Surveying historical boundaries of lands in Massachusetts can be a complex task. It may require searching and deciphering markings, monuments, and records that are many years old. In a November 5, 2018 Massachusetts property case, the Land Court faced several obstacles as it attempted to determine an accurate boundary line between two parcels of land. The case originated when the plaintiff, seeking to resolve the question, filed an action to try and quiet title against the owners of the adjacent parcel. The defendants, in turn, filed multiple counter-claims against the plaintiff. The parties ultimately agreed to narrow their dispute into a single issue to be decided at trial, namely, the boundary between the properties.
The lands had been previously owned by two brothers, who had inherited them in 1942 as a large, single tract of property. In 1961, the brothers divided their lands into two parcels, which became the lands currently owned by the parties in the case. The brothers decided to skip the expense of a surveyor, however, and described the boundary line between their lands themselves, using monuments and markers. In particular, the brothers referenced an old road marked by pipes and stones, a brook that had disappeared long before 1961, a bridge that no longer existed, and a heap of stones on a ledge of a ravine.
In order to determine the entire boundary between the formerly unified lands, the Land Court needed to find the exact locations of the ill-defined monuments described in deed. To identify the location of the old road, the court reviewed a plan prepared by a surveyor in 2013. The court concluded that the plan accurately depicted the road, noting that its location corresponded with maps from 1980 and 1986. Although the maps were not professionally surveyed, they were prepared pursuant to state regulations for the plaintiff to submit a state-mandated forest management plan. The bridge and brook were located by a geotechnical engineer and found to be consistent with the defendant’s testimony about statements that the prior owner made concerning the property line.