ILNews

Court rules on 2 water-related cases

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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The Indiana Court of Appeals decided two environmental cases today involving issues pertaining to lake levels and the rights lakefront property owners enjoy.

In Center Townhouse Corp., et al. v. City of Mishawaka, No. 71A04-0612-CV-707, the court tackled an issue it hasn't specifically dealt with before and decided not to expand Indiana's riparian rights, or those privileges extended to waterfront property owners, to include the right of unobstructed view of the water.

A group of eight townhome owners brought an inverse condemnation action against the city and local parks board after it constructed a pedestrian bridge over the St. Joseph River as part of a riverwalk project. The trial court had determined the city took property interests belonging to the community and owners without just compensation, but a jury returned a no-damage verdict. Owners appealed for damages and the city cross-appealed, arguing that a taking of rights had not even occurred. The appellate court affirmed the lower court's rulings.

The appellate court analyzed state statute but determined the law isn't completely clear about what's entailed in riparian rights as far as unobstructed views. Judges relied on caselaw from Michigan, Florida, New Jersey, and Georgia that has addressed this issue and adopted those as legally protected rights.

"Landowners urge us to follow suit and hold that, in Indiana, riparian rights include the right to an unobstructed view of the water creating those riparian rights such that a loss of view is compensable in an inverse condemnation action," Judge James Kirsch wrote. "After careful consideration, we are unwilling to do so. Deciding the scope of a landowner's view (how high, how far, from what vantage point, etc.), and, if obstructed in some way for some reason, determining how much obstruction is too much, is inappropriate, if not impossible for this court."

Rather, the court pointed out that this is a policy decision best left to legislators who can work with state resource officials and local planning officials to make the best decisions.

"Those authorities, not an appellate court, should decide on proper views over and across neighboring properties and waterways, as they are in the best position to prescribe reasonable restrictions in order to protect people who have paid large sums of money in order to border Indiana's lakes, rivers, and streams," Judge Kirsch wrote.

A second decision today in Larry Bowyer d/b/a Lakes Limited Liability Corp. v. Indiana Department of Natural Resources, No. 09A02-0612-CV-1116, involves the water level of Lake Cicott in Cass County. The DNR filed a complaint against Bowyer, who'd been dumping construction debris into the public lake and altering its shoreline and water level without a permit. The trial court determined the lake was public, not a private lake as the parties had argued, and was subject to the DNR's regulation of its water level.

The appellate court affirms that decision, while indicating the state statute doesn't clearly map the process for determining what a lake level should be. The court determined Bowyer's contentions are without merit.
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  1. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  2. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

  3. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

  4. The sad thing is that no fish were thrown overboard The "greenhorn" who had never fished before those 5 days was interrogated for over 4 hours by 5 officers until his statement was illicited, "I don't want to go to prison....." The truth is that these fish were measured frozen off shore and thawed on shore. The FWC (state) officer did not know fish shrink, so the only reason that these fish could be bigger was a swap. There is no difference between a 19 1/2 fish or 19 3/4 fish, short fish is short fish, the ticket was written. In addition the FWC officer testified at trial, he does not measure fish in accordance with federal law. There was a document prepared by the FWC expert that said yes, fish shrink and if these had been measured correctly they averaged over 20 inches (offshore frozen). This was a smoke and mirror prosecution.

  5. I love this, Dave! Many congrats to you! We've come a long way from studying for the bar together! :)

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