Students will see the houses that have since been built on the two Lucas lots, and compare the Lucas lots to the surrounding properties. In small groups, students will discuss the consequences of the case with the guest speakers, who will share their perspectives on the case, and explain how it affected their interests. By the end of the field lab, students will have learned a lot more about the case than the holding; they will learn how the case affected different interest groups, how it impacted the law, and what issues remain. The picture of the house to the left is a picture of one of the Lucas properties from a field lab in 2011.

Student Testimonials