Beach v. Lima Twp.

Decision Date21 April 2009
Docket NumberDocket No. 274920.
Citation770 N.W.2d 386,283 Mich. App. 504
CourtCourt of Appeal of Michigan — District of US

Before: WILDER, P.J., and MURPHY and METER, JJ.


In this property dispute, defendant Lima Township (defendant or the township) appeals by right the trial court's order granting plaintiffs' motion for summary disposition. We affirm.


In 1835, a plat was made for Harford Village and recorded. The plat established 68 lots in six blocks. Jackson Road, adjacent to the village, is a state public road, and West Street, shown on the plat, is a county public road. The other roads shown on the plat (North, South, East, and Cross streets) were not developed or used as roads.

The northern boundary of plaintiffs' property, know as the Beach farm, is interstate highway 94. The Beach farm includes lots 1 through 14 of block 1 of the plat (together these lots are known as parcel 1) and lots 1 through 6 of block 3 of the plat (together these lots are known as parcel 2).

The first recorded conveyance was a deed to William Beach in 1854. William Beach was Florence Beach's great-great-grandfather. Florence Beach's father, Dwight Beach, was born in the farmhouse located on the Beach farm. But the Beach family left the farm in 1922. From 1922 to sometime between 1967 and 1969, none of the Beach family lived or worked on the farm. Instead, a tenant farmer lived and worked there.

In 1954, the township received a conveyance of lots 4 and 11 of block 1. The deed was by reference to the recorded plat. This property was and continues to be used for a township hall. In 1967 or 1969, Dwight Beach retired from the service and returned to the farm with Florence Beach, who was 14 years old. They erected fences on the property, extending them into areas designated on the plat as roads.

In 2004, the township acquired lots 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, and 14 of block 1 by a deed that referred to "the south 25 feet of Lots 12, 13, and 14 deeded for highway purposes." The township's four northerly lots (lots 4, 5, 6, and 7) are bounded by platted but undeveloped roads only, with no direct access to a developed road except through the township's southerly lots (lots 11, 12, 13, and 14) to Jackson Road. The township plans to construct a fire station on its northerly lots and to use North and Cross streets within the plat for ingress and egress.

In August 2004, according to plaintiffs' complaint, the township breached plaintiffs' boundary fence on the north side of lots 4, 5, 6, and 7 of block 1. The township took that action under a claim of right to open the streets, as dedicated in the plat. Plaintiffs responded by claiming that the Beach farm includes the platted streets because such streets were never used, opened, or accepted by the public or by any lot owner. Plaintiffs argued that the platted streets did not exist and that title to the platted but unused streets had merged into the title of the Beach farm by adverse possession and abandonment. The township responded that the dedicated streets on the plat had not been vacated and that, if and when they were vacated, title would have vested in the owners of the lots abutting the vacated streets.


Florence Beach brought this action to quiet title to the streets at issue, based on adverse possession claims, and the other plaintiffs were joined later. The township filed a counterclaim to quiet title to the streets. Defendant filed a motion for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(8) and (10), claiming that plaintiffs had failed to state a claim because an action to vacate streets created by a plat had to be brought under the Land Division Act (LDA), specifically under MCL 560.221 through 560.229, the provisions concerning plats. Plaintiffs filed a countermotion for summary disposition under subrules C(8), (9), and (10).

The trial court denied defendant's motion, holding that the LDA did not apply. It took plaintiffs' motion under advisement. Defendant filed a motion for reconsideration, arguing that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to alter or revise a plat under a quiet title action and that such revision could only occur under an LDA action. The trial court again denied relief and proceeded to hold an evidentiary hearing on the adverse possession question. Following the hearing, the trial court issued an opinion and order granting plaintiffs' motion for summary disposition.


The township first argues that the trial court erred by not dismissing plaintiffs' action because plaintiffs' claim was not brought under the LDA. We disagree.


We review de novo summary dispositions. Willett v. Waterford Charter Twp., 271 Mich.App. 38, 45, 718 N.W.2d 386 (2006). Statutory interpretation, including interpretation of the LDA, is a question of law reviewed de novo. Martin v. Beldean, 469 Mich. 541, 546, 677 N.W.2d 312 (2004). A claim for adverse possession is equitable in nature. See Mulcahy v. Verhines, 276 Mich.App. 693, 698, 742 N.W.2d 393 (2007). And decisions regarding equitable claims, defenses, doctrines, and issues are reviewed de novo. Dyball v. Lennox, 260 Mich.App. 698, 703, 680 N.W.2d 522 (2004). Whether the trial court erred by trying this matter as a quiet title action rather than requiring an action to vacate a road under the LDA is a question of law reviewed de novo. Hall v. Hanson, 255 Mich.App. 271, 276, 664 N.W.2d 796 (2003).


