Mar 30, 2022
In Michael A. Tribuna, Trustee v. Jennifer Cohen et. al., Appeals Court Docket No. 21-P-197, a case litigated in the Appeals Court by Chris Malloy and Kate Brady, the Appeals Court rejected an attempt by a subdivision homeowner to exercise his easement rights to unilaterally alter and expand a roadway which serviced all the lots in the subdivision. MTM represented the homeowners’ association (Tru-Haven Association, Inc.).
The Appeals Court agreed with the Trial Court and determined that Plaintiff has no right to expand or otherwise make any material changes to the lay out of the Parker Drive traveled way.
Tru-Haven Village is a subdivision of approximately 40 homes located in Truro, Massachusetts. Tru-Haven Association, Inc. owns Parker Drive, which serves as the main access road for the residential subdivision. Plaintiff is a homeowner in Tru-Haven and has an express easement allowing him to use Parker Drive “as ways are commonly used in the Town of Truro…” The easement to use Parker Drive is common to the record title of the other Tru-Haven Village property owners. On paper (the subdivision plan), the Parker Drive right of way is 40 feet; as built on the ground, the Parker Drive traveled way is a narrower, gravel road that is approximately 14 feet.
Several years prior, Plaintiff sought to subdivide his lot, but was concerned about maintaining the frontage necessary to obtain approval of his subdivision plans. To satisfy his perceived frontage requirements, Plaintiff undertook plans to widen Parker Drive, but various landscaping rocks and other materials had been permanently placed outside the traveled roadway, but within the right of way, by another lot owner who lived across the street. Plaintiff brought suit against his neighbor claiming she had interfered with his easement rights and asked the court to compel the neighbor to remove the rocks so he could widen the roadway.
During the pendency of the litigation, the court ruled that to properly determine the rights of the parties in Parker Drive, the owner of Parker Drive, Tru-Haven Association, Inc., needed to be added as a party to the case. After Tru-Haven was added as a party, Plaintiff asserted numerous claims against Tru-Haven, which included a request for a declaration from the court that his easement rights afforded him the ability to alter Parker Drive without the consent or approval of the association. Plaintiff argued that his rights in Parker Drive extended to the full right of way (not merely the narrower traveled way) and sought judicial approval to expand the traveled way and otherwise improve Parker Drive. MTM argued, on behalf of the Association, that Tribuna’s rights were limited to passing and re-passing only and that Plaintiff’s easement rights must be balanced with those of the Association and other easement holders (the other Tru-Haven homeowners) who had repeatedly voted against widening Parker Drive to maintain a particular community aesthetic, to protect utility lines located in the right of way, and to foster slower driving speeds.
After summary judgment Plaintiff’s claims against both the association and the neighbor were dismissed in their entirety. The Trial Court agreed with Tru-Haven that Plaintiff did not have the right to modify Parker Drive in order to develop his property or otherwise. The Trial Court determined that Plaintiff’s easement grant is to pass and re-pass and does not confer an inherent right to access the full 40-foot right of way.
Plaintiff pursued an appeal. The Appeals Court agreed with the Trial Court and determined that Plaintiff has no right to expand or otherwise make any material changes to the lay out of the Parker Drive traveled way. In affirming the Trial Court decision, the Appeals Court added in its reasoning that maximizing development value was not one of the intended purposes of the Parker Drive easement and that there was no requirement under the subdivision plan that the traveled way of Parker Drive be wider.
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