Plaintiff filed her unverified Complaint on March 9, 2007, seeking declaratory judgment, pursuant to G. L. c. 231A, against Defendants Commonwealth of Massachusetts, acting by and through its Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (the Commonwealth) and Stephen J. Weiner (Weiner) (together, Defendants), relative to an easement by implication over Woods Road. [Note 1] The Commonwealth filed its Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction on April 17, 2007, together with supporting memorandum. [Note 2] On May 17, 2007, Plaintiff filed her Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss. The Commonwealth withdrew its Motion to Dismiss and filed its Answer to Plaintiffs First Amended Complaint on October 4, 2007.
The Commonwealth filed its Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings on November 9, 2007, together with supporting memorandum and Statement of Material Facts. On December 10, 2007, Plaintiff filed her Cross-Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings and/or Motion for Summary Judgment, together with supporting memorandum and Statement of Additional Facts and Appendix containing Affidavits of Judith Polchlopek and William Morse (Morse) (surveyor). A hearing on the Commonwealths Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings and Plaintiffs Cross-Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings was held on February 4, 2008. [Note 3] By decision dated February 20, 2009 (Decision 1), this court found that the Commonwealth was protected under the doctrine of sovereign immunity from suit by Plaintiff relative to her declaratory judgment action on the issue of easement by implication, and that Plaintiff had standing to bring her quiet title action relative to the status of the implied easement.
The Commonwealth filed its Motion to Reconsider on February 25, 2009, and Plaintiff filed her Response on March 30, 2009. At a hearing on this motion on April 2, 2009, the Commonwealth withdrew its motion and this court scheduled a summary judgment hearing on Plaintiffs quiet title action. On June 10, 2009, the Commonwealth filed its Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment, together with supporting memorandum, Affidavit of George S. Norton (Norton) (title examiner), and Motion to Strike Plaintiffs Appendix. Weiner filed his Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment on June 16, 2009, together with supporting memorandum incorporating the Commonwealths memorandum. Plaintiff filed her Opposition to Defendants cross-motions on July 27, 2009, and Affidavit of Ellyn H. Hurd, Esq. on September 11, 2009. A hearing on all motions was held on November 20, 2009, at which time all motions were taken under advisement. Weiner did not appear at the summary judgment hearing.
This court finds that the following facts are not in dispute:
1. Plaintiff owns a parcel of undeveloped land containing approximately 22.97 acres in Dartmouth, Massachusetts (Plaintiff Property). [Note 4] Plaintiff Property is shown as Lot 6 on Dartmouth Assessors Map 17 (Map 17). Plaintiff Property has no frontage on Division Road. Plaintiff purchased Plaintiff Property from Stanley Polchlopek by deed dated November 21, 1994, and recorded with the Bristol County Registry of Deeds, Southern District (the Registry) at Book 3394, Page 42. Such deed stated:
Together with any and all privileges and appurtenances belonging thereto, and all other rights of way, if any, appurtenant to said land, whether arising from deed or prescription to the extent the same may be in force and applicable.
2. Weiner owns a parcel of registered land (Certificate of Title No. 20854 filed in the Bristol County South Registry District of the Land Court) containing 7.2 acres and located at 490 Division Road, Dartmouth (the Weiner Property). [Note 5] The Weiner Property is shown as Lot 1 on Map 17.
3. The Commonwealth acquired ownership to a parcel of land containing approximately 473 acres on Division Road in Dartmouth (the Commonwealth Property) by an Order of Taking dated December 23, 1999, and recorded with the Registry in Book 4597, Page 317 (the Order of Taking). The Order of Taking states, in part: [f]urther excepted from the rights herein taken are 1) all rights-of-way of record now lawfully still in force and in or upon said area or areas hereby taken, . . . Plaintiff Property abuts the rear of the Weiner Property and the Commonwealth Property. [Note 6]
4. An unpaved way approximately nine feet in width (Woods Road) runs from Division Road through the Commonwealth Property and across a corner of the Weiner Property to Plaintiff Property. Woods Road is shown on the 1952 Plan.
