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Wadsworth v. Havey

Superior Court of Maine, Hancock

December 7, 2018

BEVERLEY WADSWORTH, et al Plaintiffs
v.
MORTON HAVEY Defendant

          DECISION & JUDGMENT

          This matter came before the court for a bench trial during the July civil trial term. Subsequent to trial, the parties supplemented the record with the submission of the deposition transcript from Michael Benjamin, The parties then submitted written closing arguments and reply memoranda for the court's further consideration.

         The issues to be addressed at trial and resolved by die court included the location of boundary lines between the adjacent property of the parties; express easement rights; declaratory judgment claims regarding the same; and trespass and damage to property.[1] After consideration of the testimony and evidence presented, and the arguments of counsel, the court finds as follows:

          FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The plaintiffs, Dyer and Beverly Wadsworth, own a residential parcel of land on Tunic Lake Road in Sullivan Maine, which they acquired in 2011. Their parcel, along with an adjacent lot, was originally created in 1967 by a deed from Oscar Havey to Clarence Bevis. The defendant, Morton Havey, is the current owner of the remaining adjoining parcel.

         The Wadsworths' deed, which references the original 1967 conveyance creating the lots, ties the property boundaries to the location of the "northerly sideline of the public highway" now known as Tunk Lake Road, Louis Edward Pare, the surveyor the plaintiffs hired to survey their property, and who later provided testimony during the trial, determined the road references to be ambiguous, and based his opinions of the lot boundaries upon a 1987 Charles Simpson survey, and Mr. Simpson's location of several pre-existing iron monuments. The surveyor the defendant hired, Adam Robinson, testified that, in his opinion, reference to the north sideline of the road in the relevant deeds, was unambiguous, and referred to the north side of the Tunk Lake Road public right-of-way. The Robinson opinion of the boundary locations regarding the plaintiffs' parcel was very similar to the Pare and Simpson surveys, but actually placed the northern boundary line of the plaintiffs' parcel in a more favorable location to the plaintiffs than the plaintiffs' own expert's opinion regarding that same boundary line, The defendant's own opinion regarding the location of the boundaries of the plaintiffs' parcel relies upon a theory that the starting point call from the deed is in the center of the Tunk Lake Road. The court finds the evidence does not support such a conclusion.

          Defendant Havey owns unimproved acreage to the north and east of the plaintiffs' lot, from which he harvests blueberries, and from which he has harvested timber on one occasion in 2000.[2] The properties share boundaries on two sides, Mr. Havey's property is benefited by a 1967 reserved right-of-way over the Wadsworth lot, that is described "as a right-of-way for all purposes of a way over the road as now used and existing" running approximately north and south between Tunic Lake Road and the defendants land. The deed creating the right-of-way, and subsequent conveyances containing the same easement, did not designate a specific width, either at its opening onto the highway or at any point throughout the length of the right of way. However, the evidence presented at trial suggests that the 1967 right-of-way road location was consistent with the bounds of the current road.

         Over the years, the right-of-way has been used seasonally (or every other season) by a company Mr. Haley has contracted with to harvest blueberries. For crop maintenance and harvesting, the existing road has been easily accessed by flatbed and other non-articulated trucks, some of which towed trailers and excavating equipment. The existing right-of-way has been adequate for that purpose, From time to time the right-of-way has been used to harvest timber on Mr. Havey's land. Defendant's forester, Michael Benjamin, did not describe any difficulty moving equipment or wood products on the right-of-way when the timber was last harvested in 2000, The mere fact that the equipment currently available for harvesting purposes is significantly larger than what would have been available in 1967 does not entitle the defendant to dramatically increase the burden on the servient estate in order to more easily accommodate the larger equipment.

         The Court finds that the boundary lines of the Plaintiffs' parcel and the right-of-way boundaries are as described within the referenced Pare survey attached and incorporated herein as Plaintiffs Exhibit 1.

         Beginning around 2012, the defendant, Mr. Havey, either personally or at his direction, began mowing, removing trees, shrubs and a wildflower garden, and disturbing personal property south of the shared boundary line on the northern border of the plaintiffs' parcel. The court concludes that sometime in 2015, Mr. Havey, as part of his mowing activities, removed nearly all of the iron pipes and pins marking the shared boundary line along the north side of the Wadsworth parcel. These monuments were visible and in place when the property line was surveyed in 1987 and in 2011, but disappeared after the plaintiffs undertook their landscaping activities near the designated right-of-way location. The incursions by Mr. Havey have deprived the plaintiffs of large wildflower gardens that stood between their home and the defendants blueberry fields. The defendant has caused debris to be strewn on the plaintiffs property and damaged trees that had grown on their property. The court finds that in order to restore their property, plaintiffs have spent $2500 on surveying costs, and will need to spend $700 in additional surveyor costs to replace missing boundary markers. Additional expenses in the amount of $500 will be required to restore the mown wildflower gardens.

         ANALYSIS

         1. Plaintiffs' Claims

         Trespass

         Under Maine law, common-law trespass has occurred when "irrespective of whether he thereby causes harm to any legally protected interest of the other, if he intentionally enters land in the possession of the other, or causes a thing or a third person to do so," Restatement (Second) of Torts §158(a)(1965). "[T]he owner of an easement who exceeds his rights either in the manner or extent of its use is guilty of trespass, Beckwith v. Rossi, 157 Me. 532, 537 (1961).

         In this case, the defendant owns a right-of-way interest over the road as it existed in 1967, and nothing more. Mr, Havey's repeated entry onto the plaintiffs' land, without permission, to mow outside of the deeded right-of-way constitutes trespass. He damaged the land when he and/or his agents removed the survey markers and monuments, and destroyed the vegetation without the owners permission. This trespass, although intentional, does not, for the ...


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