Typically, a person who claims a right to use a certain portion of property owned by the title holder will typically file an action to acquire legal recognition of that right. The Massachusetts Land Court decided a case on May 1, 2017 involving the plaintiff’s claim of a prescriptive easement appurtenant to land owned by the defendants. The portion claimed was over a cleared strip of land, visible on the ground, running from the public road through the defendants’ parcel to the plaintiff’s property. The parties agreed that the plaintiff had acquired at least a partial fractional interest in the path that ran over the defendants’ land, but the nature and scope of that path was in dispute.
To establish a prescriptive easement in Massachusetts, a claimant must show the (1) continuous and uninterrupted, (2) open and notorious, and (3) adverse use of another party’s land (4) for a period of not less than 20 years. The easement claimed is limited to the uses actually made of the section of property that meet those elements. The burden is on the claimant to provide clear proof of each element.
The path at issue in the case was a six-foot wide dirt pathway that traveled in a straight line, without regard to topography. Roots, stumps, and rocks had been left in the path. At trial, the plaintiff testified that he did not create the path, nor had he ever maintained or cleared it. Instead, the path had originated as a telephone line easement, which had been cut through the woods by the phone company. By 1929, however, the telephone company had abandoned the easement, and the poles and wires were removed.