The Appeals Court’s ruling yesterday in Martin v. Simmons Properties, LLC emphasizes that property owners act at their peril when they infringe upon deeded easement rights. In this case, Clifford Martin owned property in an industrial/commercial subdivision on the Medford-Somerville line. Martin’s interior lot had no frontage on a public way, but it had the benefit of access to rights of way in the subdivision. Martin filed suit in the Land Court in 2007 alleging that Simmons, the owner of the adjacent property where Martin’s right of way was located, interfered with his easement rights by placing encroachments in, parking on and improperly filling the way. Martin sought a court order requiring Simmons to remove the encroachments and restore the way.
Although Simmons prevailed at the Land Court, its victory was short lived. The Appeals Court reversed significant portions of the Land Court’s decision. Most importantly, the Appeals Court ruled that Simmons must remove many of the encroachments, including a below-grade entryway to Simmons’ building and a loading dock. The Appeals Court remanded back to the Land Court the question of whether Simmons must remove landscaping and curbing that interferes with the way, or whether Martin bears the onus of performing that work.
The lesson from the Martin case: think twice before obstructing or interfering with the rights of an easement holder, even if the easement holder is not using that part of the way, and even if the obstruction is only a partial one. While this guidance does not bar, for example, temporarily parking vehicles on the easement provided they do not substantially obstruct the way, “permanent structures or objects which impede passage, unless truly de minimis, are inconsistent with a right of passage.”