Generally, any party to a lawsuit can appeal an unfavorable decision by a lower court or another local authority. In a Massachusetts adverse possession decision released on July 24, 2017, the Appeals Court of Massachusetts reviewed a ruling of the land court in an appeal filed by the plaintiff. The plaintiff in the case had claimed title by adverse possession to a narrow strip of land within a walled-in courtyard area behind a building on the property. The disputed area was the two feet along the rear end of the plaintiff’s enclosed courtyard and was used as an outdoor space and for gardening, containing mostly dirt and plantings, including two small trees.
The land court had ruled that the plaintiff used and occupied the disputed area for gardening purposes continuously, openly, and notoriously since 1985, entitling the plaintiff to a prescriptive easement over the disputed area. The land court also ruled that the plaintiff did not have title to the disputed area, however, since its use of the disputed area was not exclusive. In particular, the land court found that the defendant repaired the retaining wall and exterminated vermin in the disputed area. As a result, the issue on appeal was whether or not the plaintiff’s use of the disputed area was exclusive.
After reviewing the evidence, the appeals court concluded that there was no evidence to support the lower court’s finding that the defendant regularly maintained and inspected the retaining walls and chain link fence bordering the rear of the courtyard, and therefore accessed the disputed area, at any point during the previous 20 years. The appeals court pointed to testimony from the previous owner of the plaintiff’s property, who stated that no repairs had been made to the walls or fence during his ownership. Without any evidence to rebut the testimony, the appeals court held that the land court’s inference that the defendant entered the disputed area for this purpose was unreasonable.