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French v. Estate of Gutzan

Supreme Judicial Court of Maine

November 24, 2015

RICHARD P. FRENCH et al.
v.
ESTATE OF MARTHA GUTZAN et al

Submitted On Briefs October 21, 2015

Page 658

On the briefs: Donald Brown, Esq., Brewer, for appellant Estate of Martha Gutzan.

Valerie Chiasson, Esq., Ellsworth, for appellees Richard P. French and Santos French.

Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, and HJELM, JJ.

OPINION

Page 659

ALEXANDER, J.

[¶1] The Estate of Martha Gutzan appeals from a declaratory judgment entered by the District Court (Ellsworth, Mallonee, J. ) following a nonjury trial determining that Richard P. French owns an access easement across property owned by the Estate. French's chain of title traces back to an 1880 deed reserving the easement in question. Because the 1880 deed created an easement appurtenant benefitting French's property, and the Estate had notice of the easement, we affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

[¶2] In 1993, French purchased from his father's estate an undeveloped lot with no road access. French's parents had purchased that property and received a deed in 1944 from a couple named Goodell (" the Goodell deed" ). In 1998, French purchased property from the heirs of a family named Grindle by quitclaim deed (" the Grindle deed" ). French contends that the two deeds convey the same property, but the relationship between the two deeds was never clearly established at trial.

[¶3] The chain of title for the property described in the Grindle deed traces back to an 1867 conveyance between members of the Hutchings family. Prior to that transaction, French's property and the Estate's property were one lot.

[¶4] Through a series of intra-family transactions, that property was divided, shuffled between family members, recombined, and divided again.[1] The key transaction occurred in 1880, when Reuben Hutchings transferred a large part of the then combined property to his brother Edward. From the transferred property, Reuben Hutchings reserved French's lot to himself, along with " the right of way from said lot East of Meadow Brook to the County road in the way as now travelled."

[¶5] In 1884, Reuben Hutchings transferred French's lot to Andrew Grindle " with all the privileges and appurtenances thereunto." By the Grindle deed, Grindle's heirs transferred the lot to French. In two transactions in 1884 and 1885, the Estate's lot was transferred from Reuben Hutchings's brother Edward to an owner whose successors in interest transferred the property to the Estate in 1987. The Estate's title history and deed contains language subjecting the property to " the right reserved . . . to Reuben H. Hutchings to cross from a lot east of Meadow Brook across the northerly part of this lot to the county road."

[¶6] After the Estate denied French use of the access easement, French brought this action to quiet title.[2] The court held a nonjury trial and, in its judgment, concluded that French, by virtue of the Grindle deed, owns an access easement over the Estate's property. The court's conclusion was based on its factual findings that the right of way easement reserved by Reuben Hutchings in the 1880 transaction and transferred to Grindle in 1884, was transferred to French by the Grindle deed, and that, ...


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