5. In 1792, Giles Slocum, conveyed a parcel of land, which included the Commonwealth Property, to Ichabod Cushman (Cushman) by a deed (the 1792 Deed) that was not recorded with the Registry. Three years later Cushman provided Giles Slocum a mortgage on this parcel, which was recorded with the Registry at Book 13, Page 514. Cushman deeded this parcel to Wanton Brightman in 1798, which deed was recorded with the Registry at Book 14, Page 527.
6. In 1817, Henry Slocum deeded a portion of the Homestead (containing 350 acres) to Bradford Howland. By deed dated March 25, 1833, and recorded with the Registry at Book 138, Page 365, Bradford Howland deeded this portion of the Homestead to Samuel Barker. Samuel Barker created Plaintiff Property from this portion of the Homestead by deed to Jeremiah Brightman dated February 28, 1834, and recorded with the Registry at Book 150, Page 219.
7. In 1904, Abner Brightman (a predecessor in title to the Commonwealth) conveyed a parcel of land (Lot 5 on Assessors Map 17) to Patrick Cummings recorded with the Registry at Book 240, Page 267. Such deed ( the 1904 Deed) stated,
Said lot is subject to a right of way as follows, from the east end of said lot Northerly as the path now is partly upon grantors premises, to the road which is the dividing line between the Town of Dartmouth and Westport. Also a right of way is hereby given to the grantee to pass and repass from the west end of said lot over the present cart path through the grantors land to the aforesaid road.
8. A deed of Plaintiff Property from Jeremiah G. Brightman to Frederick A. Shores dated May 16, 1919, and recorded with the Registry at Book 475, Page 350 (the 1919 Deed), contained the following language: [w]arranting and defending the right of way leading from [Division Road] to said land.
The Commonwealth argues that the doctrine of sovereign immunity bars Plaintiffs claim of an easement by implication in Woods Road by means of an action to quiet title, that (in the event that sovereign immunity is not applicable) the Order of Taking extinguished Plaintiffs alleged easement by implication in Woods Road because an easement by implication is not of record, and, in the alternative, that there are material issues of fact relative to Plaintiffs alleged easement by implication requiring a trial. I shall address each of these issues in turn.
The Commonwealths Motion to Strike.
Prior to addressing the merits of the parties summary judgment motions, this court must first address the Commonwealths Motion to Strike, in which it seeks to strike certain documents in Plaintiffs Appendix relative to the inclusion of recorded documents which were not certified. In her Opposition to the Commonwealths Cross-Motion, Plaintiff argues that such documents consist of deeds that were recorded in the Registry and copies of maps and atlases commonly relied on by title examiners and historians. [Note 7] This same issue was raised at a status conference held on July 31, 2009, during which this court suggested that Plaintiff file an attorneys affidavit of authentication. Plaintiff responded with such an affidavit of counsel stating that the contested documents were recorded with the Registry. As a result, I shall deny the Commonwealths Motion to Strike with respect to those documents in Plaintiffs Appendix that are of record.
However, not all of the exhibits to which the Commonwealth objects are recorded. The Commonwealth also objects to the admissibility of several maps purporting to show Woods Road and a copy of an atlas claimed to be from 1856, which Plaintiff argues are authenticated as ancient documents. In order for a document to be authenticated by age, it must be (1) at least thirty years old, (2) look genuine; and (3) have been kept where one would expect it have been. See In re Butrick, 185 Mass. 107 , 111 (1904); accord Mass. Guide Evid. § 901(b)(8) (Revised Preliminary Draft Feb. 2008). As Plaintiff does not provide this court with a sufficient foundation explaining these factors, I shall allow the Commonwealths Motion to Strike with respect to such documents.
