Federal Portion of Lake Coeur d’Alene Beach Litigation Dropped

April 1, 2008

A judge has dismissed the federal portion of a long-running lawsuit over Lake Coeur d’Alene beachfront property rights and sent the remaining case to state court.

U.S. District Judge Edward L. Lodge denied federal claims by Sanders beach property owners that the city of Coeur d’Alene and Kootenai County caused a “taking” by unfairly denying them exclusive use of their property during litigation.

Lodge sent three other claims back to Idaho state courts.

“The one federal claim is dead unless the plaintiffs appeal judge Lodge’s decision,” City Attorney Mike Gridley told the Coeur d’Alene Press.

John Magnuson, a lawyer representing the property owners, did not say whether an appeal is planned, but said he was pleased that most of his clients’ case remains.

“Now we are all back in state court, where we started out, with three of the four claims intact,” he said.

Mike Haman, a lawyer hired by the city, said he plans to file for dismissal of the remaining claims.

The property owners filed suit after the Idaho Supreme Court ruled in September 2006 that a three-block-long section of Sanders Beach above the summer water level of 2,128 feet is private. The area had for decades been used by the public as a popular swimming hole.

During the legal arguments over the high-water mark, an injunction was issued that allowed the public to use the section of beach until a final ruling was made. The property owners alleged they suffered $486,000 in damages while the injunction was in effect.

Mediation last fall year resulted in an impasse.

“It is time for the city to seriously think about negotiating some kind of settlement with the homeowners,” Sanders Beach owner Jerry Frank said.

Lodge decided that the landowners’ federal claim was not valid because it was a court, not the city or county, that issued the injunction.

Lodge also wrote the city’s lawsuit was not frivolous, noting the state Supreme Court exhaustively analyzed whether the water mark had been correctly identified.

“Such analysis would not have been necessary if the question being asked already had been answered,” he wrote.

Litigation over Sanders Beach has been ongoing. The 10-year-old suit has already been before the Idaho Supreme Court twice.

Other litigation includes a battle over whether the city’s ordinances prohibiting building structures on the beach is legal.

Also, several property owners are seeking permits from the Idaho Department of Lands to build docks. The Idaho Department of Lands already has held a hearing on the dock proposals.

The city said the structures would interfere with the public’s traditional use of the area below the private property lines and would attract motorboats and jet skis.

Dock proponents said the law does not prohibit docks in the area.

Magnuson said earlier this month that the city changed its rules to try to create a use inconsistent with building the docks after a property owner asked for permits. Gridley said the rules were clarified because the area has always been a place for swimming.

Source: Coeur d’Alene Press.

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