Lake Michigan Beach Access – 3 Federal Judges Agree Shoreline Owners Can’t Stop Use


A federal appeals court has refused to overturn an Indiana Supreme Court ruling that said Lake Michigan beach access to the shoreline is and has always been state property. Indiana for public use.

On May 25, 2022, the 7th United States Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled that three lakefront property owners in Porter Indiana, near Indiana Dunes State Park, ruled that their property includes a private beach , did not have standing to challenge the Indiana High Court judgment and state legislation in federal court to the newspaper Northwest Indiana Time.

Indiana Shores Pavlock v. Holcomb Case

Currently, walking on the beach is a right.

The plaintiffs in Pavlock v. Holcomb found that their beachfront property on the Indiana shore of Lake Michigan extended to the low-water mark and sued, arguing that the finding amounted to a taking of their land in violation. of the Fifth Amendment prohibition of “judicial seizure”. .” The defendants were Indiana officials in their official capacities: the governor, the director of the Department of Natural Resources, the attorney general and the director of the State Land Office.

The 7th Circuit Court upheld the dismissal of the lawsuit. The court found that none of the named officials caused the harm alleged by the plaintiffs or was capable of repairing it, so the plaintiffs lacked standing under Article III.

This ruling concluded that Indiana had owned the ground beneath Lake Michigan and the nearby shoreline up to the usual high water mark and had so since the state’s inception in 1816.

According to Circuit Judge Diane Wood, the owners have failed to prove their beach property was ‘taken’ by the state, writing for the federal appeals court, as the High Court’s opinion of 2018 pointed out that they never had a private beach on Lake Michigan.

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The Indiana Legislature passed legislation in 2020 in response to the court ruling, which upheld the public’s right to use the lake shore for walking, fishing, boating, swimming and other recreational activities . This law also stated that private property owners around Lake Michigan did not have exclusive use of the beach or the lake.

For nearly a decade, the public has fought for the right to use Lake Michigan beach access in front of private property. The case went to the US Supreme Court in 2019, but the justices declined to consider it.

Indiana Lake Michigan Beach Access Laws

That left a July 2018 ruling in place, which found that Indiana owned the Lake Michigan beach in trust for public use, such as swimming, sunbathing and other recreational activities. Despite opposing claims from private landowners, locals and environmental groups, the court ruled that people’s rights extend beyond the lake to an administratively defined shoreline boundary, independent of beach ownership.

The judges relied on an age-old legal theory known as the public trust doctrine to reach their conclusion that lakeside landowners cannot bar tourists from strolling along the beach. According to this theory, each state is obligated to protect the waterways and underlying lands for the welfare of its people.

While state courts have often ruled that Indiana owns bottom land under navigable waters in trust for public use, there was previously no mechanism to specify where that property ends on the shore. This is a tricky question, especially when it comes to Lake Michigan, where water levels can fluctuate dramatically throughout the year.

Beach access for walkers in Michigan

The Michigan State Supreme Court decided in 2005 who had access to certain parts of the beach. In that case, the court ruled that state residents had the right to walk around the public trust zone of the beach. This implies that the private shoreline owners cannot prohibit private individuals from descending along the shoreline as long as they are inside the high water mark.

Since the United States Supreme Court declined to review the Indiana case, Michigan’s current law remains in effect. However, people feared that if the United States Supreme Court reviewed a beach rights case and changed federal regulations, it would influence Michigan and the use of its beaches and coastline.

The Michigan League of Conservation Voters defines the high water mark as a place where “the presence and action of water is so constant that it leaves a distinctive mark either through erosion, loss of terrestrial flora, or other easily identifiable characteristics”.

Access to the lake does not mean you can enter by trespass

It is crucial to know that Lake Michigan beach access and walking rules do not allow walkers to cross private property to access the beach or set up on the beach for the day in front of a residence private in publicly accessible areas of the shore. . This includes rock climbing on rocks located on the shore, such as Turnip Rock near Port Austin. When in doubt, walk as close to the lake as possible to avoid encroaching on private property.

Sources: Quoted from an article by Alexis Andiman, is a licensed attorney at the Conservation Law Center in Bloomington, Indiana. Associated Press and WBOI News

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