In light of the above, the Commonwealths Motion to Strike is ALLOWED IN PART, consistent with the following: the two maps showing the location of Woods Road (exhibits 7 and 8 to Plaintiffs Appendix) and the copy of the 1856 Atlas (exhibit 18 to Plaintiffs Appendix) are hereby stricken. All other documents in Plaintiffs Appendix are admitted into the summary judgment record; however, as this court noted at the summary judgment oral argument, admissibility and weight are separate issues. This court further notes that, as a practical matter, the removal of such documents from the record is immaterial to this cases ultimate disposition.
The Commonwealth alleges that Plaintiffs quiet title action is proscribed by the doctrine of sovereign immunity. The Commonwealth asserts that, consistent with Lopes v. Commonwealth, 442 Mass. 170 (2004), the only relevant exceptions to the doctrine of sovereign immunity are those created by the Legislature, and the Legislature created an exception only through the registration or confirmation process, pursuant to G. L. c. 185, or a timely challenge to the eminent domain process under Chapter 79 of the General Laws. The Commonwealth also argues that it is not a person under G. L. c. 240, § 6, which states in part that
[i]f, in a civil action . . . in the land court, to quiet or establish the title to land situated in the commonwealth or to remove a cloud from the title thereto, it is sought to determine the claims or rights of persons unascertained, not in being, unknown or out of the commonwealth, or who cannot be actually served with process and made personally amenable to the judgment of the court, such persons may be made defendants . . . .
In this action Plaintiff claims an easement by implication in Woods Road and asserts that G. L. c. 240, §§ 6-10 are only procedural requirements for application to an action to quiet title, and, thus, are not subject to the sovereign immunity doctrine. Moreover, Plaintiff cites case law from other states which hold that the doctrine of sovereign immunity does not apply to actions to quiet title. [Note 8] Finally, Plaintiff states that the Commonwealth has already admitted this courts subject matter jurisdiction over [the quiet title action] in a registration case, and argues that denying the right to go forward on a quiet title action in the case at bar is a matter of form over substance.
As this court noted in Decision 1, in Lopes, the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) articulated the doctrine of sovereign immunity:
Sovereign immunity bars a private action against a State in its own courts absent consent by the Legislature or abrogation of sovereignty by Congress acting under its Fourteenth Amendment powers. Consent to suit must be expressed by the terms of a statute, or appear by necessary implication from them. When that consent is granted, [the Commonwealth] can be impleaded only in the manner and to the extent expressed in the statute.
Lopes, 442 Mass. at 175-76 (internal quotations and citations omitted). [Note 9] In context of the instant matter, a review of G. L. c. 240, §§ 1-10 is instructive. Sections 1-5 are titled Petition to Require Action to Try Title and establish a cause of action whereby a party bringing the action can require an adverse claimant to carry the burden to go forward on the title issue. G. L. c. 240, § 5 states that [t]he four preceding sections shall not apply to any property, right, title or interest of the commonwealth. This language, however, does not follow sections 6-10, titled Suits in Equity to Quiet Title, which create a separate cause of action. Count II of Plaintiffs Amended Complaint is an Action to Quiet Title, pursuant to G. L. c. 240, § 6. As such, the case at bar is governed by sections 6-10, not sections 1-5.
While Lopes reinforces that the doctrine of sovereign immunity is alive and well in the Commonwealth, it is also clear that consent to suit must be expressed by the terms of a statute, or appear by necessary implication from them. Lopes, 442 Mass. at 175-76 (emphasis added). Moreover, [a] basic tenet of statutory construction requires that a statute be construed so that effect is given to all its provisions, so that no part will be inoperative or superfluous. Wolfe v. Gormally, 440 Mass. 699 , 704 (2004) (internal quotation omitted). In order to give effect to G. L. c. 240, § 5, it appears that an action to quiet title (sections 6-10) is an exception to the doctrine of sovereign immunity by implication from the terms of the statute. [Note 10]
As a result of the foregoing, I find that the doctrine of sovereign immunity does not bar Plaintiffs action to quiet title brought pursuant to G. L. c. 240, §§ 6-10.
Implied Easement and the Order of Taking.
