Mass. Appeals Court Affirms Gay Head Aquinnah Retain Easements on Martha’s Vineyard

For all you property profs out there….

Here is the opinion in Kitras v. Town of Aquinnah.

An excerpt:

From the earliest time, the members of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (now known as Aquinnah) in Martha’s Vineyard (Gay Head Tribe or Tribe), had a custom and practice of common access across the lands that are the subject of this appeal. For the reasons that follow, we conclude that the ancient origins of that common access—dating back before the late eighteenth century—establish the equivalent of a chain of title, with access rights that would not yield landlocked parcels. The late nineteenth century State statutory conveyance of large tracts of public common land in Aquinnah, including the subject lands, by the Legislature as grantor to the newly enfranchised Gay Head Tribe members as grantees, and the subsequent judicial partitioning of these governmentally conveyed lands did not, we determine, break these preexisting access rights. More specifically, the subsequent grantees of land tracts in the links of this chain of conveyances from the Gay Head Tribe members to the present plaintiffs were not divested of these long-held access rights flowing from the longstanding tribal custom and practice so as to leave the plaintiffs’ lots landlocked and bereft of easements.

It is so that a plumb line—with perfectly fit easements in the precise transverse of paths walked by and through the lands by the Gay Head Tribe members, in their custom and practice—would, in this present time, be most difficult to reconstruct by metes and bounds since property boundaries were not set in that manner in the statutory governmental conveyances and subsequent judicial partition that deeded the lots to the Gay Head Tribe members in severalty. But such precision, following the paths of the Gay Head Tribe’s custom and practice, is not required under the legal doctrine of easements by necessity which underlies the Restatement (Third) of Property (Servitudes) (Restatement) § 2.15 (2000) and Massachusetts common law. We remand to the Land Court to draw the necessary easement lines in accord with these legal doctrines—a practice well within the great skills of that court.