Hickory Island Company (HICO) governs Hickory Island which is part of Grosse Ile Township, a group of islands in the Detroit River. On March 2, 2023, in Hickory Island Company v Coleman (Case No. 360848), the Michigan Court of Appeals decided a dispute between HICO and defendant property owners which focused, in part, on the distinction between a dock and a boat hoist.
While HICO’s bylaws prohibit boat hoists, the defendants’ hoist existed prior to enactment of that provision of the HICO bylaws and was allowable. HICO sued defendants in late 2020, alleging, in relevant part, that defendants violated the bylaws by maintaining their boat overnight in a hoist. Central to the hoist/dock dispute was a bylaw provision that prohibited overnight docking. HICO alleged a violation of that provision by defendants, who countered they were not docking overnight where they kept their boat lifted out of the water in a hoist.
The trial court ruled in defendants’ favor on cross-motions for summary disposition and HICO appealed. In reviewing the dispute, the Court noted that the bylaws did not specifically define any of the critical terms such as “dock,” “docking,” “docked,” or “hoist.” The Court therefore relied on definitions of these terms from the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed) and on the evidence presented to the trial court regarding the hoist functions and how it attached to the dock. The Court affirmed the trial court and ruled that storage of a boat in a hoist is not equivalent to the docking of a boat and, since the bylaws did not prohibit defendants’ storage of a boat in a hoist, there was no violation of HICO’s bylaws. The Court remanded the case to the trial court to review whether defendants improperly expanded the width of the hoist in violation of the bylaws.
As an unpublished opinion, the Court’s ruling is not controlling precedent, but is persuasive authority for consideration by other courts. The Opinion serves to highlight the need for associations and organizations to fully define important terms in their bylaws or other controlling documents. The opinion is timely as property owners and HOAs begin to prepare for the outdoor recreation season in Michigan and the riparian disputes that often arise in the first half of the year.
Learn more about the author, Mark E. Hills.