Plaintiff does not claim an express grant of easement rights in Woods Road. Plaintiff does, however, assert an easement by implication in Woods Road, based on the assumption that her property, the Weiner Property, and the Commonwealth Property were formerly in common ownership. Plaintiffs expert, William Morse, does not specifically state the common ownership of the land owned by the parties, though he implies that Giles Slocum was the common owner in the 1700s. [Note 11] The Commonwealths expert, George Norton, denies the common ownership, but does not address the Indentures in his analysis.
An implied easement (from prior use) arises when
land was formerly in common ownership, when use of one part of the land was made for the benefit of another part up until the time of the severance of ownership, and when the use of one part is both reasonably ascertainable and reasonably necessary for the enjoyment of the other part.
Zotos v. Armstrong, 63 Mass. App. Ct. 654 , 656-57 (2005) (quoting Flax v. Smith, 20 Mass. App. Ct. 149 , 152 (1985)). Stated differently,
[w]here during the common ownership of a parcel of land an apparent and obvious use of one part of the parcel is made for the benefit of another part and such use is being actually made up to the time of severance and is reasonably necessary for the enjoyment of the other part of the parcel, then upon severance of the ownership a grant to continue such use may arise by implication.
Bedford v. Cerasuolo, 62 Mass. App. Ct. 73 , 78 (2004) (citing Sorel v. Boisjolie, 330 Mass. 513 , 516 (1953)). As the party asserting the implied easement, Plaintiff has the burden of proof to show such easement. See Reagan v. Brissey, 446 Mass. 452 , 458 (2006).
Plaintiffs theory of easement by implication is that, by the 1792 Deed, Giles Slocum, the then owner of Plaintiff Property and the Commonwealth Property, deeded the Commonwealth Property to Cushman without retaining a right for Plaintiff Property to use Woods Road, thereby landlocking Plaintiff Property. The 1792 Deed, however, was neither a recorded deed nor a deed in Plaintiffs chain of title. The summary judgment record does not appear to contain enough information to make determinations as to the existence of an easement by implication, even if it were applicable. Notwithstanding the foregoing, in the event that an easement by implication, even if proved, would be lost as a result of the Order of Taking, then a factual dispute relative to whether there was a common owner would be moot. As a result, I will first look at the legal argument of whether an easement by implication would be lost as a result of the Order of Taking.
The Order of Taking states as follows: [f]urther excepted from the rights herein taken are 1) all rights-of-way of record now lawfully still in force and in or upon said area or areas hereby taken, . . . The Commonwealth looks to the general rule that an eminent domain taking in fee simple extinguishes all other interests in the subject property. New England Continental Media, Inc. v. Milton, 32 Mass. App. Ct. 374 , 376 (1992). In particular, where an easement exists, the taking of the servient estate will destroy the easement rights of the dominant estate. Id. The Commonwealth further argues that the easement by implication claimed by Plaintiff, even if proved, is not rights-of-way of record and is, therefore, not excepted from the Order of Taking. Plaintiff argues that the easement by implication is a right that arises by deed, and cites Adams v. Planning Bd. of Westwood, 64 Mass. App. Ct. 383 , 392 (2005), in which the Appeals Court held that
Gobbis easement rights in the disputed way arise by implication or necessity, based on the presumed intention of the parties to the 1957 deeds. In that respect, we consider Gobbi to hold his rights in the way by deed within the meaning of the statute [G. L. c. 187, § 5]. [Note 12], [Note 13]
This analysis has also been applied to an easement by estoppel in Lane v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Falmouth, 65 Mass. App. Ct. 434 , 439 (2006), where the Appeals Court stated, [w]e see no reason why that rationale would not apply to an easement by estoppel. As noted above, the estoppel giving rise to such an easement occurs by virtue of the language in a deed of conveyance, which language refers to the way as a boundary. The same rationale has not been applied to a prescriptive easement, where the easement was limited to the uses that created it. See Cumbie v. Goldsmith, 387 Mass. 409 , 411-12 n. 8 (1982).
