Patricia Paruch, Kemp Klein Law Firm
Adverse Possession and Plats: Beach v. Township of Lima
By David Pierson, McClelland & Anderson LLP
The Supreme Court affirmed in Beach v. Township of Lima, (Mich.App. No. 139394, WL 2175850, June 3, 2011) that the Land Division Act (LDA)(MCL 560.221 et seq.) is not an exclusive remedy or comprehensive source for all rights to platted property. The Court affirmed the Court of Appeals' holding and followed the amicus brief filed for the Real Property Law Section, in holding that an action to quiet title is still the proper remedy to validate title acquired by adverse possession, even to property dedicated in a plat. The Court's opinion recognizes that substantive property rights are established by other statutory and common law. A plat is intended to reflect those rights, although as a practical matter, particularly in older plats, it may not. The LDA is not, in any event, an exclusive remedy to establish those rights, sparing the Beach family and others in like circumstances from more complicated and difficult legal actions.
The Beach family acquired their property, part of an 1835 plat, and fenced, farmed, and occupied it for over 100 years without regard to privately dedicated streets in the plat. When Lima Township moved to develop part of two paper streets to serve a new fire station, the Beach family brought an action to quiet title. Lima Township, joined by the state on appeal, said the Beach family must instead bring an action under the LDA because the effect of their title claim would be to vacate, correct, or revise the plat. A suit under the LDA requires joining anyone with an interest in land within 300 feet of the plat, the municipality, drain commissioner, road commission, various state departments, and public utilities with any installations in the plat. Any reasonable objection from any of the defendants will bar relief. In re Gondek, 69 Mich App 73 (1976). While the elements and standard for showing title by adverse possession are stringent, the action is much simpler and in this case required only one defendant, as Lima Township owned all of the other land in the plat.
The Beach opinion clarifies the holding in Tomecek v. Bavas, 482 Mich 484 (2008) that the Land Division Act "was never intended to enable a court to establish an otherwise nonexistent property right. Rather, the act allows the court to alter a plat to reflect property rights already in existence." The Beach family's quiet title action was the appropriate action to establish their entitlement to a substantive property right. Only then would there be a legal or record basis for them to seek a vacation, correction, or revision of the plat.
As the Section's brief explained, the provisions of the LDA do not, by their terms, subsume the action to quiet title on an adverse possession claim or show an intention to abrogate the underlying common law or statutory claim. The provisions for altering a plat under the LDA serve other goals. For practitioners with an interest in this area, the Court's opinion reconciles Tomecek v. Bavas, supra, and Martin v. Beldean, 469 Mich 541 (2004) (although not to everyone's satisfaction), and for disputes related to platted property, makes the choice of action far simpler.
EDITORS' NOTE: The Real Property Law Section would like to thank David Pierson and peer reviewer Scott Timmer for their authorship of the RPLS amicus brief in the Beach case. Careful readers will note that the Court quoted certain portions of the RPLS amicus brief verbatim.
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July 20–23, 2011
July 12, 2011