Massachusetts Appeals Court Rules in Favor of Plaintiffs in Easement Case Against Gas Pipeline Facility

In a recent decision, the Appeals Court of Massachusetts reversed the judgment of a lower court in a case involving an easement dispute. In Melrose Fish & Game Club, Inc. v. Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., LLC, 89 Mass. App. Ct. 594 (2016), the defendant, a gas pipeline company, constructed a natural gas pipeline facility in 1998 across an area over which the plaintiffs claimed an easement. The area was a “paper” street, one that is shown on a plan but not built on the ground. The plaintiffs brought a trespass action against the defendant, alleging interference with an easement. The superior court granted the defendant’s summary judgment motion against the plaintiffs, and the plaintiffs subsequently appealed.

On appeal, the court found that the plaintiffs possessed an easement by estoppel over the length of the avenue on which the facility was built. The court explained that when a grantor conveys land bounded on a street or way, the right to an easement of way extends the entire length of the street. The grantor cannot then deny the existence of a way, based upon the principle of estoppel. In Melrose Fish & Game Club, Inc., the plaintiffs’ lot abutted the avenue, and thus the court held that the plaintiffs also possessed a valid easement.

The defendant then argued that the paving of a portion of the avenue in 1999 frustrated the purpose of the easement, thereby extinguishing it. Under Massachusetts law, when a right of an easement is incapable of being exercised for the purpose for which it was created, the right is considered to be extinguished. In Melrose Fish & Game Club, Inc., however, the court noted that one manifest purpose of the easement at issue was to provide a right of way along the avenue out to a main street. Accordingly, the approval of a plan to pave part of the avenue did not frustrate this purpose of the easement over the portion beyond the paving. The court went on to hold that paving one part of a paper street does not make it impossible to pave more of it later, and it found that the plaintiffs’ easement was not extinguished.

The final issue was whether the plaintiffs were entitled to injunctive relief or were barred by the doctrine of laches. The doctrine of laches operates in equity as an affirmative defense against a plaintiff whose unreasonable delay in bringing a claim results in some injury, disadvantage, or prejudice to the defendant. The defendant has the burden to prove that the plaintiff waited an unreasonably long period before asserting its rights, inducing a detrimental change in the defendant’s position or affecting the defendant’s legal rights. In Melrose Fish & Game Club, Inc., the appeals court held that the cost of building the natural gas facility and the cost of maintaining it were not the result of any unreasonable delay by the plaintiffs, since the plaintiffs had no reason to believe the facility would block the entire avenue instead of a portion of it. Consequently, the court ruled for the plaintiffs and ordered a judgment in their favor.

An experienced real estate lawyer can explain your property rights and represent your interests in a dispute. At the Massachusetts firm of Pulgini & Norton, our knowledgeable Boston land use attorneys can assist individuals in matters involving easements, permits, home closings, mortgages, and many other property transactions. To speak with one of our dedicated attorneys regarding your real estate needs, call Pulgini & Norton at (781) 843-2200 or contact us online.

More Blog Posts:

Appeals Court of Massachusetts Decides Easement Issue in Neighbors’ Dispute, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published September 4, 2015

Massachusetts Land Court Finds No Right of Way to Access Landlocked Parcel, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published April 25, 2016

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