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Mancini v. Spagtacular, LLC

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Worcester

August 29, 2019

ANGELA CIAMARRA MANCINI [1]
v.
SPAGTACULAR, LLC.

          Heard: January 11, 2019.

         Civil action commenced in the Superior Court Department on June 5, 2014.

         The case was heard by Richard T. Tucker, J.

          Barry A. Bachrach for the defendant.

          Damien D. Berthiaume for the plaintiff.

          Present: Massing, Desmond, & McDonough, JJ.

          MCDONOUGH, J.

         After a jury-waived trial, a Superior Court judge declared that the plaintiff has acquired by adverse possession two separate areas of land contiguous to her property in Shrewsbury. The defendant, who holds record title to the disputed land, argues clear error in the judge's factual findings and legal error in his application of adverse possession doctrine. We affirm.

         Background.

         The plaintiff, Angela Ciamarra Mancini (Mancini), first acquired the property known as 110 Oak Street in Shrewsbury on June 1, 2000.[2] Mancini's property is improved with a single-family home. To the east, her lot fronts on Oak Street. To the west and south, Mancini's land directly abuts undeveloped, wooded land owned by the defendant, Spagtacular, LLC (Spagtacular). A survey plan of the properties, trial exhibit 5, appears in adapted form in the appendix to this opinion.[3]

         As shown in the appendix, two areas functionally incorporated into Mancini's yard actually lie beyond her lot lines and within the land held (as of record) by Spagtacular. We refer to them as the disputed areas. (The exhibit calls each area a "Land of Potential Claim.") The larger of the two disputed areas is situated behind (i.e., to the west of) Mancini's house, adjacent to her parcel's northwest corner. This is a mowed, grassy area, with no permanent improvements; like the judge we will call it the disputed back area. The smaller disputed area is located just beyond one of Mancini's side lot lines, to the south of her house. This area is largely covered by a paved basketball court, with one permanent post, backboard, and hoop.[4] As the judge did, we will refer to it as the disputed basketball area.[5]

         Mancini filed this action on June 5, 2014. Spagtacular does not contest that Mancini has established the elements of adverse possession as to both disputed areas for the entire time she has owned the locus, up until commencement of this action, [6] a total of fourteen out of the required twenty years. See G. L. c. 260, § 21. Accordingly, this appeal focuses on whether Mancini has proved adverse possession of the disputed areas by her immediate predecessor for the remaining six years, from June 1, 1994 to June 1, 2000. See Luce v. Parsons, 192 Mass. 8, 12 (1906) (claimant alleging adverse possession may include evidence of predecessors' possession). See also G. L. c. 260, § 22; LaChance v. First Nat'1 Bank & Trust Co. of Greenfield, 301 Mass. 488, 489-491 (1938).

         Relevant to that inquiry, the judge found the following facts after trial (including a view). Prior to Mancini's purchase of her property in 2000, it was owned by the Schwab family. Mancini's principal witness, Joseph Schwab (Schwab), moved into the locus in 1983 with his mother and his two brothers, at age sixteen. From 1983 to 2000, "there always existed a sharp and delineating tree line that rimmed the westerly side and southern portion of" the locus. That tree line never changed during the Schwab family's occupation of the property.

         The Schwab family treated as their own the entire area within the tree line along both the property's southerly and westerly lot lines. From 1983 until the sale of the property to Mancini in 2000, the Schwab family "maintained, utilized, and considered their own the entire area on the western and southern sides of their lot as extending to and bounded by the tree line. These areas were maintained by, among other things, mowing, fertilizing, and on the westerly side, the installation of a [thirty-five foot by thirty-five foot] basketball court in 1984 which extends beyond the actual lot line into the [d]isputed [b]asketball [a]rea."

         Up until Schwab and his brother left home for college, they mowed and maintained the lawn in the disputed basketball area (around the perimeter of the paved court) and in the disputed back area. After the Schwab brothers left, their mother engaged a lawn service company to perform these tasks. During the Schwabs' residence at the locus, they never sought nor received permission to use the disputed areas. Additionally, the judge expressly found the tree line was in the same location at the time of trial as it had been when the Schwabs lived at the locus.

         Discussion.

         1. Factual findings.

         Spagtacular argues that the judge committed clear error in his fact findings. See Kendallv.Selvaggio, 413 Mass. 619, 620 (1992). In particular, Spagtacular argues that the evidence at trial was insufficient to allow the judge to conclude that the Schwabs' "use and maintenance" of the disputed areas "occurred from 1983 through the sale of this property to Mancini in 2000." More specifically, Spagtacular argues that this finding cannot be properly supported by Schwab's testimony because Schwab was not living at the property during the critical six years, from 1994 ...


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