The Michigan Court of Appeals has reversed the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by a group of Higgins Lake residents and homeowners challenging the practice of Roscommon County of keeping the lake level below the legal required level.
For years, the Roscommon County Board of Commissioners has been operating the Cut River lake level control device to handle the outflow of water from Higgins Lake and, in turn, also managing the lake water level of the 10,000 acre inland lake.
The results have been poor.
As confirmed by the appeals court, data presented from the United States Geological Survey shows that lake levels in the summer months were below the court-ordered levels two-thirds (2/3) of the time in 2016, over one quarter (1/4) of the time in 2017, and nearly ninety percent (90%) of the time in 2018. For those on the south end of the lake, that lack of six inches means not having access to boating, docks, and other summer recreational activities.
As a result of mismanagement and a questionable interpretation of required legal responsibilities, Outside Legal Counsel PLC sued for various homeowners and property owners to challenge Roscommon County's lake management practices. The lawsuit sought a "Writ of Mandamus." The issuance of a "writ" is essentially the issuance of a specialized order obtained from a court against a government or its officials requiring proper fulfillment of official duties or correct abuses of discretion.
The Roscommon County Circuit Court originally dismissed the lawsuit almost immediately and the citizens and their advocacy group, Citizens for Higgins Lake Legal Level, appealed. After holding oral arguments in early March 2022, the Court of Appeals issued its March 17 opinion concluding that the dismissal was in error.
We conclude, then, that the 1,154.11-foot level established in the 1982 court order was the lake level that defendant [Roscommon County] was required to maintain in the summer months. This, by extension, supports plaintiffs' position that defendant has a clear legal duty to maintain the 1,154.11-foot level and that, by failing to do so for several years, it has violated that duty.
The 14-page opinion concludes by remanding the case "for further proceedings consistent with this opinion."
"This is a resounding win for Higgins Lake" states Philip L. Ellison. "The ruling confirms what our team has been arguing since we started working on this project--there must be compliance with the law."
After the case returns to the local court, the lawsuit will then be able to use various legal tools, including discovery, to require the properly maintained level of Higgins Lake to be consistent with the actual-ordered summer legal level of 1,154.11 feet.
Outside Legal Counsel PLC is a Michigan law firm that specializes in property and water rights litigation. Handling disputes and matters involving easements, docks, and land boundaries, OLC represents land, home, and cabin owners throughout Michigan. More information is available at www.olcplc.com.