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Uzdavinis v. Wagemann

Superior Court of Maine, Oxford

June 21, 2017

JOAN UZDAVINIS, et al. Plaintiffs,
DEBORAH J. WAGEMANN, et al. Defendants.


          Lance E. Walker, Justice

         Plaintiffs complain that Defendants' installation of a dock in a lake at the end of a shared right-of-way, and storage of boats within the right-of-way, are unreasonable interferences of their co-tenant easement rights. Defendants seek a determination of the use and scope of the right-of-way. Evidence germane to the resolution of these issues were presented to the court in a nonjury trial on January 30 and 31, 2017. Several weeks after trial, the parties hied proposed finding of facts and conclusions of law.

         Upon careful consideration of the evidence, the court makes certain findings of fact and renders judgment as set forth below.

         I. Background

         Plaintiffs Joan Uzdavnis, Mary Malandrino, Thomas D. Boody, and Maureen D. Boody are owners of lake-front lots on Thompson Lake, Oxford, Maine, (Pl's' Ex. 16, 23-24), and they have the right to use a 30-foot right-of-way abutting their properties that runs between a private road and Thompson Lake. Plaintiffs Sean Reardon, Karen C. Reardon, and Anne B. Turner as Trustee of the Owen Family Irrevocable Trust Dated April 25, 2008, and Defendants Deborah J. Wagemann, Diane L. Page, and Douglas O. Wiles own non-waterfront lots, (Pl's' Ex. 15, 19-22) with rights to the same right-of-way based on language in their deeds "to use the said passageway to the shore and to use the shore fronting on the same for bathing and boating purposes."

         In 2014, Defendants placed a 4-foot wide dock at the end of the right-of-way at the edge of the shore fronting, which has been used by Defendants to tie their pontoon boat on an unrestricted basis during the summer months. Defendants did not obtain the permission to install the dock from other holders of the easement.

         II. Discussion

         a. Interference with cotenants' rights

         1. Interference with use

         The holder of an easement has the right to do what is reasonably necessary for the enjoyment of the easement. 28A C.J.S. Easements §§ 144, 161. However, if the holder of an easement in common uses that easement in such a manner as to unreasonably interfere with the rights of another holder of the same easement, the latter is entitled to relief. Poire v. Manchester, 506 A.2d 1160, 1163 (Me. 1986); 86 C.J.S. Tenancy in Common § 17. Reasonable use is a question of fact. Poire, 506 A.2d at 1163. All cotenants should have adequate access and opportunity to use the easement. Indermuehle v. West Shore Rd. Improvement Ass'n, Inc., No. CV-86-142, 1987 Me. Super. LEXIS 146, at *9 (May 22, 1987). The appropriate inquiry is a comparison of the actual use made by one easement holder to the actual use made by the others, and the court may consider the surrounding circumstances in its determination of what is reasonable. Poire, 506 A.2d at 1163 (the invitation of outside guests to use a beach shared by tenants in common was unreasonable where it led to overcrowding and hostile confrontations); 28A C.J.S. Easements § 161; Chase v. Eastman, No. 85-562, 1988, Me. Super. LEXIS 212, at *3-4 (Aug. 29, 1988) (the addition of a dock in a reserved shorefront area was an unreasonable interference where it would have been in the sole area left for non-boating activities.)

         i. Use of the passageway

         Plaintiffs argue that Defendants' boat storage in the passageway unreasonably interferes with their use of the passageway. (Pl's' Post-Trial Br. 14.) A right-of-way/passageway allows the holder to pass or cross, and the right of ingress and egress is the right to pass over, not control. 28A C.J.S. Easements §§ 8(a), 144; Ballentine's Law Dictionary (copyright 2010), available at LEXIS ("passageway."). However, an easement providing a right-of-way may be found to support other uses besides passage, depending on its purpose. See Badger v. Hill, 404 A.2d 222, 226-228 (Me. 1979) (a dock was permissible at the end of a right-of-way to a river given its purpose to provide access to the river.)

         Here, Plaintiffs concede that boat storage "may very well be within the scope of the common easement." But, throughout the boating season, [1] Defendants have stored canoes, kayaks, a 19V⅛-foot wellcraft, and an 18-foot pontoon boat in the right-of-way. Plaintiff Reardon testified that he has ceased to launch his pontoon boat from the passageway because of the stored boats (and dock), and Plaintiffs Uzdavinis and Boody testified that the boat storage interferes with their lateral access to the passageway from the sides of their properties. Plaintiff Uzdavnis testified that the reduced width of the right-of-way affects her ability to install and retrieve her dock between ...

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