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Millet v. C & C Family, LLC

Superior Court of Maine, Cumberland

March 25, 2015

DONALD M. MILLET, et al., Plaintiffs
v.
C & C FAMILY, LLC, et al., Defendants

ORDER ON MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Nancy Mills, Justice

Before the court is defendants' motion for summary judgment on the complaint and the counterclaim. Plaintiffs have opposed the motion and request judgment in their favor. See M.R. Civ. P. 56(c) ("Summary judgment, when appropriate, may be rendered against the moving party."). Plaintiffs' complaint includes two counts: in count L plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment that the development of a driveway across Lot 1 to access another lot would violate the restrictive covenants applicable to Lot 1, and in count II, plaintiffs seek an injunction prohibiting die construction of a driveway across Lot 1. Defendants counterclaim also includes two counts: in count I, defendants seek a declaratory judgment that they may construct a driveway across Lot 1 or Lot 3 to access the back lot, and in count H, defendants seek an injunction prohibiting the plaintiffs from denying defendants the right to construct the proposed driveway. For the following reasons, plaintiffs' motion is granted and defendants' motion is denied.

FACTS

Plaintiffs Donald and Mary Jane Millett own lot 6 in die Fort Hills Estates subdivision. (Defs.' Supp. S.M.F. ¶ 1.) Defendant Travis Caruso and his wife own Lot 3 and defendant C&C Family owns Lot 1 in the same subdivision. (Def.'s Supp. S.M.F. ¶¶ 2, 8.) C&C Family also owns the lot behind Fort Hills Estates, "the back lot", which adjoins Lot 1 on its northern side. (Def.'s Supp. S.M.F. ¶ 3.) Originally, all of the lots in Fort Hill Estates were subject to certain restrictive covenants. (See, e.g., Pls.' Tab 2, at 2.)

Defendants claim that they intend to build a single-family home on the back lot. (Defs.' Supp. S.M.F. ¶ 4.) Plaintiffs claim that defendants are not limited to building a single-family home and may in the future seek to subdivide the back lot. (Pls.' Opp. S.M.F. ¶ 4.) There is no dispute that defendants intend to reach the back lot by way of a driveway across Lot 1. (Defs.' Supp. S.M.F. ¶ 5.)

In 1990, Martin and Michaele Shiers obtained a deed from the other lot owners in Fort Hills Estates, releasing Lot 3 from the single-family residence restriction. (Defs.' Supp. S.M.F. ¶ 10.) Plaintiff Donald Millett signed the release, but his wife, plaintiff Jane Millett, who was an owner of record at the time, did not. (Pls.' Opp. S.M.F. ¶ 10.) When the Carusos acquired Lot 3 in 2006, it was advertised as a multi-family lot. (Defs.' Supp. S.M.F. ¶ 11.) Martin and Michaele Shiers deeded Lot 3 to the Carusos, and this deed, defendants claim, mistakenly contained the previously released single-family residence covenant. (Defs.' Supp. S.M.F. ¶ 12.) After realizing this mistake, the Shiers issued the Carusos a corrective warranty deed that does not contain the single-family residence restriction. (Defs.' Supp. S.M.F. ¶ 13.)

Plaintiffs allege, however, that Martin and Michaele Shiers voluntarily re-imposed the single-family residence restriction on their lot after they obtained the release deed. (Pls.' Add. S.M.F. ¶ 15.) Further, there is no dispute that Mary Jane Caruso owned Lot 6 on the date the release deed was signed, but she was not a party to the release deed. (Pls.' Add. S.M.F. ¶¶ 17-18.)

DISCUSSION

Summary Judgment Standard

"Summary judgment is appropriate if the record reflects that there is no genuine issue of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Dussault v. RRE Coach Lantern Holdings, LLC, 2014 ME 8, ¶ 12, 86 A.3d 52 (quoting F.R. Carroll, Inc. v. TD Bank, N.A., 2010 ME 115, ¶ 8, 8 A.3d 646). "A material fact is one that can affect the outcome of the case, and there is a genuine issue when there is sufficient evidence for a fact-finder to choose between competing versions of the fact." McIlroy v. Gibson's Apple Orchard, 2012 ME 59, ¶ 7, 43 A.3d 948 (quoting N. E. Ins. Co. v. Young, 2011 ME 89, ¶ 17, 26 A.3d 794). "Even when one party's version of the facts appears more credible and persuasive to the court, any genuine factual dispute must be resolved through fact-finding, regardless of the nonmoving party's likelihood of success." Lewis v. Concord Gen. Mut. Ins. Co., 2014 ME 34, ¶ 10, 87 A.3d 732. If facts are undisputed but nevertheless capable of supporting conflicting, plausible inferences, "the choice between those inferences is not for the court on summary judgment." Id.

Lot 1: Single-Family Use Restriction

Defendants argue that as long as the driveway across their property is used only to access a single-family home on another lot, the driveway does not violate the single-family residence requirement in their deed. The construction of a deed is a question of law. The court must "give words their general and ordinary meaning to determine if they create any ambiguity." Sleeper v. Loring, 2013 ME 112, ¶ 12, 83 A.3d 769. The restrictive covenant applicable to lot 1 in this case states: "Said lot shall be used for a single family residence only and no commercial, industrial or business use shall be permitted thereon." (Defs.' Supp. S.M.F. ¶ 2; Caruso Dep. 4-5, Ex. 2.)

In ALC Development Corp. v. Walker, the Law Court interpreted a similar restrictive covenant that provided that "[n]o lot shall be improved or used except for single family residential purposes." 2002 ME 11, ¶ 12, 787 A.2d 770. In that case the developer, ALC, argued that it could build a road across Lot 1, which was subject to the restrictive covenant, to reach an abutting subdivision, "provided that the road services only single-family residences and not multi-family dwellings or commercial structures." Id. The Law Court rejected this argument and explained that the use of the other subdivision "is irrelevant to whether the roadway complies with the lot's use restriction." Id. The court concluded, "[t]he use of Lot 1 for construction of a roadway to access another subdivision is inconsistent with the single-family residential use restriction that ALC imposed on all lots in the Coulthard Farms subdivision, including Lot 1." Id.

Defendants attempt to distinguish ALC Development Corp. on the grounds that the developer in that case intended to use the roadway to access a multiple-unit subdivision. Id. ¶ 7. Under ALC, however, use of the neighboring lot is irrelevant to the court's analysis. The construction of a driveway over Lot 1 in this case to access the back lot is inconsistent with the single-family use ...


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