The U.S. Supreme Court could take on an Indiana legal dispute over who should have access to Lake Michigan’s shoreline. The State of Indiana and a community group both filed briefs on Friday urging the court not to hear the case.
It all started in 2012, when Bobbie and Donald Gunderson filed suit against the Town of Long Beach for allowing the public to use their property — which they said extended to the water’s edge. But last year the Indiana Supreme Court disagreed and said their property only came to where the high water mark usually hits the beach.
That ruling was based on a century-old federal doctrine that granted Indiana and other states that border navigable water the rights to the shore and a certain distance into the water.
Patricia Sharkey is the lawyer representing one of the defendants in the case, the Long Beach Community Alliance. She says while some states — like Michigan — gave their title to the shore to lakeside property owners, Indiana never did.
Sharkey says now that small cottages along the lake have been replaced by million dollar homes, some of those homeowners feel entitled to a private shore.
“There’s a whole community of members of the public and residents using those beaches for generations,” Sharkey says.
Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher says the state Supreme Court was willing to take the case on — despite the fact that Bobbie and Donald Gunderson no longer own the property — but he says the Supreme Court should be more strict.
“In our view, the Gundersons having sold the property means they no longer have an interest in the case and the court doesn’t have jurisdiction to hear it,” he says.
We couldn’t reach the lawyer representing the Gundersons for comment.
Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.