April 18, 2022

Munger Tolles Team Defeats Legal Challenge to Historic Transfer of Bruce’s Beach

Attorneys at Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP convinced a judge to rule in favor of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the heirs of a family, who lost their Manhattan Beach business and property through a racially discriminatory condemnation action nearly 100 years ago.

Munger Tolles represented the Bruce family, which successfully intervened in the taxpayer action attempting to prevent the County’s return of the beachside property to the descendants of Willa and Charles Bruce. The Bruces, in the 1920s, owned and ran a successful beachfront resort in Manhattan Beach, known as Bruce’s Beach, catering to African-Americans. Because African Americans were generally forbidden from using bathhouses and resorts along the California coast during this era of Jim Crow, the Bruces’ business effectively provided Black Angelinos access to the beach.  In an effort to keep Black people out, the City of Manhattan Beach initiated condemnation proceedings and eventually took away the Bruces’ business and property in 1929.    
In 2021, recognizing the racially motivated and unconstitutional wrong done to the Bruces, the Legislature passed SB 796 to allow the property’s return to the Bruce family and the County began the process of finalizing the transfer. A lawsuit was filed, however, challenging the constitutionality of the return. In court documents, the petitioner alleged there is no public purpose to rectifying past governmental racial discrimination against the Bruces, and he filed motions to prevent the County from returning the land.  

Following briefing and argument, the Court denied the petitioner’s efforts, finding that the County was acting lawfully in returning the property to address the shameful injustice of the 1920s. Specifically, the Court found, “where the appropriation of public funds and/or property is to address and/or remedy racial discrimination committed by the government, it serves a public purpose. Righting a government wrong perpetrated in breach of our core and fundamental constitutional principles works to strengthen governmental integrity, represents accountability in government and works to eliminate structural racism and bias.” 

With the Court’s ruling, the path is clear for the County to finalize the transfer of Bruce’s Beach to the Bruce family. 
“The judge’s ruling affirms the right of the State and County to cause the return of the property to the Bruce heirs in order to address racial discrimination committed by the government,” E. Martin Estrada, who led the Munger Tolles team, said. “We are extremely pleased with the Court’s decision and hope that there will be no further delays in this historic and long overdue restoration of Bruce’s Beach to descendants of the Bruce family.” 

In addition to Estrada, the Munger Tolles team included John Schwab, Michael E. Soloff and Wesley T.L. Burrell.