Alderson v. Fatlan

Supreme Court of Illinois, September 18, 2008


A roughly 20-acre quarry had been operated by the defendant next to the McElvains' property. For a length of 300–400 feet, it accidentally ran 10–20 feet over McElvains' property line even. In 1974 the mining ceased and the quarry was allowed to fill with water. It was then just used as a recreational lake.

The miner, defendant, then built five houses on the lakeside in 1981 and created a trust to share the lake among the five families. In 1988, the McElvains sold their house to the plaintiffs, the Aldersons. The Aldersons immediately blocked off their portion of a path that ran around the lake. Defendant offered to buy the plaintiffs' property, but they declined and started to build their own house.

Defendant and the other four homeowners filed an action to quiet title to the strip of the lake which ran on plaintiffs' property through adverse possession, but were denied. They then just built a fence through the lake along the property line, cutting plaintiffs off to just their 10–20 foot strip.

Plaintiff's Argument:

Owning any part of a lake bed of a private lake entitles such owner to free use of the entire lake.

Procedural History:

  • Page 599

    The circuit court found that this was a lake for all practical purposes and thus the common law that all owners of a private, nonnavigable lake bed have the right to the reasonable use and enjoyment of the surface waters of the entire lake.

  • The appellate court reversed, finding that since a water-filled quarry is not of natural origin, it is not a lake and thus riparian rights do not apply.


Does an adjacent landowner have rights to all of a man-made lake or just the section on his property?


  • Page 600

    [W]here there are multiple owners of the bed of a private, nonnavigable lake, such owners and their licensees have the right to the reasonable use and enjoyment of the surface waters of the entire lake provided they do not unduly interfere with the reasonable use of the waters by other owners and their licensees.


    This is known as the "civil rule". The opposing "common law rule" (which is not common law in Illinois) says that people only have rights over water actually above their land.

  • Page 601

    [R]iparian rights do not extend to artificial bodies of water.

  • Page 601

    An artificial waterway or stream may, under some circumstances, have the characteristics and incidents of a natural watercourse. In determining the question, three things seem generally to be taken into consideration by the courts:

    1. whether the way or stream is temporary or permanent;
    2. the circumstances under which it was created; and,
    3. the mode in which it has been used and enjoyed. Where the way is of a permanent character, and is created under circumstances indicating an intention that it shall become permanent, and it has been used consistently with such intention for a considerable period, it is generally regarded as stamped with the character of a natural watercourse, and treated, so far as the rules of law and the rights of the public or of individuals are concerned, as if it were of natural origin.


Page 602

A quarry can be a lake, even though it's man-made. The question is rather whether it has taken on the characteristics of a natural lake or if it's still used as an artificial lake.

Unlike previous cases where the party invoking the rule did used them without dispute for 40 or 50 years, here the plaintiffs' use has been disputed since they acquired their property. Before them, there's no evidence the McElvains ever used the lake. This shows that the plaintiffs' use of the lake was not the sort of settled condition that characterizes a natural lake.


The plaintiffs do not have rights to use the whole lake. Affirmed.