Property conveyances are typically complex, and errors or ambiguities in the deed can lead to litigation years into the future. This point is demonstrated in a recent case, Powell v. Ashley (Mass. Land Ct. Nov. 21, 2016), which concerns a 1973 deed that became the source of a years-long dispute between neighbors.
In Powell, the defendants recorded a deed conveying the garage located on their property to the previous owners of the plaintiffs’ property in 1979. The conveyance was problematic. The deed was dated 1973, but the notary public’s commission indicated that the earliest it could have been witnessed was 1977. The deed also lacked a metes and bounds description and was subject to an existing mortgage. In addition, the previous owners lost their property through a foreclosure in 1978, and the property was sold a week before the deed was recorded. Thereafter, the defendants resumed occupation and use of the garage.
In 2003, the plaintiffs brought an action in Land Court, seeking a declaration that they were the record owners of the garage, free of the defendants’ claims of record ownership and ownership by adverse possession. While that litigation was ongoing, the plaintiffs also commenced an action in the Housing Court against the defendants. After a hearing, the Housing Court entered judgment in the plaintiffs’ favor regarding record ownership of the garage. The Land Court concluded that the Housing Court’s ruling was binding in the Land Court action on the basis of res judicata, a legal principle that prohibits parties from re-litigating the same issue. The Land Court also held that since the defendants did not raise the defense of adverse possession in the Housing Court action, they were barred from arguing it in the present case.