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A Better Partnership
December 11, 2014

COA clarifies definition of “public highway” under Michigan’s Highway Statute

In Haynes v. Village of Beulah, No. 317391, the Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when the court broadly construed the definition of “public highway” to include village streets under a provision of Michigan’s Highway Statute, MCL 247.190.
In this case, the Village of Beulah presented plans to establish angled parking, a new sidewalk, and landscaping as an add-on to an unimproved portion of a street occupied by landscaped parts of Jeffrey and Karen Haynes’s yard.  The Hayneses and their predecessors in title had been caring for the property since the 1960s. The couple claims entitlement through acquiescence to two strips of land that consist of a portion of their driveway, a maple tree, and a strip of grass. The trial court granted summary disposition to the Village and held that MCL 247.190 precludes the Haynes from claiming title to that area.
MCL 247.190 provides that all public highways must remain a highway and a party’s encroachment on one does not give that party any title or right to the land. The legislature did not define “public highway” in the statute. The Haynes’ argued that the trial court erred by granting the Village summary disposition because the definition of “public highway” under MCL 247.190 does not include village streets and the statute does not apply to unimproved right-of-ways.
First, the Court of Appeals held that the definition of “public highway” included village streets.  The Court reasoned that modern dictionary definitions and the definition of highway accepted by the Michigan Supreme Court supports a broad reading of the term as used by the Legislature in 1925.  The Court then rejected the Hayneses’ argument that unimproved portions of streets are not public highways entitled to statutory protection. The Court opined that unimproved rights-of-way are entitled to protection because a municipality’s expenditure of public funds on a road is sufficient to constitute public acceptance of the entire width of a road, even where that municipality has never improved a specific piece of land within that road.
Therefore, the Court of Appeals held that MCL 247.190 precluded the Haynes from claiming a right to the land and affirmed the trial court’s order granting summary disposition to the Village.

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