CASSANI v. Hale, No. 08-351.

Docket NºNo. 08-351.
Citation993 A.2d 422, 2010 VT 8
Case DateFebruary 12, 2010
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Vermont

993 A.2d 422
2010 VT 8

Robert CASSANI, Shirley Cassani, and Melanie Ross
v.
Bruce HALE, Kathy Hale, Meadowsend Timberlands, LTC, Ernest LaBrie, and Linda LaBrie.

No. 08-351.

Supreme Court of Vermont.

February 12, 2010.


993 A.2d 423

COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

993 A.2d 424

Charles L. Merriman of Tarrant, Marks & Gillies, Montpelier for Plaintiffs-Appellees.

Oliver L. Twombly, Barre, for Defendants-Appellants.

Present: REIBER, C.J., JOHNSON, SKOGLUND and BURGESS, JJ., and PEARSON, Supr. J., Specially Assigned.

BURGESS, J.

¶ 1. Defendants1 appeal an order locating a right-of-way across their land and authorizing construction of a bridge on their lot to connect the right-of-way easement with the town highway. The newly located right-of-way runs briefly parallel to an existing right-of-way, the "Rock driveway," while the new bridge would lie right alongside an existing bridge connecting the Rock driveway to the town highway. Granted by George Rock, the common predecessor in title to defendants, the old bridge and Rock driveway branch off the town highway and allow access to the highway from the lots of the Hales, Meadowsend, and the LaBries to the south of plaintiff-Cassani's lot. The bridge is almost entirely on Hale's lot. The Rock driveway ends far short of the Cassani lot.

¶ 2. We first considered this right-of-way dispute in Cassani v. Northfield Savings Bank, 2005 VT 127, 179 Vt. 204, 893 A.2d 325 (Cassani I), when defendants appealed the trial court's order authorizing reformation of an earlier easement deed. The terms of the easement indicated an intent to grant a perpetual right-of-way along a preexisting, but undefined, "lane or road" across the LaBrie land from the highway to plaintiffs' lot. In that case, the trial court concluded that mutual misunderstanding between the grantor and grantee of the easement as to the accuracy and sufficiency of their description justified reformation to comport with their original intent, and that it was possible to locate the easement from physical landmarks and a sketch-map in evidence. We affirmed the reformation order and remanded. Id. ¶ 1. Then pending in the court below was an action by plaintiffs to prevent their neighbors who used the Rock driveway from interfering with plaintiffs' use. At the same time, defendants-LaBrie argued in Cassani I that reformation of the easement deed would impose a servitude upon the Rock driveway and bridge, when the

993 A.2d 425
owners of that driveway were not parties to the reformation action. Accordingly, we noted that the case below would "allow the superior court to determine how, if at all," reformation would affect the other defendants, id. ¶ 12, and our remand ordered that the cases be consolidated for a determination of "whether the easement established in the reformed deed is legally permissible in light of the preexisting Rock right-of-way." Id. mandate. The trial court carried out the objective of the remand, reforming the deed and resolving the dispute with regard to the affected parties. Again, we affirm

¶ 3. In happier times, Cassani owned both the Cassani lot to the north and what became the LaBrie lot to the south. During this ownership, Cassani undertook to fashion a road from the Rock driveway, just after the bridge, across the south lot (which became the LaBrie lot) so that the Cassani lot was accessible from the town highway. While the Rock driveway ran northerly, straddling the joint boundaries of Hale and LaBrie, and then Meadowsend and LaBrie, the road built by Cassani crossed the southern lot (again, now the LaBrie's) past the bridge in a northwesterly direction to the Cassani lot. By 1995, this road was passable, although unfinished. It was this passage that the LaBries have since blocked, shortly after acquiring the property as described in ¶ 6, infra. (See Cassani I for an illustration of the underlying land).

