The lake-bottom property runs along the lakefront of the new Manitou Beach Marina on the former Sun-n-Snow Marina property.

Devils Lake property owners opposed to a marina being developed on the west end of the lake won a legal argument Wednesday.

Lenawee County Probate Judge Gregg P. Iddings ruled that Devils Lake Highway LLC bought lake bottom property from Delbert and Stacey Thorben, who live nearby on the lake. The Thorbens in October signed a purchase agreement with Devils Lake Highway for $5,500, but then refused to close on the sale. Devils Lake Highway then sued to force the Thorbens to close on the sale.

The lake-bottom property runs along the lakefront of the new Manitou Beach Marina on the former Sun-n-Snow Marina property.
The case was in Iddings’ court after it was moved from both circuit courts because of conflicts between those judges and attorneys involved in the case.

Devils Lake Highway attorney David Stimpson of Tecumseh said after the hearing the ruling means the sale is complete and the Thorbens need to mail a check for $5,500 to the Devils Lake Highway group.

Stimpson also said the ruling means Devils Lake Ventures LLC, which is developing the Manitou Beach Marina, is trespassing on his client’s property by placing its docks there.

In July, Stimpson said the Devils Lake Highway group is not interested in having a permanent structure built many feet out into the lake. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality had approved Devils Lake Ventures putting 114 boat slips off the shoreline. Two docks were planned: one that would have extended 336 feet into the lake and have 86 slips and another projecting 221 feet from the shore and provide 28 slips.

The marina’s owners have been putting in the docks since Iddings lifted an injunction precluding any development of the property on July 27.

Devils Lake Ventures’ attorney, Stanley Sala of Adrian, said Wednesday afternoon that the order is unenforceable and only binding on the parties named in the lawsuit.

Iddings ruled July 6 that Devils Lake Ventures did not meet the legal requirements to join Devils Lake Highway’s lawsuit against the Thorbens and removed Ventures from the case. Sala said because of that decision, the order is only binding on Devils Lake Highway and the Thorbens.

He also noted that Iddings removed language regarding littoral rights from the order. Littoral rights refers to usage of the lake by owners of adjoining dry land.

Sala said claims of trespassing are unenforceable.

“They can claim as to Thorben they own the property,” Sala said. “As to the police … we’ll say we have a deed” with a history of sales.

If a criminal trespassing complaint is made, Sala said he would expect the investigating officer to turn a report over to the Lenawee County Prosecutor’s Office for review. He said he does not think a prosecutor would pursue the case.

Sala said this ruling creates a situation where a lakefront property owner anywhere in Lenawee County could decide to sell their cottage on dry land but retain ownership of the lake bottom in front of the dry land. That owner could then come back later and tell the buyer they couldn’t place docks or other structures in the water because they didn’t own the lake bottom.

Sala said he has filed a complaint to clear title in Lenawee County Circuit Court. He said he is seeking a decree that Devils Lake Highway does not have a claim to clear title of the lake bottom.

Sala said Devils Lake Highway will have to show a chain of title and proof of ownership. He said the legal description of the property sold to Devils Lake Highway is based off an old photo that is alleged to show what the land was like before a dam was installed causing the lake level to rise decades ago.

Adrian attorney Catherine Sala, who represented the Thorbens during Wednesday’s hearing, said the property description didn’t exist until October.

Daily Telegram staff writer Dan Cherry contributed to this report.