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State’s Highest Court Upholds Win For Rackemann Client in Easement Case

Rackemann, Sawyer & Brewster recently represented the winning party in the Supreme Judicial Court case Taylor v. Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank Commission. Our client owns the Outermost Inn in Aquinnah. That Inn property is subject to an easement that the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank holds to reach three parcels of land that it owns. The dispute arose because the Land Bank sought to use the easement for public access, not only to those three parcels, but to a fourth parcel of land that was not benefitted by the easement and which had its own, deeded access easement via a different route.

Gordon Orloff of Rackemann’s litigation department argued successfully that the State’s highest Court should use a bright-line test prohibiting any use of an easement created to reach specific parcels of land as access to another parcel without those easement rights, even if one party owns both parcels. In its ruling, the Supreme Judicial Court emphasized that there was no intent at the time the easement was created for three of the parcels that it could be used to access to the fourth parcel. The Court rejected the Land Bank’s suggestion that it employ a balancing test that would require weighing various factors. That proposed balancing test would have added an impermissible burden to owners of land over which an easement runs because it “would require a longer process of litigation than would the bright-line rule, would lead to a less predictable outcome, and might not be affordable to owners of small servient parcels who are litigating against defendants with the financial means to acquire and develop multiple parcels of land.” The SJC preferred the bright-line rule championed by Rackemann because it “provides owners of servient property with certainty regarding their … rights.”

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