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Court affirms that nonuse does not extinguish an old easement

July 2nd, 2012 by Joseph William Singer

The Supreme Judicial Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has reaffirmed that even longstanding non-use of an easement will not extinguish it or cause it to lapse because of prescription. Cater v. Bednarek, — N.E.2d —, 462 Mass. 523 (Mass. 2012). To extinguish an easement by prescription requires acts inconsistent with the easement that put the easement owner on notice that its uses are being disrupted. Moreover, if the servient estate owner makes only part of an easement inaccessible, it is extinguished only as to that part but not the rest. In addition, the court held that, where a deed does not specify the dimensions of the easement, it must be interpreted to establish dimensions that are reasonably necessary for the enjoyment of the dominant estate; the easement is not limited to the purposes for which the dominant estate was used at the time the easement was created. Moreover, if the easement is for access to a public road, it must be interpreted to be wide enough to comply with applicable local regulations on minimum width of roads. Compare the result in this case to the ruling in Cox v. Glenbrook Co., 371 P.2d 647 (Nev. 1962), which interpreted an easement to be limited to one lane when that was the physical layout of the road at the time the easement was created even though such an easement was insufficient as an access road to the dominant estate which consisted of 80 acres.


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