Massachusetts Church and Town Dispute Ownership of Cemetery Land Conveyed in 1743 Deed

Many Massachusetts property owners will discover that their property lines were drawn hundreds of years ago, with boundaries that are not clearly described or marked in the original and successive deeds.  A Massachusetts real estate attorney can provide legal guidance regarding disputes that arise under these circumstances.  An August 18, 2017 case demonstrates this issue in a land action between a Church and local Town.

Most Massachusetts towns were chartered before church and state were separated in 1833, when towns were chartered in order to support a church congregation.  In the case, the Church was built on land conveyed in 1743.  At issue was the ownership of the land on which the adjacent cemetery was located.  The dispute arose after the Town announced its intention to move the cremains buried in one portion of the cemetery to another area in the cemetery.  The Town asserted that it has record title to the cemetery through the 1743 deed.  The Church also claimed that it holds record title pursuant to the 1743 deed, an 1899 deed, or in the alternative, through adverse possession.

Since the case involved the interpretation of conveyances in 1743 and 1899 by people who were no longer living, the parties agreed to present their arguments on a case-stated basis with the court allowed to draw appropriate inferences from only the available evidence and make its ruling.  In these types of cases, the parties agree on all of the material facts from which the judge may draw inferences.

The first issue was whether the original grantors, with the 1743 deed, intended to grant the cemetery property to the Church or to the Town.  The court observed that the cemetery had been used by the Church for worship and other aspects of religion from 1747 to the present.  The court went on to find that the evidence showed that the historical use of the cemetery by the Church was for parochial, rather than municipal, purposes both before and after the separation of church and state.  Accordingly, the court held that the 1743 deed conveyed the property to the Church rather than the Town, and the Church retained control of the cemetery for religious purposes after the disestablishment of religion in 1834.

The court further held that the Church had title to the cemetery either through the 1743 deed or the 1899 deed, or through adverse possession.  In addition, the court found that the Town was aware of and approved the burial of cremains in the cemetery previously.  The court concluded that, although the Town had no authority to require the removal and reburial of cremains in the cemetery, it could require that future cremains be placed in another location.

At Pulgini & Norton, our Massachusetts real estate attorneys offer guidance and legal representation to individuals in any residential property matter.  Schedule a free consultation to discuss your real estate issue with one of our experienced property lawyers and learn about your options.  We are available online or by phone at (781) 843-2200.

More Blog Posts:

Property Owner and Massachusetts Town Clash Over Easement Rights in Real Estate Case, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published October 16, 2017

Massachusetts Appeals Court Sides with Property Owner in Case Against Town Over Easement Rights, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published August 22, 2016

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