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.