Donald MacDonald et al.
Coffin's Field Trust, Inc. et al.  No. 134380
FINDINGS, RULINGS AND ORDERS
J. Kane, Justice of the Superior Court.
1979, Betsy and Donald MacDonald (" plaintiffs"),
Michael Carroll and Marnie Edwards, along with Benjamin L.
Hall, Sr. and Teresa Hall, through the Ancient Way Trust
(collectively referred to as the " buyers"),
purchased 40 acres of land for $30, 000. The land was
originally part of the Watcha division layout established by
the Martha's Vineyard Proprietors in 1743. The Watcha
division layout of 16 skinny, mile-long wood lots was bounded
to the south by the Watcha Path, three rods in width, and to
the north by the Mill Path, the main thoroughfare linking the
eastern and western sections of Martha's Vineyard.
their 1979 acquisition of one-third interests in the 40-acre
property, buyers have endeavored through multiple approaches
to acquire an easement to what is now the County Road, a
36-foot-wide paved roadway flanked by substantial shoulders.
2007, the MacDonalds filed this action seeking an easement
from their property to the County Road, a public road, which
lies directly above the Mill Path, an unused ancient way.
Plaintiffs claimed that the easement lies under the doctrine
of " necessity" and under the doctrine of
nominally named as defendants, Carroll and Edwards, joined by
the Halls, owners of abutting property referred to as "
Starbucks, " support plaintiffs' claim to an
easement over land owned by Coffin's Field Trust, Inc.
(" CFT"). CFT objects to any easement over its land
to the Mill Path or to the County Road. According to CFT, an
easement by necessity running through their land would
violate the original grantor's intent in conveying the
land now owned by plaintiffs and CFT; would infringe upon
property rights held by CFT in land that lacks any common
origin with plaintiffs' land; and would unreasonably
interfere with CFT's enjoyment of its land. As to any
such easement under the doctrine of prescriptive use, CFT
maintains that it lacks any foothold in the facts or in the
law and may be safely characterized as a contrivance.
take up concisely the procedural history of this eight years
of litigation, followed by detailed findings of fact and
rulings of law.
now 2016. On October 30, 2007, Donald and Betsy MacDonald
filed a Complaint against CFT, Benjamin L. and Teresa Hall
and Michael Carroll, and Marnie Edwards. The Complaint sought
as relief: (1) a Declaratory Judgment that plaintiffs and
their co-owners of the 40-acre parcel of land possess an
easement by necessity across the Coffin's Field lands
" along and over the road, to and from the County
Road"; (2) a Declaratory Judgment that " the road,
to and from County Road" constitutes " a right of
way"; (3) a Declaration that plaintiffs and their
co-owners of the 40-acre parcel have acquired under G.L.c.
187, § 2 (easements by prescription), a right of way
over the Coffin's Field lands allowing for travel by foot
and vehicle along and over " the road to and from the
County Road"; and (4) an injunction prohibiting CFT and
its surrogates from erecting barricades and other
obstructions blocking access to the easement possessed by
plaintiffs and other interested parties.
March 19, 2008, CFT answered, counter-claimed and cross
claimed. The counter-claims and cross claims consisted: (1)
quiet title under G.L.c. 240, § § 6-10, by
declaring that plaintiffs and others lack any right to use
CFT's land; and declaring that any use of CFT's land
by plaintiffs has been through " permission"; (2)
abuse of process; and (3) a Declaratory Judgment that
plaintiffs and Starbucks Trust lack any easement or other
right to use CFT's lands.
6, 2009, Starbucks Trust filed cross claims and
counterclaims. The claims generally paralleled
Progression of Suit
about misjoinder of parties as defendants and production of
documents caused exceptional delay.
Pre-trial Memorandum, dated April 1, 2013, the MacDonalds,
Carroll, and Edwards, and defendants CFT and Hall as trustee
of the Starbucks Trust, set forth theories of their claims
and defenses. Plaintiffs maintained that the easement by
necessity ran from the land owned by the Ancient Way Trust
over lands owned by CFT to the County Road. Alternatively,
plaintiffs maintained that they possessed an easement over
CFT's lands to the County Road, under the doctrine of a
prescriptive easement. Starbucks, referencing the same legal
theories, claimed an easement over the lands owned by the
Ancient Way Trust and CFT to the County Road.
denied that plaintiffs possess any easement over its land. It
agreed that plaintiffs and Starbucks had an easement over the
Moltzes' land to Watcha Path.
