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139394 - Beach v Township of Lima

Florence Beach, Cynthia B. Guthrie, Donald E. Jaekle, Jr., as Trustee of the Ann B. Jaekle Revocable Trust, Lillian B. Mumaw, and Dwight E. Beach, Jr.,
 
Gary P. Supanich
 
Plaintiffs/Counter-Defendants/Appeallees,
 
v
(Appeal from Ct of Appeals)
 
 
(Washtenaw – Shelton, D.)
 
Township of Lima,
 
Victor L. Lillich
 
Defendant/Counter-Plaintiff/Appellant,
 
and
 
 
Jeffrey V. Munger,
 
 
 
Defendant.
 

​Plaintiffs/Counter-Defendants/Appellees' Brief on Appeal>>

Defendant/Counter-Plaintiff/Appellant's Reply Brief>>

Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth's Amicus Curiae Brief>>

Michigan Municipal League, Michigan Township Association, and Public Corporation Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan's Amici Curiae Brief>>

The Real Property Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan's Amicus Curiae Brief>>

Summary

​In 1835, a plat for Harford Village in Washtenaw County was recorded. North Street, East Street and Cross Streets are shown on the plat, but were never developed or used as roads. The Beach Farm encompasses a significant portion of the Harford Village plat property, including the areas designated as North Street, East Street and Cross Street. These areas have been fenced in and used as part of the farm for more than 100 years. Florence Beach, the great-great-granddaughter of the farm’s original owner, has an ownership interest in the farm, as do her siblings.

In 2004, the Township of Lima purchased land near Beach Farm, intending to use the land for a fire station. Beach claims that the township breached a Beach Farm boundary fence. The township took that action to open the streets as dedicated in the plat and allow access to the proposed fire station. Florence Beach, later joined by her siblings, sued the township to quiet title to the platted streets. She argued that the streets had never been used and did not exist, and that title to the streets had merged into the title of the Beach Farm by adverse possession and abandonment. The township filed its own claim to quiet title. The platted streets had not been vacated, the township maintained; if they were vacated, title would have vested in the owners of the lots abutting the vacated streets. Moreover, the Beach Farm plaintiffs had failed to state a claim because an action to vacate streets created by a plat had to be brought under the Land Division Act, the township contended.

But the trial court rejected that argument, holding that the LDA did not apply. After an evidentiary hearing, the trial court granted summary disposition in favor of the plaintiffs, finding that title to the platted streets had merged into the farm’s title by reason of adverse possession. In Michigan, under the doctrine of adverse possession, a landowner can lose title to property if another possesses it for 15 years; the possession must be actual, visible, open, notorious, exclusive, uninterrupted, hostile to the owner’s rights and under cover of a claim of right. The trial court ruled that the plaintiffs had adversely possessed the streets at issue to the detriment of all other landowners in the plat by using the property designated as streets for planting and farming for many years and by erecting and maintaining a fence around the farm that included the designated streets. In a published opinion, the Court of Appeals affirmed the circuit court. The Court of Appeals ruled that the LDA was not applicable because the plaintiffs did not seek to “vacate, correct or revise” a dedication in a recorded plat. Private easements dedicated in plats can be adversely possessed, and the plaintiffs had proven the elements of adverse possession sufficiently for a grant of summary disposition, the Court of Appeals concluded. The township appeals.