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Dupuis v. Ellingwood

Supreme Court of Maine

June 27, 2017

JEAN DUPUIS
v.
STANLEY G. ELLINGWOOD et al.

          Submitted On Briefs: May 25, 2017

          Jon P. Plourde, Esq., and Norman J. Rattey, Esq., Skelton, Taintor & Abbott, Auburn, for appellant Jean Dupuis

          Matthew W. Evans, Esq., Palermo, for appellees Sylvia C. and Stanley G. Ellingwood

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

          GORMAN, J.

         [¶1] Jean Dupuis appeals from a judgment of the Superior Court (Kennebec County, Murphy, J.) declaring the ownership of and easement rights to certain property on Dupuis's complaint against Stanley G. Ellingwood and Sylvia C. Ellingwood. Dupuis contends that the court erred by concluding that, except for a limited area where a structure had been built, the Ellingwoods' express easement to lakefront property in Readfield has not been extinguished either by the Ellingwoods' abandonment of the easement or by Dupuis's adverse possession of the easement. We affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] On November 28, 2012, Dupuis initiated an action in the Superior Court against the Ellingwoods in which he sought a declaratory judgment that he owns title to certain lakefront property and that any easement rights the Ellingwoods once may have had to that same property have been extinguished.[1]

         [¶3] After a jury-waived trial, by judgment dated March 30, 2016, the court made the following factual findings, which are supported by competent record evidence. Dupuis and the Ellingwoods own property on Lake Maranacook in Readfield, in "what the parties sometimes refer to as the Touisset Point Development." Dupuis is the title owner of two unnumbered lots in the development. He purchased an unnumbered lot to the west of Lot 13 in 1996 and a second unnumbered lot to the east of Lot 14 in 2000; together, the two lots constitute what was identified on the original plan as the "Beach Area." Each lot has one hundred feet of shore frontage. The 2000 conveyance was subject to the following language in Dupuis's deed: "This conveyance is subject to rights, if any, others may have to use the beach area"

         [¶4] In 1969, the Ellingwoods acquired Lots 33-38 in the same development with the following language in their deed: "Also conveying to the grantees and those claiming under them the right of joint use with the said grantor and those claiming under him of the private beach area to be constructed. Such area to contain 100 feet of lake frontage." The court concluded that the Ellingwoods enjoy an express easement to use the Beach Area based on this language in their deed to Lots 33-38, in combination with the language of Dupuis's 2000 deed.

         [¶5] The court next considered whether the Ellingwoods' easement had been extinguished-either by their abandonment of the easement or by Dupuis's adverse possession of the easement. First, the court determined that the Ellingwoods, by their own concession, had abandoned that portion of the easement on which structures are located. The court determined, however, that Dupuis failed to prove the Ellingwoods' abandonment of the shorefront portion of the Beach Area.

         [¶6] As to Dupuis's claim that he extinguished the Ellingwoods' easement to the shorefront portion of the Beach Area by adverse possession, the court found that Dupuis was on notice from his 2000 deed that others claimed the right to use the Beach Area, and that Dupuis's recognition of those rights was further demonstrated by his attempts to obtain deeds from neighbors releasing their interests in the Beach Area. Based on these findings, the court concluded that Dupuis failed to establish that he possessed the easement "under a claim of right." The court therefore entered a judgment in favor of the Ellingwoods declaring that they have the right to "access the beach area so long as their use of this express easement remains reasonable as required by law."[2]

         [¶7] The court denied Dupuis's motions for further findings of fact and conclusions of law, see M.R. Civ. P. 52(b), and to ...


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