Easements can be vital to allow access to and from a parcel of property. In a recent Massachusetts real estate case, the plaintiffs filed an action in Land Court seeking to establish that they held an access easement over land owned by the defendant. When the Land Court granted a summary judgment motion in favor of the defendant, the plaintiffs appealed the decision. The Appeals Court of Massachusetts reviewed the case and ultimately reversed the judgment in an October 12, 2018 order and opinion.
The plaintiffs in the case owned property on a peninsula that juts into a river. The property is connected to the mainland by a causeway and access road that runs through a marsh. Although the plaintiffs owned the access road from their property to the causeway, they were concerned that it would be difficult if not impossible to widen or improve the road due to the marsh. The plaintiffs therefore sought to establish an alternative means of reaching the causeway through a right of way over the defendant’s land.
To rebut the defendant’s summary judgment motion, the plaintiffs pointed to prior deeds to two lots that were part of the defendant’s current property. The deeds referenced a right of way over the lots for the use of landowners to the south of the lots. Because the plaintiffs’ property was located south of the lots, they claimed that they are among those intended to benefit from the right of way in the deed. The plaintiffs also produced plans that depicted a right of way running south across the defendant’s property, and eventually connecting to the causeway leading out of the peninsula.
The Land Court had ruled that the plaintiffs could not establish an easement relying on the deeds without evidence showing that the prior owners of the plaintiffs’ land were a party to the deeds. On review, the appeals court agreed that the plaintiffs would carry the burden of proving that they possessed a valid easement over the defendant’s land at trial. However, for purposes of a summary judgment motion, the moving party has the burden of initially showing that there is an absence of evidence to support the opposing party’s case. Here, the defendant moved for summary judgment and therefore had that burden.
The appeals court went on to find that while the defendant argued that deeds presented by the plaintiffs could not prove their right of way, the defendant did not produce any affidavits or other evidence to show the plaintiffs would be unable to prove at trial that an easement had been created. The court explained that the plaintiffs were entitled to an opportunity to develop their case, and that the factual gaps in the records were not a sound basis on which to grant the defendant’s motion. Accordingly, the judgment was reversed and the matter was remanded back to the Land Court for the plaintiffs to continue their suit.
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More Blog Posts:
Massachusetts Homeowners Win Breach of Contract Claim Against Corporation in Property Dispute, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published September 5, 2016
Massachusetts Beachfront Property Owners Take Legal Action to Determine Location of Right of Way Easement, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published June 6, 2018