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Ouellette v. Labonte Investment Realty, LLC

Superior Court of Maine, Aroostook

March 27, 2017

GERARD OUELLETTE and ADRIENNE OUELLETTE PLAINTIFFS
v.
LABONTE INVESTMENT REALTY, LLC DEFENDANT

          ORDER AND DECISION

         BACKGROUND

         By a Complaint dated July 23, 2015, the Plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment establishing that they are the owners of a 400' X 600' parcel of land located at 484-490 Lakeshore Road in Madawaska, Maine that was excepted from Parcel Seven of a mortgage the Plaintiffs granted to Peoples Heritage Bank in May, 2000, recorded at Northern District of Aroostook Registry of Deeds (hereafter NDARD) Bk. 1209, p.98. Trial was held on Plaintiffs Complaint and Defendant's Counterclaim on June 27 and 28, 2017. In dispute is where, on the face of the earth, the excepted parcel is located, described in the mortgage, to wit:

Excepting and Reserving Therefrom the following premises: A certain piece or parcel of land, with buildings thereon, being part of Original Lot No. One Hundred Fifty Three(#153) and/or Original Lot No. One Hundred Fifty Four (#154) and more particularly described as being approximately four hundred(400) feet in depth and six hundred(600) feet in length and consisting of the primary residence and surrounding pond of Gerard and Adrienne Ouellette, husband and wife.

         As indicated, this 400' X 600' parcel first came into existence when the Plaintiffs conveyed to Peoples Heritage Bank a mortgage dated May 18, 2000 recorded at NDARD Bk. 1209, p. 98 which pledged several parcels of farm land. (Plaintiff Exhibit 3) The mortgage secured two loans totaling $1, 110, 000. Parcel Seven (Ouellette Farm) of the mortgage description conveyed a strip of land 40 rods in width in Lots #153 and #154. At its westerly side the 40 rod strip is dissected by Lake Shore Road. The Plaintiffs source of title to this 40 rod strip of land derived from a deed recorded at NDARD Bk. 399, p. 221, Parcel #3. (Plaintiffs' Exhibit l)The 400' X 600' parcel was excepted from said mortgage conveyance, meaning when the Plaintiffs mortgaged the farm land to Peoples Heritage Bank, the 400' X 600' parcel was not included.

         Situated in the 40 rod strip and adjacent to Lake Shore Road is a pond constructed by the Plaintiffs, and several buildings related to potato operations. On the east side of Lake Shore Road is the pond, a machine shed, Quonset hut, packing shed and fuel pumps, and also a dwelling type residence. At a prior time the dwelling was the Plaintiffs' residence, but at the time of the mortgage it was used as an office with an upstairs apartment. This dwelling will hereafter be referred to as the original house or home. On the west side of the road are three additional buildings for potato storage and truck maintenance. (See Plaintiffs' Exhibit 11 and Defendant's Exhibit H).

         Immediately adjacent and to the north of the 40 rod strip of land the Plaintiffs own a 30 rod wide strip of land, described as being in Lots #153 and #154, by a deed recorded at NDARD Bk. 343, p. 291, [1] (Plaintiffs' Exhibit 2). Situated on this 30 rod strip of land is a residence constructed by the Plaintiffs in 1976, and have since resided as their principal residence, including in the year 2000 when the 40 rod strip of land was mortgaged to Peoples Heritage. For about 10 years prior to 1976, Plaintiffs lived in a trailer located on the same lot. The address of this property is known as 454 Lake Shore Road, and the home situated thereon will hereafter be referred to as the new house or home. . (Again, see Plaintiffs' Exhibit 11 and Defendant's Exhibit H).

         Ultimately, Peoples Heritage Bank foreclosed on its mortgage recorded at NDARD Bk. 1209, p. 98, acquiring title to Parcel Seven which contained the 40 rod strip of land subject to the exception for the 400' X 600' parcel. Peoples Heritage sold the foreclosed property, including the aforementioned buildings, to Lionel Labonte by a deed recorded at NDARD Bk. 1491, p. 343. (Plaintiffs Exhibit 8). Subsequently, Lionel Labonte conveyed title to the 40 rod ship and buildings, excepting the 400' X 600' piece, to the Defendant, Labonte Investment Realty, LLC by a deed recorded at NDARD Bk. 1862, p. 154 (Defendant's Exhibit F).

