Argued: September 4, 2014.
Civil action commenced in the Superior Court Department on April 8, 2008.
The case was heard by René e P. Dupuis, J.
Arthur D. Frank, Jr., for the defendant.
John M. Sahady for the plaintiff.
Present: Cohen, Meade, & Milkey, JJ.
[21 N.E.3d 548] Milkey, J.
At issue in this appeal is the ownership of a strip of land in Fall River. The defendant was the record owner of the disputed property, which the plaintiff claimed based on adverse possession. The parties agree that the nature and length of the plaintiff's use of the land generally was sufficient to establish title by adverse possession. The only contested issue is one of law: whether the plaintiff may count the time during which title to the land was held by one of the defendant's predecessors-in-title, the city of Fall River (city), toward the requisite twenty-year period
of continuous adverse use. Relying on G. L. c. 260, § 31, the defendant argues that the plaintiff's adverse possession claim did not begin to run until the city transferred the property to a private party. In a thoughtful decision issued after a trial on stipulated facts, a Superior Court judge rejected this argument as a matter of law. She ruled that a private record owner of once-public land opposing an adverse possession claim cannot invoke G. L. c. 260, § 31, as a defense. We agree and therefore affirm.
By 1975, the city of Fall River had acquired a parcel of land located at 1082 Davol Street in Fall River (Mechanic's Mill parcel). The property included " a large building [that] had been used for manufacturing purposes." The record does not reveal what actual use the city itself made of the parcel, but the parties stipulated that the city " held" the property " for a public purpose as defined in Chapter 260, Section 31 of the General Laws." In 1989, the city sold the Mechanic's Mill parcel to a private corporation. Since then, the property has continued in private ownership, and it is now owned by defendant Mechanic's Mill One LLC (record owner).
In 1975, Paul and Albert Berube acquired the property at 1148 Davol Street, which lies adjacent to the Mechanic's Mill parcel. After purchasing that property, the Berubes began to use as their own a strip of the Mechanic's Mill parcel -- totaling approximately 25,000 square feet in size -- that lies along the boundary of the two properties. The parties stipulated that the Berubes and their successors-in-title " exercised undisturbed dominion over the [disputed strip] which was actual, open, notorious, and adverse to the claims of all others, and [that it] continued for thirty-two (32) years, namely from 1975 to 2007." ...