3 Indiana homeowners aim to limit Lake Michigan beach access

Three lakefront property owners in a northwestern Indiana town are challenging a state Supreme Court ruling that guaranteed public access to Lake Michigan beaches.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday in a Hammond federal district court on behalf of Porter homeowners Randall and Kimberley Pavlock, who own a Chicago property management and brokerage company, and Raymond Cahnman, chairman of the TransMarket Group trading firm and a former director of the Chicago Board of Trade, The (Northwest Indiana) Times reported.

The suit seeks to repeal the Indiana Supreme Court’s landmark 2018 Gunderson v. State ruling that established that the lake’s shoreline is open to all and that adjacent property owners can’t exercise exclusive control of the beach between their homes and the water. The decision set the ordinary high water mark, defined as the line on the shore created by the fluctuations of water, as the boundary between the state-owned land under Lake Michigan and the interests of private property owners.

Within that area, people are permitted to access the water for the traditional purposes of navigation, commerce or fishing. The court also said walking on the beach is a protected public use, and the Indiana General Assembly can guarantee more recreational beach uses.

The plaintiffs contend the ruling illegally removed their private beaches without compensation, and they want the federal court to prohibit Indiana from enforcing the ruling so they can regain control of who uses the beach near their homes.

Their assertion is based on property deeds showing ownership expanding beyond the lake’s high water mark and historical records of lakefront land sales that contained property now recognized as state-owned, including land that was bought for what currently is Indiana Dunes National Park.

“The Gunderson decision was an abrupt change in state law that unsettled plaintiffs’ property rights. The Indiana Supreme Court ignored not only its own precedent, but Indiana’s history,” the argue in the lawsuit.

In February, the US Supreme Court declined to consider the Gunderson ruling, which was left as the final word on the lake’s property rights and public beach access in Indiana until the latest suit.

The office of Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill Jr. said it is reviewing the Porter lawsuit and vowed to “vigorously defend” the state’s interests.

State Sen. Karen Tallian, a candidate for Indiana attorney general, said she expects Indiana to file a motion to dismiss that should ultimately end the case.

“This property was not taken from them because they never owned it,” Tallian said. “I can write up a deed and sell you the Brooklyn Bridge — doesn’t mean I own it.”

Indiana has until early 2020 to respond to the lawsuit.

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