On December 7th, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled that Indiana's Lake Michigan shoreline is held in trust for the public up to the ordinary high-water mark. The opinion, setting an important precedent, recognizes the public trust in Indiana.
The three takeaways from the court's opinion are as follows:
1) The Public Trust Doctrine Is Defined in Indiana: In this opinion, the Appellate Court upheld the LaPorte Superior Court's ruling that the public trust does, in fact, apply to Indiana’s Lake Michigan shoreline up to the ordinary high-water mark. Everyone is allowed to enjoy and use that portion of the beach.
2) The Line Is Drawn: The Appellate Court recognized that the true boundary of the public trust is the ordinary high-water mark as defined at common law. In doing so, the Appellate Court reversed the Superior Court’s ruling that the ordinary high water mark was fixed at an elevation of 581.5 ft. Physical characteristics now determine the line.
3) Ownership Is Private: The Appellate Court ruled that the public trust and private ownership co-exist. Private landowners own the land that is held in trust for the public.
All in all, the opinion is an important case of first impression in Indiana and sets a precedent for the public trust. While it is possible that the outcome may change on appeal, the Appellate Court’s decision gives cause for celebration because the beach is ours to use and enjoy.