Plaintiffs reliance on the words by deed, however, even if applicable, is not the same as the exception in the Order of Taking for a right-of-way of record. Of record is a bright line test, established in an order of taking and not by statute, that a right-of-way was recorded in the Registry of Deeds (or Registry of Probate). By deed, on the other hand, implies that an interest was created or related to a deeded right, whether recorded or unrecorded. It should also be noted that the holdings in both Adams and Lane, cited by Plaintiff, involve the meaning of the words by deed only as referenced in G. L. c. 187, § 5, a statute dealing with utilities. [Note 14] In the case at bar, Plaintiff attempts to rely upon an easement by implication in Woods Road, which is clearly not an easement of record. [Note 15] Even if an easement by implication (or necessity) could be proved, and even if the holding in Adams that such an easement was related to a deeded right, such holding does not convert the easement by implication into an easement of record. [Note 16]
As a result of the foregoing, I find that the Order of Taking extinguished any potential easement by implication, if it did exist.
In light of the above, I DENY IN PART (with respect to sovereign immunity) and ALLOW IN PART (with respect to the Order of Taking) the Commonwealths (and Weiners) Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment, and I ALLOW IN PART (with respect to sovereign immunity) and DENY IN PART (with respect to the Order of Taking) Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment, consistent with the above.
Judgment to enter accordingly.
Alexander H. Sands, III
Dated: June 4, 2010
[Note 1] On August 23, 2007, Plaintiff filed her First Amended Complaint, adding a count of quiet title pursuant to G. L. c. 240, § 6.
[Note 2] The basis of the Commonwealths Motion to Dismiss was its sovereign immunity.
[Note 3] Because the scope of the February 4, 2008, hearing was limited to the parties motions for Judgment on the Pleadings, this court made no determination as to the merits of Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment.
[Note 4] In the summary judgment record, Plaintiff Property is referenced as containing anywhere from 21 acres to 27 acres. This discrepancy is not material to disposing the parties motions for summary judgment.
[Note 5] Title to the Weiner Property was originally registered on January 30, 1953 (Registration Case No. 23657). The plan referenced in Registration Case No. 23657s Original Certificate of Title was titled Plan of Land Situated in Dartmouth, Mass. Surveyed for Manuel & Irene Domingos dated May 2, 1952, and prepared by William F. Kirby Surveyor (the 1952 Plan). This Original Certificate of Title acknowledged that [s]o much of the land hereby registered as is included within the limits of Woods Road, approximately shown on said plan, is subject to the rights of all persons lawfully entitled thereto in and over the same.
[Note 6] The parties dispute whether their respective chains of title reveal a common grantor. Plaintiff (through Morse) asserts that Plaintiff Property, a portion of the Weiner Property, and a portion of the Commonwealth Property, were formerly a part of the Peleg Slocum Homestead (the Homestead) established in 1713 and located in the vicinity of Horseneck Road in Dartmouth. Plaintiff suggests that in 1750 and 1751, by Indenture between Giles and Jonathan Slocum, and Holden Slocum, dated March 4, 1750, and recorded with the Registry at Book 5, Page 440, and by Indenture between Giles and Jonathan Slocum dated April 10, 1751, and recorded with the Registry at Book 5, Page 447 (the Indentures), Holden, Giles and Jonathan Slocum divided the Homestead, and Jonathan and Giles Slocum became owners of the portion of the Homestead owned by the parties in the case at bar. Conversely, through the Affidavit of Norton, the Commonwealth claims that Plaintiff Property and the Commonwealth Property have no historic unity of title.
Such dispute is not material given this courts finding, infra p. 12, with respect to the Order of Taking. As such, there is no need to make a finding at this time as to whether Plaintiff Property, the Commonwealth Property, and the Weiner Property have a common grantor.
[Note 7] Plaintiff also states that on July 24, 2009, she served upon the Commonwealth a request for admissions asking it to admit to the genuineness of the documents. Plaintiff then asked for leave to supplement the record with the Commonwealths responses but no such responses have been received by this court.
