Massachusetts Appeals Court Sides with Property Owner in Case Against Town Over Easement Rights

In a recent case, the Court of Appeals of Massachusetts reviewed an easement dispute in which the plaintiff complained of the growing public use of a private way adjacent to his property. In Goff v. Town of Randolph (Mass. App. Ct. Aug. 12, 2016), the plaintiff’s property was located at the end of a private way and included easement rights, in common with others, to use the way. In 2009, the town acquired title to an 11-acre parcel of land abutting the plaintiff’s property, and it opened it to the public as a community park. The town made the park accessible by a path next to the plaintiff’s property that connected to the end of the private way at issue. The plaintiff filed a complaint against the town, alleging that the creation of the path had facilitated and encouraged public use of the private way located partially on his property. After the lower court granted the town’s motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff appealed.

In Goff, the plaintiff proceed with his suit pro se, and the appeals court acknowledged that his allegations would be liberally construed. The court, therefore, construed the plaintiff’s allegations to include a taking of private property with respect to the portion of a cul-de-sac on his land after requesting the termination of public use. The court interpreted his claim as one brought under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, in that the portion of his property on which the new path and stone post were built were taken for public use without just compensation.

A “taking” occurs when governmental action results in a permanent physical occupation of property, by the government itself or by others, without regard to whether the action achieves an important public benefit or has only a minimal economic impact on the owner. A taking may also occur when a governmental body causes others to interfere regularly with an owner’s property rights. In Goff, the appeals court found that there remained questions of fact that required further proceedings, including which activities take place on the property, the value of the taking, and others.

In addition, the appeals court read the complaint to allege that the public use of the easement over the private road creates a nuisance or overburdens or overloads the easement. The court again found issues of material facts remained, such as whether the increased use of the easement and the construction of the path violated the rights of the plaintiff. In so finding, the court vacated the summary judgment and remanded the matter for further proceedings in which the plaintiff could present his case.

A capable real estate attorney can help you understand your property rights as well as represent your interests in court. The dedicated land use lawyers at Pulgini & Norton provide legal guidance to Massachusetts residents in a diverse range of property law cases, including foreclosures and mortgage disputes, building permits, home closings, easements, and more. Schedule a consultation with one of our qualified attorneys by calling Pulgini & Norton at (781) 843-2200 or contacting us online.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Decides Jurisdictional Issue in Railroad Easement Case, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published August 8, 2016

Massachusetts Appeals Court Rules in Favor of Plaintiffs in Easement Case Against Gas Pipeline Facility, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published July 5, 2016

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