The Appeals Court’s decision yesterday in Johnson v. Christ Apostle Church, Mt. Bethel (pdf) is a useful reminder that the Land Court’s jurisdiction over cases affecting title to registered land is exclusive. Johnson involved a dispute between the plaintiff homeowner and a neighboring church over Johnson’s longstanding use of a driveway on the church’s property for parking and for access to Johnson’s property. After years of amicable relations, in 2013 the church erected a six-foot fence along the property line that prevented Johnson from continuing to use the driveway. Johnson filed suit in Superior Court alleging that the fence was an unlawful “spite fence” under M.G.L. c. 49, § 21, which makes such fences a form of private nuisance. She also brought claims of negligence and adverse possession. The case went to trial solely on the nuisance claim, and the judge found for Johnson and ordered the church to install a series of gates in the fence to
In an important decision for owners of waterfront property, a divided Appeals Court panel has ruled in a case of first impression that where registered land expands by accretion, the owner need not return to court to separately register the accreted land. As a result, that land enjoys the same protection against adverse claims as the originally registered parcel.
In Brown v. Kalicki (pdf), the plaintiffs were owners of adjoining beach lots in Harwich, Massachusetts. The lots were registered in the 1920s and 1930s and each lot’s southern boundary was “Nantucket Sound.”
Over the ensuing decades, accretion caused the beach to expand seaward by some 350 feet. In 2011, the owners filed so-called “supplemental petitions” asking the Land Court to determine the sidelines of the expanded lots. Several Harwich residents intervened in those cases and objected, claiming they had acquired a prescriptive easement to use the beach. The status of the accreted land as registered – or not – was critical,