[Note 8] This court previously discussed Welch v. State of Maine, 2004 ME 84 (2004) in Decision 1.
[Note 9] In Commonwealth v. ELM Medical Laboratories, Inc., 33 Mass. App. Ct. 71 , 77-78 (1992), the Appeals Court stated, [t]here can be no doubt of the age and strength of the doctrine of sovereign immunity in this Commonwealth. In 1977, the Supreme Judicial Court observed, Massachusetts is one of only five remaining States which retain the common law [governmental] immunity at both the State and local levels.
[Note 10] The Commonwealth argues that G.L. c. 240, § 6 specifically excludes the Commonwealth because that section references persons, and the Commonwealth is not a person. It should be noted, however, that G. L. c. 240, § 1 (governing petitions to try title) also speaks in terms of persons, yet, as previously discussed, G. L. c. 240, § 5 contains an express waiver with respect to the Commonwealth. Such waiver would be superfluous if the term persons excluded the Commonwealth in context of G. L. c. 240.
The Commonwealth further claims that even if it was a person for the purposes of actions to quiet title, it is not an unavailable person and, thus, cannot be made a defendant in this action. This position by the Commonwealth implies that actions to quiet title are only valid against unascertainable persons, which, in the opinion of this court, is an absurd result. The fact that certain procedural requirements found within G.L. c. 240, §§ 6-10 do not apply to the case at bar does not eviscerate Plaintiffs right to file a suit in equity to quiet title.
[Note 11] Plaintiff also references the 1904 Deed to show other express grants of rights in Woods Road. However, the 1904 Deed is not in Plaintiffs chain of title. Moreover, it is unclear whether the road described in the 1904 Deed is Woods Road.
[Note 12] G. L. c. 187, § 5, states, in part,
[t]he owner or owners of real estate abutting on a private way who have by deed existing rights of ingress and egress upon such way or other private ways shall have the right by implication to place, install or construct in, on, along, under and upon said private way or other private way pipes, conduits, manholes . . . .
[Note 13] In Adams the easement holder (Gobbi) already owned a portion of the road at issue in fee and had the right to bring utilities in that portion of the road. 65 Mass. App. Ct. at 389. Furthermore, the Appeals Court noted the general rule that an easement carries with it every right necessary for its enjoyment. Id. at 393 n. 19.
[Note 14] See supra note 12.
[Note 15] Plaintiff also argues that the 1919 Deed, which is recorded and which warrants and defends the use of Woods Road to Plaintiffs predecessor, indicates that the right-of-way was acknowledged of record. The 1919 Deed, however, did not create the easement.
[Note 16] In the event that this court were able to address the easement by implication on its merits, it appears doubtful that such an argument would prevail. The Commonwealths title examiner, George S. Norton, states in his Affidavit that I find no historic unity of title between the Polchlopek parcel and the Commonwealths land. This finding is critical for a finding of an easement by implication. Although Plaintiff argues that Plaintiff Property and the Commonwealth Property had a common grantor, they produce no affidavit to place this issue in dispute. Plaintiffs engineer, William Morse, provided an Affidavit (on which Plaintiff relies to establish a common grantor) which states, the Polchlopek Parcel (Lot 6 on Asssessors Map 17) is located within the Peleg Slocum Homestead . . . and specifically located within Giles Slocum portion of the Peleg Slocum Homestead, . . . The Norton Affidavit agrees with this statement. Unfortunately for Plaintiff, such statement does not state that this parcel was in the same chain of title from which the Commonwealth Property is derived. Morse attaches a sketch to his affidavit, but such sketch does not clarify the situation without an explanation. Moreover, Morse is a surveyor, not a title examiner. And finally, even though Plaintiff infers that Norton did not research any deeds prior to 1833 in his analysis, there is an unrecorded deed in the 1700s in the summary judgment record on which Morse relies in his analysis. As a result, there does not appear to be a dispute over a material fact.