« Ind. Gov't. - Some weekend reactions to, and stories on, the RFRA controversy | Main | Ind. Decisions - Court of Appeals issues 2 opinion(s) today (and 13 NFP memorandum decisions) »

Monday, March 30, 2015

Ind. Decisions "Court of Appeals rules for Long Beach homeowners" [Updated]

LBLHA, LLC, Margaret L. West, and Don H. Gunderson v. Town of Long Beach, Indiana, Alliance for the Great Lakes and Save the Dunes, Long Beach Community Alliance, Patrick Cannon, et al., a Court of Appeals opinion issued March 26th, is the subject of a brief story posted last evening in the Michigan City News-Dispatch. Some quotes:

LONG BEACH — The Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of Long Beach property owners along Lake Michigan who claim the Town of Long Beach acted unconstitutionally to take their beach property.

In a 3-0 decision last week, the Appellate Court reversed summary judgments by La Porte County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Alevizos in December 2013 and April 2014 and sent the dispute back to his court. The Appellate Court also allowed the state, or appropriate state officials, to be a party or parties to the lawsuit.

In essence, the appellate court revived all property claims by the private beachfront owners and allowed them to proceed with their lawsuit against the town. If they prevail, the town could be held legally liable for damages.

Alevizos' two decisions had upheld the town's definitions of what constituted private and public property, and the boundary between them, along the stretch of beach in Long Beach.

In his ruling, Alevizos cited the court case United States v. Carstens, which says, "According to the Indiana 'public trust doctrine,' the beach area between the ordinary high watermark (581.5 feet) and the edge of the water of Lake Michigan is public land not owned by any person, entity or municipality."

Alevizos later clarified he is not qualified to determine ownership of the land between the water's edge and the ordinary high water mark, saying it is a matter that must be handled by the Indiana Legislature or an appellate court in a case in which the state is a party.

As plaintiff, the Long Beach Lakeshore Homeowners Association (LBLHA) contended the boundary between public land and private land along the beach should be the water's edge – the line at which the water usually stands when undisturbed. The owners say their property deeds and plats support their contention that their property extends at least to the water's edge.

The property owners have contended that through such measures as newsletters and the Town Council's resolutions, the Town of Long Beach has put itself at the risk of liability for compensating the property owners.

Stewards of Our Shores, a nonprofit organization maintained by LBLHA, said Thursday's appeals court ruling stands as "a cautionary tale," both for municipalities and for anyone who uses the lakefront without concern for trespassing.

Here is a long list of ILB posts on Lake Michigan shorefront property rights.

[Updated on April 6th] On April 3rd the News Dispatch posted a second story, by Jessica O'Brien, that reported:

LONG BEACH — In response to an article in The News-Dispatch on March 30 that announced a ruling in favor of Long Beach homeowners – based on a news release received from an organization called Stewards of Our Shores – the Long Beach Community Alliance issued a release of its own saying the idea of the previous story was misleading.

While the article said the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of Long Beach property owners on Lake Michigan, the court case is far from over. That decision, said Patrick Cannon of the Long Beach Community Alliance, simply means the state must be made a party in the case that had previously been appealed.

However, a second lawsuit has already been filed by the plaintiffs in that case listing the state as a party. That case is scheduled to go before Judge Richard Stalbrink in La Porte County Superior Court No. 2 for a hearing later this month.

This ongoing court battle began with a suit filed years ago in which the Long Beach Lakefront Homeowners Association and two individual property owners fought the town of Long Beach over where their property line was officially drawn.

Homeowners on the lake believe their property extends at least to the Lake Michigan water line. The rest of the town of Long Beach, however, argues that property lines end at the ordinary high water mark, or an elevation of 581.5 feet.

La Porte County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Alevizos already ruled on this case in 2013 – ruling against the Long Beach beachfront homeowners. This resulted in the case being appealed and the second court case being filed.

The Long Beach Community Alliance, which has been included as an interested party in both cases, issued a statement which stated, "We would like to go on the record as being highly critical of the beachfront residents who comprise the membership of the Long Beach Lakefront Homeowners Association for their recklessness in misleading The News-Dispatch regarding the true ruling of the appellate court in a legal action pending before the courts."

"The State of Indiana has clearly gone on record in the second court case as opposing the assertions of ownership of the beachfront plaintiffs and maintains that the beachfront is not privately owned but rather owned by the state in trust and for the benefit of all citizens," according to the news release.

Both sides made statements in regards to wanting the matter to be settled for the benefit of the entire community.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 30, 2015 10:31 AM
Posted to Ind. App.Ct. Decisions