Byline: Kris Olson
A group of residents and abutters seeking a declaration that a landowner had made a dedication of its property to the public is entitled to a jury trial, a Land Court judge has decided.
The request arose after the property owner filed a complaint seeking a declaration that it had not made such a dedication and that its development plans could proceed without having to clear the high bar established by Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution.
In their answer, the defendant abutters and other concerned residents sought an opposite declaration and made a jury demand pursuant to Mass. R. Civ. P. 38.
Judge Robert B. Foster said that if the defendants were seeking purely equitable relief, there would be no constitutional right to a jury trial. The question he needed to resolve, then, was whether the determination that land has been dedicated to public use is a claim in equity or one that "presents proper questions for a jury to decide."
Citing cases more than 100 years old, Foster noted that claims to ownership of property have a right to a jury under Article 15.
Foster said that the principle "if the case involves title to property, the Land Court has found a right to a jury trial" had been applied in recent cases, including his own decision last year in Elysium, LLC v. UDrive, LLC, et al., and a 1992 Appeals Court case involving adverse possession, Hutchins v. Maloomian.
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Northeastern University v. Nahant Preservation Trust, Inc., et al., Lawyers Weekly No. 14-099-19 (8 pages)
THE ISSUE: Is a party in a Land Court case entitled to a jury trial on the issue of whether a parcel has been dedicated for public use?
DECISION: Yes (Land Court)
LAWYERS: Kevin P. O'Flaherty of Goulston & Storrs, Boston (plaintiff)
David E. Lurie, Karen E. Friedman and Harley C. Racer, of Lurie Friedman, Boston (defense)[/box]
Here, the fact that the common-law doctrine of dedication concerns the public's right to title in property did not change the calculus, Foster concluded.
In 2017, the Supreme Judicial Court in Smith v. City of Westfield found that the consequence of a dedication is that the "general public for whose benefit in the land was established obtains an interest in the land in the nature of an easement," Foster wrote, concluding that dedication thus is akin to claims of adverse possession and prescriptive easements, "and is therefore subject to a jury trial."