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Town of Carthage v. Friends of Maine's Mountains

Supreme Judicial Court of Maine

March 8, 2016

TOWN OF CARTHAGE
v.
FRIENDS OF MAINE'S MOUNTAINS

         Argued November 3, 2015.

         On the briefs and at oral argument:

          Sarah A. McDaniel, Esq., Douglas McDaniel Campo & Schools LLC, PA, Westbrook, for appellant Friends of Maine's Mountains.

         Jennifer F. Kreckel, Esq., Kreckel Law, P.A., Rumford, for appellee Town of Carthage.

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

          OPINION

         SAUFLEY, C.J.

          [¶1] This appeal arises from a complaint filed by the Town of Carthage in 2010 seeking to quiet title to two 160-acre parcels of undeveloped land. The Town based its claim of ownership of the land on its uninterrupted possession of the land for over a hundred years. Friends of Maine's Mountains (FOMM) filed an answer and counterclaim, claiming to have recently acquired an interest in the parcels through a descendent of the parcels' last known owner.

          [¶2] After hearing arguments, the Superior Court (Franklin County, Murphy, J. ) granted a summary judgment for the Town and entered a declaratory judgment in favor of the Town. FOMM appeals,[1] arguing that the Superior Court erred in determining that the undisputed facts demonstrated that the Town obtained title to the two parcels of property through a tax sale that took place over 110 years ago in 1905.[2] We affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

          [¶3] Viewed " in the light most favorable to the party against whom the summary judgment has been granted," the following facts are drawn from the statements of material facts and are undisputed unless expressly stated otherwise. Budge v. Town of Millinocket, 2012 ME 122, ¶ 12, 55 A.3d 484 (quotation marks omitted).

          [¶4] The Town of Carthage is a municipality that was incorporated in 1826, located in Franklin County. Within the Town are two 160-acre parcels of land, identified as Lot 8 in Range 4 and Lot 8 in Range 5. The ownership of these parcels of land forms the basis of the dispute before us.

          [¶5] Available documentation of ownership of the parcels begins with the Town's 1826 Tax Valuation and Commitment Book listing Benjamin Weld as the 1824 " non-resident owner" of Lots 8 in Ranges 4 and 5. In a deed recorded in the Cumberland County Registry of Deeds and dated December 19, 1843, land owned by Benjamin Weld, deceased, was transferred from Caroline Weld, as administratrix, to Joseph McKeen, Esq. On December 21, 1843, McKeen transferred the property back to Caroline Weld. No records have been found in the Franklin County, Oxford County, or Cumberland County Registries of Deeds showing a transfer of the lots after the transfer from McKeen to Caroline Weld in 1843.

          [¶6] Approximately sixty years after that transfer, in 1902, 1903, and 1904, the tax commitment books for the Town listed the owners of Lots 8 in Ranges 4 and 5 as " owners unknown." In 1902, the Town valued Lot 8 in Range 4 at $75 and Lot 8 in Range 5 at $50, and listed each lot as containing 160 acres. In 1903 and 1904, the Town valued each lot at $75.

          [¶7] In 1903, the Town published a notice that the two lots would be sold for unpaid taxes on the first Monday in December at 9:00 a.m. at the old schoolhouse. The 1903 notice was published in the October 21, October 28, and November 4, 1903, editions of the Farmington Chronicle. The 1903 notice stated that the owners of the two lots were " unknown." It also specified that the lots were Lot 8 in Range 4 and Lot 8 ...


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