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Epworth Forest Administration Committee, Inc. v. Powell

Court of Appeals of Indiana

June 13, 2017

Epworth Forest Administration Committee, Inc., Appellant-Defendant,
v.
Gerry Lee Powell and Patricia Ann Powell, Appellees-Plaintiffs.

         Appeal from the Kosciusko Circuit Court The Honorable Michael W. Reed, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 43C01-1602-MI-47

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Matthew R. Shipman Bloom Gates Shipman & Whiteleather, LLP Columbia City, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES Stephen R. Snyder Randall L. Morgan Snyder Morgan Federoff & Kuchmay LLP Syracuse, Indiana

          Najam, Judge.

         Statement of the Case

         [¶1] Epworth Forest Administration Committee, Inc. ("EFAC") appeals the trial court's judgment, following a bench trial, for Gerry Lee Powell and Patricia Ann Powell on the Powells' complaint against EFAC and Robert Miller and Deborah Miller.[1] This appeal arises from more than twenty-six years of litigation in the Kosciusko Circuit Court regarding rights of access to Webster Lake in Kosciusko County. In this appeal, the Millers sought to have a second boat lift added to their pier on Webster Lake. To accommodate that desire, the Millers petitioned EFAC to remove the Powells' pier on the lake. EFAC agreed to do so, and the Powells filed suit and obtained injunctive relief before the court entered a final judgment for the Powells. EFAC now appeals that judgment and raises a single issue for our review, namely, whether the trial court erred when it did not accept EFAC's interpretation of prior orders of the court. We affirm the court's judgment for the Powells.

         Facts and Procedural History[2]

         [¶2] Webster Lake is a lake in the Epworth Forest subdivision in Kosciusko County. Since 1991, rights of access to Webster Lake by onshore and offshore property owners have been litigated in the Kosciusko Circuit Court. Pursuant to various court orders in that litigation, EFAC is now empowered[3] to administer, subject to certain restrictions, the respective rights of access held by onshore and offshore property owners. In 1994, the court entered an order that established the lakeshore rights of the onshore and offshore property owners.

         [¶3] Pursuant to a November 2007 order of the court:

As a means of enforcing this Court's prior orders in this case, any party alleging that [EFAC] has acted or failed to act in violation of this Court's [1994 judgment] shall file a separate lawsuit alleging that [EFAC] has acted or failed to act in violation of this Court's [1994 judgment] . . . . The action or decision of [EFAC] will not be reversed unless such action or decision is arbitrary, unreasonable[, ] or capricious.

Ex., Tr. Vol. 3 at 30.[4]

         [¶4] In January of 2014, the trial court approved onshore and offshore rights of access to Webster Lake and, in particular, open shoreline and pier-assigned shoreline for each onshore and offshore owner. EFAC also sought to have the trial court adopt certain regulations EFAC had proposed. In its order on that request, the court stated in relevant part as follows:

Although not mandated by the Court, the regulations as adopted and applied by [EFAC] should strive to:
a) Allow/provide for a five (5) foot clearance on both sides [for a total of ten (10) feet] of the dividing line between pier sites so that a ten (10) foot buffer zone may exist between all facilities and equipment utilized on the pier sites; and
b) Burden any one on-shore owner with only one (1) off- shore pier site.

Id. at 43 (brackets in original). And the court adopted the following rules proposed by EFAC:

Pier Assignment [is defined as a]n allotted space along the Lake Webster shoreline that is assigned to an owner. All piers are privately owned and shall not be accessed without the permission of the owner.
* * *
2. ALLOWABLE ...

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