People who claim the right to an easement on another person’s property may need to take legal action if the existence of the easement is disputed. At issue in a June 7, 2018 Massachusetts real estate case were the plaintiffs’ rights, if any, to access their woodlands by going through the defendants’ privately owned lands.
The plaintiffs in the case sought to use a route on the present-day remains of two former dirt roadways. The dirt roadways were once public roads taken in easement by town meeting votes in 1780 and 1805. These roads fell into disuse by the mid-1800s and were eventually discontinued by a town meeting vote in 1886. Thereafter, the sections at issue in the case were gated off, and the underlying land was re-integrated into the properties currently owned by the defendants. The plaintiffs did not need the easement access, since they could access all areas of their properties from public roads and internal roads on their properties. However, the plaintiffs wanted to use the easement at issue because the route would provide more direct and easier access for them to conduct logging operations on their property.
In support of their action, the plaintiffs argued that the town votes did not discontinue the roadways’ public status, only the public obligation to maintain them, or in the alternative, that the public subsequently acquired access rights by prescription. The plaintiffs also claimed an easement over the former roadways by necessity, prescription, or express or implied in their deeds.