Indiana Supreme Court Rules the Shoreline Belongs to Hoosiers

In a huge win for the public trust doctrine and the people of Indiana, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that the State of Indiana owns the beach up to the ordinary high water mark, defined as the mark where one can visibly see the evidence of high water as part of the lake’s natural cycle. Along Indiana’s Lake Michigan shoreline, this is often the edge of the dunes.

Lakefront private landowners claimed to own the shoreline below this mark, which threatened the public trust doctrine, a principle that the public has the right to access natural and cultural resources preserved for public use, and a critical piece of natural resource protection. Save the Dunes and the Alliance for the Great Lakes, represented by the Conservation Law Center’s staff attorney Jeff Hyman, intervened in the case as a defendant to protect the public’s right to access Lake Michigan, and celebrate this ruling as a win for the public as well as the ecological health of Lake Michigan and its shoreline. Shorelines provide important ecological benefits, serving as a buffer zone between the lake and adjacent land use.

The road to the Supreme Court decision was not a simple one; this case has been considered by the Indiana Trial Court and Court of Appeals, with rulings that did not fully uphold the public trust doctrine. Thanks to the pro bono efforts of attorney Jeff Hyman and numerous law students at the Conservation Law Center, the fight for the public’s right to access the lakefront was taken to the Indiana Supreme Court and won. Save the Dunes has appreciated the partnership of Alliance for the Great Lakes, the Long Beach Community Alliance, Jeff Hyman, and the Conservation Law Center in this effort to protect the Lake Michigan shoreline and uphold the public’s right to enjoy and steward it in perpetuity.

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