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Gravison v. Fisher

Supreme Judicial Court of Maine

March 1, 2016

BEVERLY A. GRAVISON et al.
v.
CALVERT M. FISHER et al

         Argued June 18, 2015.

          Judgment vacated to the extent that it declares Bolan and Lawrence the holders of deeded easements over the Edwardses' intertidal area. Judgment clarified to reflect that the neighbors' beach rights are limited to recreational activities reasonably related to bathing and boating. In all other respects, judgment affirmed.

          On the briefs: David A. Soley, Esq., and Glenn Israel, Esq., Bernstein Shur, Portland, for appellants Beverly A. Gravison, David B. Gravison, Darlene F. Edwards, and Lewis M. Edwards III.

         Andrew W. Sparks, Esq., and Michael T. Devine, Esq., Drummond & Drummond, LLP, Portland, for cross-appellant Ellwood Arthur Titcomb Living Trust.

         Paul F. Driscoll, Esq., and David A. Goldman, Esq., Norman Hanson & DeTroy, LLC, Portland, for cross-appellants Calvert M. Fisher, Wendy B. Fisher, David A. Massimi, Theresa M. Massimi, Kenneth C. Roy, Barbara J. Watrous, Douglas E. Johnson, Leah Johnson, Nina Paul, Jean Perkins, Mary-Lou M. Moulton, and Michele E. Lawrence.

         Judy A.S. Metcalf, Esq., and Ryan P. Dumais, Esq., Eaton Peabody, Brunswick, for cross-appellant Nancy Ellen Wolff Bolan.

         Anne Long, appellee, Pro se.

         At oral argument: David A. Soley, Esq., for appellants Beverly A. Gravison, David B. Gravison, Darlene F. Edwards, and Lewis M. Edwards III.

         Andrew W. Sparks, Esq., for appellee Ellwood Arthur Titcomb Living Trust.

         David A. Goldman, Esq., for appellees Calvert M. Fisher, Wendy B. Fisher, David A. Massimi, Theresa M. Massimi, Kenneth C. Roy, Barbara J. Watrous, Douglas E. Johnson, Leah Johnson, Nina Paul, Jean Perkins, Mary-Lou M. Moulton, and Michele E. Lawrence.

         Judy A.S. Metcalf, Esq., for appellee Nancy Ellen Wolff Bolan.

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

          OPINION

         JABAR, J.

          [¶1] This matter, like the matter of Edwards v. Blackman, 2015 ME 165, __ A.3d __, concerns property rights in certain oceanfront lots located in the Coopers Beach neighborhood in Owls Head. In this matter, Beverly and David Gravison appeal from a judgment entered by the Superior Court (Knox County, Hjelm, J. ) denying the Gravisons' complaint for deed reformation. Joined by Darlene and Lewis Edwards, the Gravisons also challenge the court's declaration that certain neighboring property owners hold easements that permit recreational use of the beach located in front of the Edwardses' and the Gravisons' property. The Gravisons and the Edwardses additionally appeal, and Sandra Titcomb, Trustee of the Arthur Titcomb Living Trust (Titcomb) cross-appeals, from the court's declaration that certain neighboring property owners hold easements in a perimeter path located on the properties owned by the Gravisons, Titcomb, and the Edwardses. By cross-appeal, the neighboring property owners challenge the court's ruling regarding the beneficiaries and scope of the easements over the perimeter path.

          [¶2] We affirm the denial of the Gravisons' complaint for deed reformation, and affirm the court's decision on all issues pertaining to the perimeter path. As to the beach easements, we affirm in part and vacate in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

          [¶3] Unless otherwise indicated, the following facts are drawn from the trial court's judgment and post-judgment order, and are supported by the record.

         A. The Properties at Issue

          [¶4] The Gravisons own an oceanfront lot located in the Coopers Beach neighborhood in Owls Head. Their lot is next to an oceanfront lot owned by Titcomb, which is next to an oceanfront lot owned by the Edwardses. The beach in front of the Gravisons' lot is the subject of the reformation dispute. The dispute over the perimeter path concerns a strip of land that is located near, but does not touch, the high-water mark in front of the properties owned by the Gravisons, Titcomb, and the Edwardses. The beach easement dispute concerns the intertidal area in front of the lots owned by the Gravisons, Titcomb, and the Edwardses.

