Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Please Fence Me In

The Town of Charlotte inherited a landfill and a right-of-way from Shelburne, which obliged Charlotte to maintain a fence and gate system along the right-of-way.  This obligation came by way of a 1965 private deed in which Shelburne purchased land and a right-of-way from the Plouffe with a covenant to maintain and operate a fence and gate system.  In 1996, the Plouffe constructed a multi-part deal that did the following: 1) On March 29th, Plouffe sold the 184.7 acres to Plaintiffs, except for a 10-foot wide strip next to Charlotte’s 50-foot wide right-of-way; 2) On April 16th, he accepted the return of the fifty-foot right-of-way from Charlotte; and 3) On April 15th, he deeded a 60-foot right of way back to the Town.  No explanation was given for why Plouffe dated the last two out of order.
Plaintiffs, who purchased part of the remaining land from Plouffe, sought to enforce the 1965 fencing and gate covenants, but Charlotte refused.  A lawsuit followed and summary judgment for the Town came shortly after that. 
On appeal, the Court ruled that the 1996 deeds merged the right-of-way and negated the 1965 fence and gate covenants. The deed to Charlotte failed to restate them and left the new right-of-way unencumbered.  Appellants argued that the gate obligations were implicit and that the agreements were ambiguous.  The Court rejected the argument and ruled that the language of all of the deeds was clear and straightforward.  This was bolstered by both the circumstances of the transaction and language that indicated an intention to “clarify access easements related to said land.”  
The Court’s analysis took into account the fact that Plouffe’s transfer to Plaintiffs and to and from the Town occurred as part of a single transaction and that each document used the term “even date,” which means “same date” to indicate that all three of the 1996 transactions were part of one and the same event.  The nature of the transfer required the property to merge in the hands of Appellant for one brief instant, and in that (imaginary legal fiction) moment, merger occurred and all of the covenants and encumbrances were dissolved.  Then time, presumably, sped up again, the bullets passed by Neo, and the newly created easement went forth without the history or baggage of its ancestors.  The Court also applied this reasoning to dismiss Plaintiffs’ claim that they were not bound by the April deeds because they were not parties or signatories to the Town deeds. 
In the end, because of the unified nature of the transactions, the language of clarification, the existence of the merger, and the lack of any clear language indicating intent to preserve the gate and fence easement, the Court concluded that the obligations were extinguished and affirmed the trial court’s decision. 
Just your average run of the landfill case.
Daniel Richardson

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