This appeal hinges on the interpretation of Martin and its companion case, Little v. Hirschman, 469 Mich. 553, 677 N.W.2d 319 (2004). Also implicated is the Supreme Court's recent decision in Tomecek v. Bavas, 482 Mich. 484, 759 N.W.2d 178 (2008). Plaintiffs argue that Martin is inapplicable because it applies to private dedications filed on or after January 1, 1968, and rely instead on Little, which holds that "dedications of land for private use in plats before 1967 PA 288 took effect convey at least an irrevocable easement in the dedicated land." Little, 469 Mich. at 564, 677 N.W.2d 319. We agree with plaintiffs that Little is applicable because the plat dedication at issue here occurred before 1967 PA 2881 took effect.

Since Little is applicable here, we consider whether the second holding of Martin, "that the exclusive means available when seeking to vacate, correct, or revise a dedication in a recorded plat is a lawsuit filed pursuant to MCL 560.221 through 560.229," is also circumscribed by the January 1, 1968, date. Martin, 469 Mich. at 542-543, 677 N.W.2d 312. We are persuaded that Martin and the LDA are not applicable to the present case because plaintiffs did not seek in this action "to vacate, correct, or revise a dedication in a recorded plat." Therefore, the trial court did not err by allowing plaintiffs' quiet title claim to proceed.

Given that the trial court properly allowed plaintiffs' quiet title claim to proceed, we next consider whether private easements dedicated in plats can be adversely possessed. We hold that they can.

The parties are in agreement that the 1835 recording of the plat constituted a private dedication that encompassed, in part, North and Cross streets, which, although platted, were never developed as streets. The township planned to use that section of North Street located north of an area referred to as block 1 and that section of Cross Street located east of block 1 for ingress to and egress from a fire station to be constructed on adjacent lots within block 1. The trial court found that plaintiffs had established ownership of the relevant portions of the streets in dispute, under the doctrine of adverse possession.

Reading together the opinions in Martin and Little, we conclude that private dedications in plats filed on or after January 1, 1968, are expressly recognized and permitted under Michigan law, MCL 560.253(1) (enacted as part of 1967 PA 288), and that private dedications in plats registered before January 1, 1968, such as the dedication here, are likewise legally sound. There is a distinction between pre-1968 private dedications and ones contained in plats filed thereafter, which is that "a private dedication made before 1967 PA 288 took effect conveyed an irrevocable easement, whereas MCL 560.253(1) now indicates that a private dedication conveys a fee interest. . . .". Martin, 469 Mich. at 548 n. 18, 677 N.W.2d 312. But even though a fee simple interest is conveyed, lot owners in the subdivision cannot use the dedicated land for any purpose they desire. Rather, use must be compatible and consistent with the dedicatory language. Id. at 549 n. 19, 677 N.W.2d 312.

Here, given the plat and dedication date of 1835, an irrevocable easement, as opposed to a fee simple interest, was created in favor of the lot owners. The private dedication became irrevocable on the sale of the lots. Little, 469 Mich. at 558-559, 677 N.W.2d 319. "[A] private dedication is effective upon the sale of a lot because it is reasonably assumed that the value of that lot, as enhanced by the dedication, is reflected in the sale price. That is, purchasers relied upon the dedications that made the property more desirable." Id. at 559, 677 N.W.2d 319. A landowner is considered to have accepted "any private dedication in a plat when property is purchased pursuant to a deed that references the plat." Martin, 469 Mich. at 549 n. 19, 677 N.W.2d 312.

Stated otherwise, "purchasers of parcels of property conveyed with reference to a recorded plat have the right to rely on the plat reference and are presumed to `accept' the benefits and any liabilities that may be associated with the private dedication." Id. Quoting Minnis v. Jyleen, 333 Mich. 447, 454, 53 N.W.2d 328 (1952), Little stated that the "`rights granted under the dedicatory clauses in the plat to the owners of lots in ...

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