         There is no question the objective of the exclusion was to exclude from the mortgage a parcel of land 400' in depth and 600' in length that included the primary residence and surrounding pond. But where that land is located, and what was intended by reference to the primary residence is the issue of the case. Plaintiffs claim that the 400' X 600' parcel is located entirely within the bounds of the 40 rod strip, on the east side of Lake Shore Road and includes the pond and the original home, and also includes the packing shed, machine shed, Quonset hut and fuel pumps. (See Plaintiffs' Exhibit 11, parcel outlined in red). Defendant asserts that the 400' X 600' exception was intended to exclude from the mortgage the Plaintiffs new home, (notwithstanding it being situated on the abutting 30 rod strip of land) and pond, (See Defendant's Exhibit H, parcel outlined in green) and that the conveyance to Lionel Labonte of the 40 rod strip included the original home, packing shed, machine shed, Quonset hut and fuel pumps on the east side of the road and also the land and buildings on the west side of the road. Either the original house or the new house could appropriately fit within a 400' X 600' lot also containing the pond.

         DISCUSSION

         1. Is the language in the mortgage deed describing the excepted 400'X 600' parcel ambiguous?

         To determine where on the face of the earth the 400' X 600' parcel is located, the court must first assess whether the description in the deed is free from ambiguity. The determination of property boundaries as ascertained from a deed is a question of law. McGeechan v. Sherwood, 2000 ME 188, ¶ 24. Where the description in a deed of the premises intended to be conveyed is clear and free from ambiguity, it cannot be varied, controlled or contradicted by parol or extrinsic evidence. Card v. Nickerson, 150 Me. 89, 92 (1954). Parol evidence is inadmissible to explain, enlarge, vary or control a written instrument. Id. If there is no ambiguity, parol evidence, even if admitted, is incompetent in a real action to contradict the terms of a deed. Sargent v. Coolidge, 399 A.2d 1333, 1345 (Me. 1979). However, if the language of the deed is ambiguous, and the intention of the parties is in doubt, the court may then resort to rules of construction and may examine the deed in light of extrinsic circumstances surrounding its execution. McGeechan, ¶ 24. In that scenario, the rules of construction require a court to establish boundaries in descending order of control by monuments, courses, distances and quantity. Id. The location of monuments on the face of the earth is an issue of fact. Id., ¶ 25. Once an ambiguity is found then extrinsic evidence may be admitted and considered to show the intention of the parties. Portland Valve, Inc. v. Rockwood Systems Corp., 460 A.2d 1383, 1387 (Me. 1983), Contract language is ambiguous when it is reasonably susceptible of different interpretations. Id.

         The language in question, the exception from the mortgage, reads:

Excepting and Reserving Therefrom the following premises: A certain piece or parcel of land, with buildings thereon, being part of Original Lot No. One Hundred Fifty Three (#153) and/or Original Lot No. One Hundred Fifty Four (#154) and more particularly described as being approximately four hundred(400) feet in depth and six hundred(600) feet in length and consisting of the primary residence and surrounding pond of Gerard and Adrienne Ouellette, husband and wife.

         For the proposition that the exception is unambiguous, Plaintiffs presented the testimony of their expert, licensed land surveyor Michael Cyr. Plaintiffs assert that from the wording of the deed there is only one possible location for this 400' X 600' parcel, outlined in red in Plaintiffs' Exhibit 11. As depicted, the lot is shown to abut on its west side for a distance of 600 feet Lake Shore Road, and abut on its north for a distance of 400 feet the Plaintiffs' 30 rod strip on which the new home is situated. (See Plaintiff Exhibit 11), And as depicted, the outlined parcel encompasses the original home, machine shed, packing shed, Quonset hut and fuel pumps.

         To support this singular location, Plaintiffs refer to the opening phrase Excepting and Reserving Therefrom for the proposition that all of the excepted parcel must come from the 40 rod strip as that is what was being mortgaged. Next, Plaintiff points to the words "..with buildings thereon., " to support their position that the exclusion included not just the original home but also any other buildings such as machine shed, packing shed, etc. despite the fact that the exclusion only specifically referenced the primary residence and surrounding pond. And as for the word primary modifying the word residence, Plaintiffs' expert explained that the dictionary definition of primary is first in time, and first in sequence. Plaintiffs expert testified this was consistent with his knowledge of the Plaintiffs personally, and that ...


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