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The Supreme Judicial Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has reaffirmed the old rule that property rights can be expanded by slow accretion or diminished through slow erosion when property is located on a stream or the ocean. In White v. Hartigan, 982 N.E.2d 1115 (Mass. 2013), beachfront owners claimed a right to use the beach behind their neighbors house because their deed had given them rights to the beach in 1841. The court disagreed, noting that changing boundaries had placed the plaintiffs’ beach under water and that they had no right to “moveable” boundaries ensuring access to the beach behind their neighbor’s house.
A Massachusetts court has held that owners of lots near the ocean had an implied easement of access to the beach because recorded plans drafted in 1892 showed an unenumerated lot with access to the ocean and the developer had advertised the lots as “Shore Lots” with a “Cool breeze all the time, good bathing, boating and fishing, nice beach, no undertow, shade trees on several of the lots.” Leahy v. Graveline, 82 Mass.App.Ct. 144, — N.E.2d —, 2012 WL 2819395 (Mass. Land Ct. 2012). The case represents an application of the recent decision in Reagan v. Brissey, 844 N.E.2d 672 (Mass. 2006) that similarly found implied rights to use open land depicted on a subdivision map.
The Supreme Judicial Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has reaffirmed that even longstanding non-use of an easement will not extinguish it or cause it to lapse because of prescription. Cater v. Bednarek, — N.E.2d —, 462 Mass. 523 (Mass. 2012). To extinguish an easement by prescription requires acts inconsistent with the easement that put the easement owner on notice that its uses are being disrupted. Moreover, if the servient estate owner makes only part of an easement inaccessible, it is extinguished only as to that part but not the rest. In addition, the court held that, where a deed does not specify the dimensions of the easement, it must be interpreted to establish dimensions that are reasonably necessary for the enjoyment of the dominant estate; the easement is not limited to the purposes for which the dominant estate was used at the time the easement was created. Moreover, if the easement is for access to a public road, it must be interpreted to be wide enough to comply with applicable local regulations on minimum width of roads. Compare the result in this case to the ruling in Cox v. Glenbrook Co., 371 P.2d 647 (Nev. 1962), which interpreted an easement to be limited to one lane when that was the physical layout of the road at the time the easement was created even though such an easement was insufficient as an access road to the dominant estate which consisted of 80 acres.
The Massachusetts Land Court has reaffirmed that easements can be implied from prior use if they were used before severance of the two parcels and are “reasonably necessary” for use of the dominant estate while easements by necessity require the dominant estate to be inaccessible but for the easement. Black v. Klaetke, 20 LCR 120, 2012 Mass. LCR LEXIS 56 (Mass. Land Ct. 2012).
Disagreeing with the ruling of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in Reagan v. Brissey, 844 N.E.2d 672 (Mass. 2006), an appeals court in New Mexico held that open space designated on a recorded plat is not sufficient to create an easement of access by owners of lots on the map in the absence of evidence the developer made representations to buyers inducing them to buy in reliance on promises those lots would remain open. The mere presence of open space on the map was insufficient to prevent the developer from selling that open space for development purposes. Agua Fria Save The Open Space Ass’n v. Rowe, 255 P.3d 390 (N.M. 2011)
Defendants unknowingly built their house on land that belonged to the plaintiff who also did not know that the land belonged to him. The mistake was discovered after the house was built and plaintiff sued to eject the trespassers from his land. The Washington Supreme Court denied injunctive relief, adopting the relative hardship doctrine. The court granted plaintiff damages for the value of the land encroached on by his neighbor’s structure but denied plaintiff an injunction ordering the structure removed. Proctor v. Huntington, 238 P.3d 1117 (Wash. 2010).