Plaintiffs/Counter Defendants-Appellants' Brief on Appeal>>
Defendants/Counter Plaintiffs-Appellees' Brief on Appeal>>
County Road Commission of Michigan's Amicus Curiae Brief>>
Michigan Waterfront Alliance and the Higgins Lake Property Owners Association's Amici Curiae Brief>>
The eight plaintiffs own front lots along Beach Drive, which runs along the north shore of Lake Charlevoix. Beach Drive was dedicated to the public for public use in 1911. It does not actually touch the water’s edge; there is a small strip of land with some trees between the water’s edge and the roadway. The legal descriptions of the plaintiffs’ properties do not extend to the lake’s edge, nor is there a grant of riparian rights to these plaintiffs in their deeds of record. Nonetheless, over the years, the plaintiffs have used the lake in front of their lots and, in some instances, have built docks extending into the lake. Other property owners, whose lots do not abut Beach Drive, also allegedly began using the waterfront in front of the plaintiffs’ homes. The plaintiffs argued that these back lot owners were violating the plaintiffs’ riparian rights.
The plaintiffs sued the back lot owners, the Charlevoix County Road Commission, and Charlevoix Township, alleging claims of trespass and nuisance and seeking injunctive and equitable relief. The Road Commission, which maintains Beach Drive, filed a counterclaim, alleging that the plaintiffs trespassed on Beach Drive by maintaining encroachments on the drive, including docks, fencing, and landscaping. The back lot owners also filed a counterclaim, arguing that they obtained riparian rights by adverse possession or, in the alternative, obtained easements, either by acquiescence or by prescription.
The plaintiffs moved for partial summary disposition against the Road Commission, alleging that they are entitled to riparian rights as a matter of law. The plaintiffs argued that because their lots were separated from the water by a roadway contiguous to the water, their lots were riparian. In the plaintiffs’ view, the Road Commission has a right to the use of Beach Drive as a roadway only. In response, the Road Commission argued that the plaintiffs did not have riparian rights because the public holds Beach Drive pursuant to the 1911 dedication under the applicable plat act, which means that the plaintiffs’ lands are not riparian. The trial court denied the plaintiffs’ motion. The court found that the 1911 dedication resulted in the “property [being] vested in the public.” It followed, in the trial court’s view, that because the plaintiffs “do not hold fee title to the waterfront land in front of their respective lots, they do not possess riparian rights.” In a published per curiam opinion, the Court of Appeals affirmed. After considering “the language of the dedication, the depiction of the plat, as well as the surrounding circumstances,” the Court of Appeals held that the plaintiffs did not have riparian rights. The plaintiffs appeal.