August 8, 2013, Hall, as trustee of Starbucks, amended its
Pre-trial Memorandum. In the amendment, Hall identified
Attorney Christopher Pitt as an expert on the theory of an
easement by necessity. According to the expert disclosure,
Pitt would be expected to testify that at the time of the
1865 conveyances " reasonable access from Watcha Path
for the Trust [did] not exist." The amendment further
identified Douglas Dowling, a surveyor, as a witness and
disclosed that Dowling would testify that access over Watcha
Path failed to exist in 1865. He would also testify that
presently Watcha Path fails to provide reasonable access,
stemming from its " topography, wetlands and road
conditions" and that curing the obstacles to reasonable
access would be unreasonably burdensome due to cost and
current municipal regulations. Dowling would identify
reasonable access as being over CFT's lands to the County
the course of fourteen sittings, the court listened to the
testimony of fourteen witnesses, received one hundred and
five exhibits, and attended a view. Before the trial ended,
the court issued a procedural order governing requirements
for proposed findings and rulings. The order stated that
" each party must submit proposed rulings for all legal
points or decisions that the party expects the court to
address." The court expanded on the scope of this
obligation, pointing out that the duty included " any
motion in limine or evidentiary question that ha[d] been
raised and preserved during the trial . . ." The order
advised counsel that any substantial deviation from the
order's requirements would constitute a waiver. The court
has relied on the procedural order in preparing its findings
of fact and rulings of law.
1743, the Martha's Vineyard Proprietors set off the
Watcha Division, consisting of 16 skinny wood lots,
approximately one-mile-long, running from the north on the
Mill Path to the south on Watcha Path. The Mill Path went
back to the earliest settlement of the island and perhaps
before that time. Back then, it represented the main
thoroughfare linking the western and eastern sections of the
island. It constituted the shortest route between Edgartown
and one-half feet in width, the Mill Path was used by ox carts
carrying cut wood to market. The amount of cart traffic
caused depressions in the road. By the " 1850s"
people were anticipating that the " state highway"
above the Mill Path would attract the use of carriages.
1854, officials had announced the layout of a new road above
the Mill Path. On June 30, 1854, the Vineyard
Gazette reported the following about the construction of
a new road now known as the County Road:
Said road is to be thoroughly made and constructed in every
part and to be cleared of all obstructions, the whole width
from its Eastern terminus to the Guide Board leading to the
Dukes County Land Records Office:--Thence the remainder of
the road is to be cleared three rods in width.
Wherever the land is slanting transversely of said road, the
lower side is to be raised with earth.
Wherever the ascent or descent is great, the hills are to be
so far reduced as the safety or convenience of the public
The surface to be smooth, with suitable drains where
The traveling part of said road, or that part on which
carriages pass, is to be not less than thirty feet in width,
and raised eighteen inches higher in the centre than either
side thereof, and hardened with clay or loam, wherever it may
ultimately constructed, this paved roadway was 66 feet in
width, with 30 of the 66 feet devoted to shoulders.
March 24, 1847 and October 15, 1851, William and Thomas
Norton, by way of deeds, conveyed lots 4 through 9 of the
Watcha Division to Hiram Dexter. The Mill Path constituted
the northerly boundary of the Norton conveyances and Watcha
Path represented the southern boundary of the conveyances.
Only the Watcha Path was laid out as a public way.
Description of Dexter Lands
Division Lot 10 constituted the western boundary of the
Dexter lands and Lot 3 constituted the eastern boundary. The
Watcha lands owned by Dexter consisted of woodlands which
were thickest in the area of Watcha Path to the south,
thinning out to the north where the Mill Path was located.
The Mill Path was about eight and one-half feet in width.
1980s, Douglas Dowling, a civil engineer and land surveyor,
performed an original survey of the Watcha Division lands.
Hollis Smith (" Smith") previously performed survey
work of some of the Watcha Division lands. Smith is a
fastidious surveyor. Besides working as a surveyor, Smith has
a hobby of tracing the lines of the Vineyard's original
divisions of land. He knew from his previous survey of the
Watcha Division that rocks and piles had been used to mark
off the boundaries.
brush fire expired, Smith would venture to the Mill Path.
Using a pitchfork, he would attempt to locate piles of stone.
By doing the excavation work, Smith was able to locate more
stone piles on the Mill Path. He only found three to four
stone piles as monuments on the Watcha Path.
survey work uncovered discrepancies between measurements used
in the deeds to measurements found " on the
ground." He also found that the deeds contained gaps in
and Dowling both knew that chains and links were used as the
measuring mechanism back in the 1800s. This measuring
mechanism was used to go over and under obstacles. Because of
this method of measuring, there would be a 10 to 15% variance
between what was actually the distance and what was recorded
as the distance.
that posed the greatest difficulty for the surveyors was what
came to be known as the Russell lot. They found that
lot's measurements to be " very difficult." The
distances made no sense. Smith believed that one entry of
eight feet should have been 80 feet and determined that the
lot ran along the Watcha Road, also known as the William
south of the Watcha Path or Road was at one time the Walker
Farm. Scrubby Neck Road which lies to the west of the Dexter
lands represented a roadway constructed by Walker to access
the Scrubby Neck Farm. Going further west on Watcha Path, it
meets up with Waldron's Bottom Road. Going north on
Waldron's Bottom Road leads to its intersection with the
County Road. To the north of the Watcha lots, above the Mill
Path, was an area known as the New Purchase Division.
sequence of Dexter's five conveyances in February of 1865
has significance in determining the existence and location of
an easement by necessity. The court now charts the timing of
the conveyances and generally identifies the location
of the five lots with attention to each lot's
relationship to Watcha Path and the Mill Path. Over the
course of February 23, 1865 to February 27, 1865, Hiram
Dexter conveyed five lots of land to four individuals. As a
result of the conveyances, Dexter retained land to the north
and to the east.
