Westport Island loses Lilly lawsuit
Superior Court Justice Daniel Billings has ruled on a longstanding dispute between Westport Island and two of its property owners. In a Jan. 30 decision, Billings found for plaintiffs Leslie Lilly and her husband David Wollins of Colorado on the designation of part of their Baker Road property.
The dispute dates back at least four years when the town took property after three years of unpaid property taxes. In 2014, after taxes were paid, the property was transferred back to Lilly and Wollins in an Oct. 29, 2014 quit claim deed.
In 2015, Lilly and Wollins filed a complaint against the town, claiming a portion of Baker Road was the driveway belonging to their property and not a town way. Lilly and Wollins also sought an injunction prohibiting the town from entering the property without their permission.
Last summer, a motion for summary judgement was filed and a hearing was held in Jume.
The town has claimed it had an “easement by prescription” for the portion because it could show continuous maintenance, including snowplowing, of the area for at least 20 years. The town presented documents from 1785 and 1838 showing the disputed section to be a town way.
The 2014 quit claim deed became the central point for the court’s decision. In his written order, Billings cited the “Doctrine of merger” which “extinguished any public easement the town may have had.” The court ruled that after the town foreclosed on and gained title to the property in 2014, it then owned both the “dominant” and “servient” portions of any public easement. Because of this, the town’s easement would have merged and been “extinguished” when the town signed the property back in the 2014 quit claim deed.
“And as it has not been 20 years since the town conveyed the property to plaintiff Lilly, an easement by prescription cannot be established post-town ownership,” Billings wrote.
On Feb. 13, the town’s attorney in the matter, William Dale, filed a motion asking the court to reconsider. The motion states, “The court’s application of the doctrine of merger to extinguish the town’s right in the disputed portion of Baker Road ... was error as a matter of law.”
In an email to selectmen, Dale explained the next legal steps. “The other side will get 14 days to respond and then we get another seven days to respond to that. You will see that the judge decided the case on an issue no one ever raised, discussed or argued. I have asked for oral argument on the motion to reconsider.” If the judge does not, the town has the option to appeal to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
Reached for comment, Selectman George Richardson told the Wiscasset Newspaper, “The selectmen will be reviewing this and asking the attorney some questions.”