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Good fences don't make good neighbors, one court rules, but another court will have to consider the matter now, a third court rules

The Massachusetts Appeals Court today overturned a Superior Court judge's ruling that a church on Harvard Street in Mattapan has to make changes to a six-foot fence that really annoys a neighbor, ruling that matter should have gone to Land Court instead.

Lula and Leon Johnson sued Christ Apostle Church in 2014, saying they had long been allowed to park in the church driveway, dating to the day's when it was owned by the Jehovah's Witnesses, but that something hapened in 2013 to really sour relations between the couple and the church:

This resulted in the church building a new fence, six feet high, directly on the property line. Prior to building it, the church received a permit to build the fence from the city of Boston. The new fence did not have a gate in it. Moreover, because the Johnsons' home was situated very close to the lot line on the side facing the church, the new fence made it practically impossible for the Johnsons to access that side of their home for maintenance purposes; indeed, in one place there are only thirteen inches of space between the fence and the Johnsons' home.

In their filing, the church alleged that one of Johnson's grandson's attacked the pastor, and that's what led it to build the fence.

The couple sued in Suffolk Superior Court over what they claimed was a "spite fence," alleging negligence and "adverse possession." The church then filed a counter-suit alleging trespassing - the church said the Johnson's hired a contractor to move the fence away from their property.

A Suffolk Superior Court judge sided with the couple and ordered the church to install a gate in the fence and to let the Johnson's "access" their property from the church land.

But in its ruling today, the appeals court said that was a mistake, not for any reasons related to Lula Johnson's claims - the suit continued after her husband died - but because state law gives "exclusive original jurisdiction" over disputes related to parcels of land with titles registered in the county registry of deeds, and both pieces of land have titlles registered with the Suffolk County registry.

While not denominated as such, the judgment purports to grant the plaintiff a permanent easement to use the church's property to access her property. The Superior Court does not have jurisdiction to so encumber registered land.

So the court ordered the case transferred to Land Court for its consideration.

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Comments

Everything about this is bonkers.

  • Plaintiff's attorney filed in the wrong venue. Why on earth wouldn't they go straight to land court.
  • Litigation is mind boggling expensive. This was initially filed five years ago. They spent the money to bring this to trial when the properties in question are only assessed at ~$300k. All parties shoved money into a barrel and set it on fire.
  • They're litigating over a fence. There must be a river of bad blood. Given the facts as described I have a hard time seeing why the defendant didn't offer to remove or move the fence in exchange for the plaintiff agreeing not to park on the land. This would've saved everyone a ton of money.
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Voting closed 35

... when 3 of those Jehovah’s Witless attempted to convert me from the table next to me while I was trying to eat lunch. I told them they’d get an earful from me if they continued down that path. Those people are real assholes.

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Voting closed 22

Not sure if you actually read the article, but the lawsuit is against a different religious group who assumed ownership of the property after the Jehovah’s Witnesses sold it. It was the JWs that were lenient and permitted the neighbours to park there...the new property owners canceled that arrangement, thus the acrimony that developed between both parties.

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Voting closed 16

So the people are truly mad at the church because they lost their ability to park their cars on someone else’s property.

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Voting closed 23

Basically ALL disputes boil down to money or religion or parking. (This one has all three!)

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Voting closed 27

Registered land (aka Torrens Title System) is land which has been registered via an administrative trial in the Land Court, the end result being the Court's issuance of a certificate of title on which all encumbrances (deeds, liens, instruments of tax taking, instruments of tax redemption, releases, notices of petition, etc) are registered and noted on an attached memoranda of encumbrances (the original documents are kept on file at the Registry). This makes it easy for anyone research the title of a registered land property, as they can look at the certificate of title and see all encumbrances registered to the parcel. The Commonwealth guarantees the accuracy and validity of all registered land in Massachusetts, and therefore requires that all matters regarding the title be heard before the Land Court. Registered land accounts for approximately 10% of all property in Boston and about 15-20% statewide, with the rest being recorded land. Title to recorded land, property that hasn't been registered and on which all encumbrances are assigned a book and page in the order they are received at the Registry, is not guaranteed by the Commonwealth and any disputes or other matters regarding recorded land may be heard by the Superior or Land Courts. Because registered land is relatively rare, the plaintiffs (or their attorney) can almost be forgiven for filing in the wrong jurisdiction, but the fact that it wasn't caught early is mind boggling. That the defendants' attorneys or the Superior Court didn't catch it is almost embarrassing on their part.

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Voting closed 32

Plaintiffs should fire their lawyers. Any first year law student would know the proper venue for this case. Yikes.

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Voting closed 13