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Judges rule on lakefront land rights case

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The Indiana Court of Appeals has upheld a LaGrange Circuit judge’s decision granting summary judgment for a group of land owners caught up in a court dispute with neighbors about a portion of land situated between the plaintiffs’ homes and the shore of Big Long Lake.

In Brad A. Altevogt, et al. v. Dennis L. Brand, et al., No. 44A03-1106-MI-237, the COA affirmed a decision by LaGrange Circuit Judge Scott VanDerbeck in the land rights dispute between neighbors.

The plaintiffs in this case are front-lot owners in a subdivision platted in the 1930s in LaGrange County. Plaintiffs’ lots are situated near the lake with only the Indian Trail separating them from the lakeshore. The defendants are all back-lot owners who claim that their access to the lake would be impaired if the plaintiffs prevail in their claim of adverse possession of those portions of land in front of their lots.

In November 2008, the front-lot owners filed a complaint against the back-lot owners seeking to quiet title to those portions of the Indian Trail between the front lots and Big Long Lake. The trial court held a hearing on summary judgment motions from both sides in April 2011 and entered summary judgment in favor of the defendants.

The Court of Appeals rejected the plaintiffs’ arguments that the Indian Trail was dedicated as a public easement adjacent to the lake and that their fee ownership should extend to the lakeshore. The trial court didn’t address this argument because it wasn’t raised in the pleadings, and the appellate panel found that this means the argument fails.

The plaintiffs also argued there’s insufficient evidence of the original plat-owner’s intent to establish common-law dedication but that there is enough proof to establish a stator dedication. The appellate court disagreed. Specifically, the judges found that the trail was only for the use of lot owners and guests; not the public.

Finding that the trial court properly concluded the plaintiffs hadn’t established the elements of adverse possession, the appeals judges affirmed the lower court. They also pointed out that they do not read the trial court’s order to say that all lot owners are co-tenants of the Indian Trail.


 

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