Dock Rights May Be Established by Prescriptive Easement

A question long unanswered under Michigan law is whether the right to the placement of a seasonal dock can be established using the equitable doctrine of prescriptive easement? The answer is yes

In Andrews v Alter, the defendant’s dock was placed outside her riparian property lines, as both parties’ surveyors concluded that defendant’s dock encroached on plaintiffs’ riparian property. Defendant also testified that she has not changed the location or direction of the dock since buying the property in 1988.

The Michigan Court of Appeals held, without fanfare or fight, that “it is beyond contention that defendant used plaintiffs’ riparian land openly, notoriously, and continuously for a period in excess of 15 years” and thus had obtained a prescriptive easement to place a dock on riparian land belonging to plaintiff.

Thus, the trial court properly concluded that the evidence presented at trial established the elements of a prescriptive easement regarding the placement of the seasonal dock.

The Andrews panel also gave its blessing to the contention that at 15 years of seasonal use of a seasonal dock fulfills the requirement of being continuous under a prescriptive easement or adverse possession claim, even though a dock’s use ceases in a Michigan winter. The Court of Appeals likened the yearly seasonal use of a dock to seasonal use of a pathway to access a summer cottage.

Author: Philip Ellison

Philip L. Ellison, MBA, JD, Esq is an attorney, business counselor, and civil litigator with Outside Legal Counsel PLC. He represents riparians, backlotters, and others protecting water access on Michigan's recreational lakes. Visit his online profile at

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