A Privately Dedicated Street Is Treated the Same as a Public Street for Lake Access Purposes

In Banacki v Howe (COA No. 302778), the extent of backlotters’ right to use East Court, a 25-foot wide strip of waterfront land that lies between lots 12 and 13 in the Gilmore Beach Subdivision extending to Magician Lake, was in dispute. The Gilmore Beach Subdivision contains the Van Buren County and Cass County line.

A front-lotter brought suit to stop the back-lotters from using East Court. However, the vague private dedications provided that “The park, street, and courts, as shown on said plat are hereby dedicated to the use of persons owning land adjacent to said park, street, or courts.”

The plat also notes Lots 1 to 36 and East and West Courts all extend to the water’s edge.

First, the Court of Appeals had to answer whether the private dedication of use of East Court provide subdivision back-lotters with full riparian rights, and second whether the subdivision back-lotters had full riparian rights via a prescriptive easement.

The Court of Appeals panel found East Court to be “short street” by using a dictionary definition and surmised the plattor’s intent was to treat East Court like a public road (despite being a private dedication). The panel further held the scope of the easement intended nothing more than mere lake access because public ways that terminate at the waters’ edge are generally deemed to imply passage and to provide public access to the water.

Defendants alternatively argued that they had gained riparian rights via a prescriptive easement. The panel denied defendants’ claim on the basis that a prescriptive easement cannot arise with respect to property already subject to an easement for the benefit of an entire subdivision.

A prescriptive easement cannot be had via a private dedication simply because a lot owner “overuses” the easement.

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 www.olcplc.com.

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