February 23, 1865, Dexter conveyed three lots of land, one to
Josiah Vincent, one to William P. Bodfish and the third to
James Russell. All three were conveyed under warranty deeds.
The Bodfish lot (" Bodfish I") amounted to 40 acres
and assumed a rectangular shape. It is the lot now owned by
the Ancient Way Trust.
Bodfish I lot was bounded to the north by the Vincent lot.
The Vincent lot was bounded to the north by land owned by
Dexter that was subsequently conveyed on February 25 of 1865
to Bodfish (" Bodfish II"). The Bodfish I and
Vincent lots lacked direct access to either the Mill Path or
the Watcha Path. As will be seen, both the Bodfish I lot and
the Vincent lot could access the Watcha Path by going east
over the land retained by Dexter. The Vincent lot could have
an easement north to the Mill Path. The Russell lot was the
land at the southern border of Dexter's land. It was
bounded to the east and south by Watcha Path.
February 27, 1865, Dexter conveyed a ten-acre parcel to John
Pease. The Pease lot, now owned by Starbucks Trust, was
bounded to the North by Bodfish I, to the south by the
Russell Lot, and to the east by the Watcha Path and by land
retained by Dexter. The land to the east that was retained by
Dexter is land now owned by the Moltzes.
the deeds described the land as woodlands. The Bodfish I,
Vincent and Russell lots all amounted to 40 acres; the Pease
lot amounted to ten acres. The Bodfish II lot lacked any
description of its acreage. At the end of the lot's
description, it read:
Alexander Athearn's land joined on the west all the lots
I have sold. They are to have their width in this division
according to the deeds, if it takes all of the said land I
have sold to James Russell, Henry Pease, William P. Bodfish
and Josiah Vincent.
the deeds provided for an easement. The five deeds lacked any
retained or granted easement. After the five conveyances,
Dexter retained land to the north of Bodfish II and land to
the East. The retained land to the north, together with
Bodfish I and the Vincent lots, eventually came to be the
land now owned by CFT.
Use of Conveyed Land
1865, no homes were located on the conveyed land that
consisted of woodlands. The court infers that the land was
used for cutting wood and carrying it by cart to market.
Use of Retained Land
not known how, if at all, Hiram Dexter subsequently used the
retained land. In 1923, municipal officials announced
execution of a contract to construct a 66-foot wide paved
road called the West Tisbury Road (" County Road")
above the Mill Path.
1940s, the original Dexter Watcha Division lots had fields.
Coming in from the Mayhew Memorial, one would go through an
area of clearings and shrubbery and see a big opening which
was probably Coffin's Fields. As previously mentioned,
during the period of World War II, Joe Walker constructed a
dirt road known as Walker Road that ran to Scrubby Neck
the retained land to the North and other nearby lands in the
northern section have had subdivisions approved and
constructed. The use of the land in the North for the
development of subdivisions has differed from the land to the
south where no subdivisions have been constructed.
Subsequent Purchase of Retained
1979, Dexter's retained land to the North, along with
property north of the Mill Path (" Cromwell property),
was conveyed to Benjamin Boldt. In 1984, Boldt conveyed the
land to CFT.
Recent Condition of Watcha Path
twentieth century, people, on occasion, used Watcha Path for
vehicular excursions, walking, and hunting. In the 1960s,
people walked on Watcha Path and on occasionally drove on it.
During the period from 1976 to 1986, it was barely passable.
Few used it.
1980s, Watcha Path was used as a walking path to get into the
Path back then was a lot worse than it is today. It had huge
gullies and a hump that could rip a car. Now it is slightly
better because of vehicular use and the presence of the
subdivision road in CFT's land. Today, Watcha Path is
still " really rough, except for some limited
sections." The part of the Watcha Path that goes from
Vineyard Meadows to Waldron's Road is " really
rough." Going from Waldron's to Long Point Road is
not bad. Going to the east towards Joe Walker Road is "
really rough." Continuing towards the eastern boundary
of the Watcha Division, one can barely make it, even when
driving an ATV.
now exist regulations in West Tisbury and Edgartown declaring
Watcha Path a Special Way.
West Tisbury's Regulations
West Tisbury's regulation, 6-2-4, there can be no
alteration of width or surface material, and generally no
removal of vegetation. Where the alteration for vehicular use
exceeds twelve feet, approval by the Martha's Vineyard
Commission is required.
land off of Watcha Path for a residential development is
allowed but regulated. The permissible use for a residential
development may not result in " ...