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Wardwell v. Duggins

Supreme Court of Maine

April 12, 2016

CHARLES D. WARDWELL
v.
JOHN R. DUGGINS et al.

Submitted On Briefs: October 21, 2015

Reporter of Decisions

On the briefs:

Andrew T. Dawson, Esq., and Joseph M. O'Donnell, Esq., Goodspeed & O'Donnell, Augusta, for appellant Charles D. Wardwell

John R. Duggins & Corie L. Duggins did not file a brief

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

HJELM, J.

[¶1] Charles D. Wardwell owns land that is burdened by an easement benefiting an abutting parcel owned by John R. Duggins and Corie L. Duggins. Disputes arose regarding the permissible uses of the easement, resulting in this action. After a nonjury trial, the Superior Court (Kennebec County, Murphy, J.) issued a judgment declaring in part that the scope of the easement includes hunting and recreational activity. Wardwell appeals from that aspect of the judgment, arguing that the parties to the grant did not intend those uses for the easement. We affirm the judgment.[1]

I. BACKGROUND

[¶2] The court made the following findings of fact based on competent evidence in the record following a nonjury trial. See French v. Estate of Gutzan, 2015 ME 152, ¶ 7, 128 A.3d 657. The Dugginses own land in Litchfield that is benefited by an easement running across Wardwell's abutting lot. The easement, which provides access from the Dugginses' land to a public way, was created in a 1954 deed from Clarence Linton to Harry J. Wille and Marie Wille. In that transaction, Linton conveyed a portion of his land to the Willes. He retained the remaining land, which is now owned by the Dugginses. Wardwell now owns a portion of the parcel that Linton conveyed to the Willes.

[¶3] The 1954 deed creating the easement describes it as follows:

Excepting and reserving for the said Grantor [Linton], his heirs or assigns, a right of way by foot or vehicle over the Southerly end of the [premises granted to the Willes] as now laid out and used, from said Hallowell Road to other land owned by the said Grantor on the Easterly side of the [premises granted to the Willes].

[¶4] In 1962, Linton conveyed the dominant estate and the appurtenant easement to a logging company. After some subsequent conveyances, the Dugginses acquired the dominant estate in a 2006 warranty deed, which includes a description of the easement as a "right of way by foot or vehicle as reserved in said Wille's deed over and across the southerly end of Wille's property as the same is now established." Wardwell acquired the servient estate in a 2007 warranty deed from his brother, Richard K. Wardwell Jr., where the easement is similarly described as "a right of way by foot or vehicle over the southerly end of the [premises granted to Wardwell] as now laid out and used."

[ΒΆ5] Since its creation in 1954, the easement has been used periodically by various owners of the dominant estate, including the Dugginses, for harvesting and transporting timber. Some time after Wardwell acquired the servient estate, the Dugginses improved the right-of-way by applying gravel and installing a culvert, precipitating the present conflict. In March 2013, Wardwell filed a complaint requesting that the court declare that the Dugginses' activities exceeded the scope of the easement. With their answer, ...


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