Massachusetts easement rights are often a source of contention between neighboring property owners. If a property owner files an action for a declaratory judgment, the court may issue a decision setting forth the easement rights of the respective property owners, as in a July 26, 2019 case.
The plaintiff in the case brought an action against her neighbor, seeking a declaration that her neighbor had no legal right to the continued use of a sewerage pumping station on her property, and seeking injunctive relief and damages. After the lower court granted the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, the defendant filed an appeal with the Appeals Court of Massachusetts.
At the time the plaintiff had purchased her lot, she was aware that the prior owner of the defendant’s lot was using the pump station on her lot to dispute of sewage. The local town, however, had been paying the costs associated with the pump station since its completion in 2001. In 2011, the town sought to recoup these costs from the plaintiff. Thereafter, a disagreement arose between the parties regarding the defendant’s contribution towards the expenses of the pump station. This prompted the plaintiff to file an action seeking a declaration that the defendant had no right to use the pump station.
In Massachusetts, the general principle governing the interpretation of deeds and easements is that the intent of the parties is ascertained from the words of the written instrument, in the light of all the attendant facts. As such, the appeals court first looked to the written easement to ascertain the intent of the parties. The court concluded that the express purpose of the easement was to enable the lot owned by the defendant to continue to use the septic system on the plaintiff’s lot.
The court went on to find that it was clear from the attendant circumstances that, at the time the easement was granted, the only septic system available to the lot presently owned by the defendant was via the pipes that crossed the plaintiff’s lot. Moreover, the court noted that the plaintiff had been aware of the easement before purchasing her lot. As a result, the court held that the plaintiff could not unilaterally terminate the easement.
The court also determined that, even without the express easement, the plaintiff was estopped from preventing the defendant from using the pump station, pointing to the plaintiff’s knowledge of the agreement before purchasing her lot and the disproportionate expense to create a pump station on the defendant’s own lot.
The court therefore ordered that the defendant had a legal right to connect and use the sewer pipes and pump station on the plaintiff’s lot. The court remanded back to the lower court the issue of the amount that the plaintiff was entitled to collect for the defendant’s shared use of the system.
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