¶ 4. Beginning in 1995, there were several changes in fortune and ownership that brought about the current dispute. That year, the Cassanis ceded title to the northern Cassani lot in a bankruptcy action and lost the south lot (now the LaBries') in foreclosure to Northfield Savings Bank. The Cassani lot was bought by the Cassani's daughter, Laurie Quensler, in May 1996. At that time, the Bank still owned the south lot. The Bank was made aware through discussions with plaintiffs of the need for a right-of-way and agreed to grant an easement following the road already in place.

¶ 5. The Bank issued an easement deed purporting to grant and convey a perpetual easement right to the bankruptcy estate across the south lot so that future owners of the Cassani lot would have access to and from the highway. However, neither the description in the deed nor any referenced survey accomplished a particular layout of the easement. The Vermont Easement Deed stated as follows:

This easement is part of all and the same land and premises conveyed to the Northfield Savings Bank in the Cassani foreclosure and of record in Attachment Book 5 at Page 205 of the Groton Land Records. This easement is depicted on a certain survey plan entitled "Property survey on a portion of Milton B. Ricker Estate ...."
Being a 50' perpetual easement, for the sole purpose of ingress and egress, over and on the above-described land and premises. The 50' easement created by this instrument commences on the northwesterly edge of the right-of-way limits of Town Highway 24, and proceeds in a generally northwesterly direction across the lands of Grantor herein, along the existing lane or road, and terminates at the southern boundary of land of the Grantee herein. This easement is for the benefit of and appurtenant to the land of the Grantee herein, and is for the benefit of and appurtenant to those lands and premises conveyed to Robert Cassani and Shirley Cassani ... of record in Book 37 at Page 403 of the Groton Land Records, all as more particularly shown on the above referenced survey plan.
993 A.2d 426

Vermont Easement Deed, February 23, 1996 (as recorded at Groton Town Clerk's Office, November 13, 1996) (emphasis added). The survey plan referred to was apparently a hand drawn sketch on a photocopy of an existing survey map, not a survey on file with the town. The parties testified to the existence of the survey during trial, but it was not put into evidence.

¶ 6. In October 1997, defendant Linda LaBrie sought to buy the south lot from the Bank. In a letter in which she offered only $25,000 for the lot, she justified the low offer in part with an acknowledgement that "the property contains a right-of-way through it, right past the camp, that is the sole access for the Quensler Cassani lot acreage." Cassani I, 2005 VT 127, ¶ 19, 179 Vt. 204, 893 A.2d 325. The Bank sold the south lot for $32,000 subject to and with the benefits of rights-of-way and easements of record. Shortly after the purchase, the LaBries closed the access to the Cassani lot. In 2001, litigation over the easement commenced.

¶ 7. The history bringing this dispute to its present disposition has resulted in three separate cases and six court orders. In the first action, Quensler v. LaBrie, No. 214-8-01 Cacv, 2002 WL 34340302 (Pearson, J., May 9, 2002), the court granted defendants-LaBrie summary judgment in May 2002, and denied Quensler declaratory relief on the existence of the right-of-way because of defects in the Easement Deed. However, the court suggested that Quensler might have a remedy in a reformation action. Id. In 2002, Robert Cassani, after reacquiring title to the Cassani lot from his daughter, filed just such a reformation action in Cassani v. Northfield Savings Bank, No. 158-6-02 Cacv, 2004 WL 5452809 (Manley, J., Aug. 12, 2004). The court granted, and we affirmed, the reformation and remanded for the trial court to determine where the right-of-way originally intended in the Easement Deed should be located. While Cassani I was pending, a third case was under advisement in the superior court in which plaintiffs sought declaratory judgment that their right to a servitude along the so-called "common right-of-way" included the Rock driveway, which served all the defendants' lots. Cassani v. Hale, No. 256-12-04 Cacv (Eaton, J., Dec. 5, 2005). The superior court decided that it was, as a matter of law, impossible for the Bank to have conveyed an easement that burdened adjoining property it did not own. Plaintiffs thus could not claim an easement in the full sixty-foot-wide Rock driveway, but only on the portion laying over the LaBrie, or south, lot. The right-of-way intended by the Easement Deed had to be found entirely on the LaBrie land, the only property in which the Bank, as grantor, had ownership rights.

