Developer may water ski but not build dock on lakefront property, COA rules

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A developer who sold his property in the lakefront subdivision he developed cannot now build a dock on that lake, even though he has lifetime rights to ski there, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed in a Tuesday opinion.

The dispute is centered on the Champion Lake Ski Club, located within the Champion Lakes Estates Subdivision in McCordsville. The subdivision was developed by John Huntzinger and his company, Mega Lakes Inc., and Huntzinger used to live in the subdivision.

However, after a complaint was filed against Mega Lakes in 1995, the parties in 1997 executed a settlement providing that control and title of the lake would be transferred to the Ski Club while Huntzinger would retain a lifetime inalienable right to ski on the property. Later, the Ski Club recorded covenants giving Huntzinger “unrestricted use of the Lake at all times.”

More than 20 years after the settlement, Huntzinger in February 2018 asked the Ski Club for permission to install a dock on the lake in the common area. Bryan Burney, president of the Ski Club, denied that request, writing that Huntzinger had “no standing, other than his personal right to water-ski which means he can hang onto a rope attached to a boat in motion and glide on skis on the water and nothing else.” The club later held a special meeting where Huntzinger’s request was again denied.

Huntzinger responded with a complaint for breach and intentional interference with a contractual relationship. He sought injunctive relief while Burney and the club moved for summary judgment, the latter of which was entered for the defendants in August 2020.

Huntzinger appealed but the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed in John A. Huntzinger v. Champion Lake Ski Club, Inc., and Bryan Burney, 20A-PL-1653.

“Because Huntzinger no longer owns property along Champion’s Lake, his rights are limited to those described in the Settlement and Covenants, and neither document mentions the right to construct a dock within or make any other improvements to the Common Area,” Chief Judge Cale Bradford wrote Tuesday. “Pursuant to the Settlement and Covenants, Huntzinger has the right to water ski on the lake and may undertake all necessary steps to enjoy that right, including the utilization of a boat, dock, and boat ramp required for water skiing.

“Huntzinger argues that ‘unrestricted use’ should be read broadly enough to include the right to construct a dock in the Common Area of the lake, but the documents read together indicate that his right to use the lake is limited to water skiing,” Bradford continued. “Simply put, waterskiing does not include dock building.”

Further, the COA distinguished Huntzinger’s case from Klotz v. Horn (1990), Ind., 558 N.E.2d 1096, to find that his lifetime rights were not equal to a dominant easement. And because Huntzinger had no contractual right to build a dock, Burney could not have intentionally interfered with that right, the panel ruled.

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