Pavlock v. Indiana

Family sues to stop Indiana’s beachfront land grab

Cases > Property Rights > Pavlock v. Indiana
Active: Litigation is ongoing to restore beachfront property rights

The Pavlock family has owned property along Indiana’s Lake Michigan shoreline for generations. Last year, a ruling by the Indiana Supreme Court redefined state law to move lakefront owners’ property lines from the water’s edge or below to the lake’s ordinary high-water mark, turning large swaths of private beach into public property without compensation. That judicial decision took their property even though the Pavlocks were not parties to the 2018 case. Because a court, like the rest of the government, cannot take private property without paying for it, the Pavlocks are fighting back.

Indiana’s 45-mile shoreline along Lake Michigan is home to many property owners, including Randy and Kimberley Pavlock, who leave behind the busy hubbub of nearby Chicago each summer and on weekends throughout the year.

Kimberley’s family has owned the land for five generations. Today, Randy and Kimberley enjoy every minute they can at their modest two-story home on the lake with their children and grandchildren. As with many of Indiana’s lakefront owners, the Pavlocks’ official property line stretches across the beach past the water’s edge, and they pay taxes on the entire swath of land.

Though the property is privately owned, the Pavlocks and their neighbors in 1980 agreed to a federal government request for an easement to allow the members of the public who are visiting the nearby Indiana Dunes federal park to walk along their private beach—a move that the Pavlocks thought would prevent future government land grabs of their beachfront property.

In 2018, however, an Indiana Supreme Court ruling effectively took their beach away from them without any compensation; the decision moved their property line to the beach’s vegetation line (the high-water mark). The court’s decision flouted Indiana common law and the law of every other Great Lakes state and gave the state exclusive title to all the land below the lake’s high-water mark.

In doing so, the court wiped out private ownership of nearly all dry beach even though the beach still shows up on landowners’ property deeds and tax rolls. The Pavlocks can no longer use what was previously their backyard, and they have received no compensation for the taking. The public can trespass on their property, use their beach without permission, and even leave trash behind on the Pavlocks’ property—and the Pavlocks cannot turn to the state to enforce their property rights, because the state supreme court said that lakefront property owners like the Pavlocks never owned what their deeds—and property tax payments—say they own.

The Constitution says that government may take property for a public use, but that it must pay for it. This is true whether the taking is done by a local government, a state government, or, in this case, by a court whose ruling redefines the property right out of existence. Represented by PLF free of charge, the Pavlocks are fighting back with a federal lawsuit against the state of Indiana and the state’s Department of Natural Resources.

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What’s at stake?

  • Government cannot transform private property into public property without paying just compensation for it. This is true for takings by courts as well as other government entities.

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