Caseville Beach

Beach Use – Shoreline Owners Cannot Prevent Use


An Indiana judge declined to modify citizens’ rights to use Indiana’s Lake Michigan beaches.

That left in place a July ruling, which held that Indiana owns the state’s Lake Michigan shore in trust for public uses, including swimming, sunbathing and other recreational activities. Despite competing arguments from private property owners, local residents and environmental groups, the court determined that citizens’ rights extend beyond the water to an administratively established boundary on the shore, regardless of beach ownership.

In concluding that lakefront property owners may not exclude non-residents from the shore, the court relied on a centuries-old legal principle known as the public trust doctrine. That doctrine requires each state to preserve navigable waterbodies and underlying lands for the benefit of its citizens.

While state courts have repeatedly ruled that Indiana owns the land beneath navigable waterbodies in trust for public uses, judges previously had no occasion to identify the boundary where this ownership ends on the shore. That is a complicated inquiry especially with respect to Lake Michigan, where water levels can vary substantially across seasons and from year to year.

Cited from an article by Alexis Andiman, is a graduate fellow attorney with the Conservation Law Center in Bloomington, Indiana.

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