          [¶5] Mary-Lou Moulton owns an oceanfront lot located near the Edwardses' property. Separated from the shorefront by the oceanfront properties lie inland lots owned by Calvert and Wendy Fisher, David and Theresa Massimi, Kenneth Roy and Barbara Watrous, Nancy Ellen Wolff Bolan, Douglas and Leah Johnson, Anne Long, Jean Perkins, Nina Paul, and Michele Lawrence. These individuals and Moulton (collectively, the neighboring property owners) assert the easements at issue in this case.

          [¶6] A map admitted as an exhibit at trial labels and depicts the configuration of most of the parties' properties. We include a copy of that map below.

         B. The Blackinton Plan

          [¶7] To address the easements in the oceanfront lots, it is necessary to trace the chains of title back to June of 1882, when A.D. Blackinton drew up a plan for the subdivision of a tract of land located in the Coopers Beach neighborhood (the Blackinton Plan). The tract depicted on that plan (the Perry Parcel) was owned first by Eliza Perry, and then by her daughter, Cora Perry. Eliza and Cora are the common grantors, in whole or in part, of all of the properties owned by the parties to this action.

          [¶8] The Blackinton Plan was recorded on November 5, 1924. The plan was altered in the period between its creation in 1882 and recording in 1924, as demonstrated by notations on the recorded plan of events that occurred after 1882. The recorded plan shows several formal ways with boundaries marked by straight, solid lines of uniform width. It also shows a way (the perimeter path) that runs along the shoreline perimeter of the land now owned by the Gravisons, Titcomb, and the Edwardses. The recorded plan does not indicate whether the perimeter path was a component of the original plan. The recorded plan marks the boundaries of the perimeter path by a set of curved, dashed lines of non-uniform width, in a manner that is qualitatively different from the plan's portrayal of other bounded ways. As shown on the recorded plan the perimeter path does not at any point touch the high-water mark.

          [¶9] At some point, the Edwardses' house was constructed, with a portion of the house encroaching on the perimeter path. There is no evidence that anyone objected to that construction based upon an asserted interest in the perimeter path. Despite the placement of the Edwardses' house on part of the perimeter path, individuals who do not own the land covered by the perimeter path have made at least occasional use of the land that lies in the approximate location of the perimeter path as it is shown on the plan.

          [¶10] A copy of the Blackinton Plan was admitted as an exhibit at trial. We reproduce that copy here.

         C. The Parties' Source Deeds[1]

          [¶11] Before the Blackinton Plan was recorded in 1924, Eliza and Cora conveyed out of the Perry Parcel the lots that now comprise the properties owned by the Fishers, the Johnsons, and Moulton (collectively, the pre-record owners). The properties now owned by the Massimis, Roy and Watrous, Bolan, Long, Perkins, Paul, and Lawrence (collectively, the post-record owners) were conveyed out of the Perry Parcel, in whole or in part, after the plan's recording.[2]

          [¶12] The following facts regarding the language of the parties' source deeds are drawn from the deeds summarized by Exhibit 211, which was entered in evidence as a demonstrative aid and relied upon by the parties and the court. All of the neighboring property owners derive title through source deeds that refer to (1) the " plan of Cooper's Beach as laid out in June 1882" ; (2) the " plan of said Coopers Beach as laid out in June 1882" ; or (3) the " plan of Coopers Beach made by A.D. Blackin[]ton, Surveyor, dated June, 1882."

          [¶13] Based on the contents of Exhibit 211 and the deeds to which that exhibit refers, the trial court found that the pre-record source deeds convey the " privilege" or " privileges of all streets laid out on said Plan," while the post-record source deeds convey " rights of way" shown on the plan.

          [¶14] The trial court also found that a majority of the neighboring property owners derive title through source deeds that grant " use of the beach for boating and bathing purposes." As demonstrated by the deeds in the record, this finding holds true for all of the neighboring property owners except Bolan and Lawrence. Instead of " beach" rights, the source deeds for the properties held by these individuals grant " all riparian rights and shore privileges of every nature."

          [¶15] Neither the plan nor the parties' source deeds identify the location of the " beach" or the area subject to " riparian rights and shore privileges." When the Perrys first conveyed " beach" rights, they owned the intertidal area in front of the properties that are now owned by the Gravisons, Titcomb, and the Edwardses.

         D. Farber's Will and the ...


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