Appeals Court of Massachusetts Decides Easement Issue in Neighbors’ Dispute

The Massachusetts Court of Appeals recently ruled on a property dispute between neighboring landowners regarding their use and enjoyment of an easement. In Burke v. Spalenza, No. 14-P-594, (Mass. App. Ct. Sept. 2, 2015), the dispute arose when the defendants began parking their large utility vehicle in a manner that prevented the plaintiffs from accessing their property through a shared driveway.

The plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment from the Massachusetts Land Court to determine the location, scope, and dimensions of the easement they claimed to hold by title, or in the alternative, find that they possess a prescriptive easement. The Land Court issued a judgment declaring that the parties are bound by an easement through the defendants’ property to the plaintiffs’ property, and it adopted a plan submitted by the plaintiffs depicting the scope and location of the driveway. The defendants subsequently appealed the Land Court’s decision.


In the 1902 deed, the original common owner of the land divided and conveyed separately the two parcels of land to the parties’ respective predecessors. Although the deed granted a right of way in both deeds over the whole of the driveway, it failed to describe or depict the proper path. The parties each submitted plans proposing the proper path, based on actual historical use that served both properties without conflict.

Under Massachusetts law, when an easement is created by deed, but its precise limits and location are not defined, the location and use of the easement by the owner of the dominant estate of many years, acquiesced in by the owner of the servient estate, will be deemed to be that which was intended to be conveyed by the deed. In Burke, the Appeals Court affirmed the decision of the Land Court in adopting the plaintiffs’ plan, which demonstrated that historically, the plaintiffs would drive over a portion of one of the parking spaces that tended to be occupied by the defendants’ large utility van in order to access their property. Therefore, the defendants cannot park a vehicle in that spot that would block off the plaintiffs’ use of the driveway.

Prescriptive Easement

Although the Appeals Court found that the plaintiffs had an easement right, the court also considered the plaintiffs’ alternative theory of a prescriptive use of the driveway. In Massachusetts, a party claiming title through adverse possession must establish actual, open, exclusive, and nonpermissive use for a continuous period of 20 years. The Appeals Court affirmed the Land Court’s finding that the plaintiffs held prescriptive rights to the portion of the parking spot (blocked off by the defendants’ large utility vehicle) leading to the driveway.

If you are involved in a property dispute or other real estate issue, a knowledgeable attorney can inform you of your rights under the law. The Massachusetts attorneys at Pulgini & Norton provide diligent, thorough, and competent representation to their clients in a variety of real estate matters, including closings, home sales, mortgages and refinancing, and others. To discuss your real estate needs with one of our attorneys, call (781) 843-2200, or contact us online.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Appeals Court Affirms Finding of Abandoned Easement, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published June 10, 2015

Appeals Court Rules: What Creates a Legally Enforceable Easement under Massachusetts Law?, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published February 23, 2015.


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