¶ 8. That decision and our remand in Cassani I, issued within days of each other, narrowed the remaining issues. Cassani I confirmed plaintiffs' legal right in a fifty-foot easement serving the Cassani lot, as long as the easement could be established without overburdening adjoining land owners. 2005 VT 127, ¶ 12, 179 Vt. 204, 893 A.2d 325. The remaining questions surrounded whether reformation of the fifty-foot Cassani easement, wherever it lay on the south lot, would overburden the common right-of-way or the defendants' use and enjoyment of their land; whether the portion of the common right-of-way within the easement could be traversed solely on the south lot or could be made usable; and why, given that the deed conveyed a fifty-foot-wide right-of-way, plaintiffs were pursuing access to a right-of-way now restricted to a thirty-foot width.

993 A.2d 427

¶ 9. On remand, the trial court found...

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5 practice notes
  • Kennery v. State, No. 10–448.
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • November 23, 2011
    ...no genuine issue as to any material fact” and “any party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” V.R.C.P. 56(c)(3); Cassani v. Hale, 2010 VT 8, ¶ 20, 187 Vt. 336, 993 A.2d 422. ¶ 11. The threshold question for both plaintiff's negligence and gross negligence claims is whether the troop......
  • State v. Young, No. 09–252.
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • October 29, 2010
    ...ignoring certain facts in the record. We will affirm a trial court's findings of fact unless they are clearly erroneous. Cassani v. Hale, 2010 VT 8, ¶ 25, 187 Vt. 336, 993 A.2d 422. The trial court is afforded great discretion in making factual findings because it is in the best position to......
  • Brault v. Welch, No. 13–189.
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • May 16, 2014
    ...A result so at odds with the actual language of a deed is rightly accomplished through the remedy of reformation. See Cassani v. Hale, 2010 VT 8, ¶¶ 17–19, 187 Vt. 336, 993 A.2d 422 (finding reformation appropriate to determine location of easement in face of ambiguous wording of deed); LaR......
  • In re 88 King Street, 45-1-17 Cncv
    • United States
    • Vermont Superior Court of Vermont
    • February 10, 2017
    ...the mistake common to both parties, . . . the written instrument fails to express the real agreement or transaction." Cassani v. Hale, 2010 VT 8, ¶ 17, 187 Vt. 336 (2010) (quoting LaRock v. Hill, 131 Vt. 528, 530-31 (1973)). "[T]he right to seek reformation of a deed is limited to the origi......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
5 cases
  • Kennery v. State, No. 10–448.
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • November 23, 2011
    ...no genuine issue as to any material fact” and “any party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” V.R.C.P. 56(c)(3); Cassani v. Hale, 2010 VT 8, ¶ 20, 187 Vt. 336, 993 A.2d 422. ¶ 11. The threshold question for both plaintiff's negligence and gross negligence claims is whether the troop......
  • State v. Young, No. 09–252.
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • October 29, 2010
    ...ignoring certain facts in the record. We will affirm a trial court's findings of fact unless they are clearly erroneous. Cassani v. Hale, 2010 VT 8, ¶ 25, 187 Vt. 336, 993 A.2d 422. The trial court is afforded great discretion in making factual findings because it is in the best position to......
  • Brault v. Welch, No. 13–189.
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • May 16, 2014
    ...A result so at odds with the actual language of a deed is rightly accomplished through the remedy of reformation. See Cassani v. Hale, 2010 VT 8, ¶¶ 17–19, 187 Vt. 336, 993 A.2d 422 (finding reformation appropriate to determine location of easement in face of ambiguous wording of deed); LaR......
  • In re 88 King Street, 45-1-17 Cncv
    • United States
    • Vermont Superior Court of Vermont
    • February 10, 2017
    ...the mistake common to both parties, . . . the written instrument fails to express the real agreement or transaction." Cassani v. Hale, 2010 VT 8, ¶ 17, 187 Vt. 336 (2010) (quoting LaRock v. Hill, 131 Vt. 528, 530-31 (1973)). "[T]he right to seek reformation of a deed is limited to the origi......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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