Hillsmere v. Singleton

Decision Date30 October 2008
Docket NumberNo. 1373, September Term, 2007.,1373, September Term, 2007.
Citation959 A.2d 130,182 Md. App. 667
PartiesHILLSMERE SHORES IMPROVEMENT ASSOCIATION, INC. v. D. Gregory SINGLETON, et al.
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

Michael J. Ragland, Sr. (Bell, Ragland & Gauges, PA, on the brief), Annapolis, MD, for Appellant.

William M. Simmons, Annapolis, MD, for Appellee.

Panel: HOLLANDER and ZARNOCH, JJ., and RAYMOND G. THIEME, JR., J. (retired, specially assigned).

HOLLANDER, Judge.

This matter, which is before us for the second time, concerns ownership of portions of a "Community Beach" within the Hillsmere Estates Subdivision (the "Subdivision"), located near Annapolis. See Hillsmere Shores Improvement Ass'n, Inc. v. Singleton, No. 763, Sept. Term 2004, 166 Md.App. 756, 762 (filed December 5, 2005) ("Hillsmere I"). Hillsmere Shores Improvement Association, Incorporated ("HSIA," "Hillsmere," or the "Association"), appellant, is the record owner of "community property" in the Subdivision, including the Community Beach, which lies along the shore of Duvall Creek, a tributary of the South River. Under deed covenants, all lot owners in the Subdivision have the right to use of community property. D. Gregory and Susan "Gerri" Singleton (the "Singletons"), Edward and Leah Hertz (the "Hertzes"), and Parviz Sahandy ("Sahandy"), appellees, are residents of the Subdivision; they own properties adjoining the Community Beach. In 2003, appellees filed quiet title actions against appellant, seeking a declaration that, by adverse possession, they had gained title to the portions of the Community Beach sitting between their respective lots and the water.1

Following a remand in Hillsmere I, the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County conducted a court trial in June 2007.2 On July 19, 2007, the court issued a "Memorandum Opinion and Order," in which it determined that appellees were entitled to the disputed portions of the Community Beach, based on adverse possession. In a separate Order dated July 19, 2007, the court declared the rights of the parties.

Unhappy with the court's rulings, appellant noted this appeal. Hillsmere presents seven questions for our review, which we quote:

I. Did the trial court err in considering the appellees' subjective intent when determining whether appellees had recognized the title holder's rights?

II. Did the trial court err in not finding that the appellee, Dr. Sahandy, had renounced claims of adverse possession?

III. Did the trial court err in allowing the tacking of successive possessions?

IV. Did the trial court err in awarding appellees more land than they actually possessed?

V. Did the trial court err in denying the appellant's claim for sovereign immunity?

VI. Did the trial court err in finding that adverse possession could subdivide a single platted lot in violation of the Anne Arundel County Code?

VII. Did the trial court err in deciding that title to recreation areas may be taken from a community association by adverse possession when the Anne Arundel County Code only allows a community association to hold title?

For the reasons that follow, we shall affirm the judgment of the circuit court.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL SUMMARY3
A. The Subdivision

The Subdivision was created in phases between 1952 and 1959 by a corporate developer, Hillsmere Estates, Inc. (the "Developer"). Appellees own three noncontiguous lots in the Subdivision that sit along the south side of East Bay View Drive, a street that consists of a row of homes comprising Lots 1-17 of Section 1, Block A of the Subdivision. In particular, the Singletons own Lot 9, at 117 East Bay View; the Hertzes own Lot 15, at 129 East Bay View; Sahandy owns Lot 17, at 133 East Bay View. Sahandy's property, at the east end of the row, is separated from Lot 18 by a twenty-foot-wide path (the "Path") that provides access from East Bay View Drive to a large area of the Community Beach, which includes a community pier. The Community Beach can also be accessed from East Bay View Drive at the west end of the row, where Hillsmere Drive terminates at its intersection with East Bay View. At the terminus of Hillsmere Drive, another large portion of the Community Beach, containing a playground, sits adjacent to Lot 1. The two larger portions of the Community Beach, one at the end of Hillsmere Drive and at the other the end of the Path, are connected to each other by a narrow strip of beach that runs behind and borders Lots 1-17, separating the rear property lines of those lots from the shoreline of Duvall Creek. The portions of this narrow strip that sit directly behind Lots 9, 15, and 17 are the disputed areas in this case.4

In May 1952, upon the platting of Section 1 of the Subdivision, the Developer executed a "Deed of Covenants, Restrictions and Conditions" (the "Deed of Covenants"), which was recorded in the land records of Anne Arundel County (the "County").5 With respect to Section 1 of the Subdivision, the Deed of Covenants provided, in part:

4. A committee of the [Developer] shall approve the exterior plan and construction or any alterations of any building and the position of the building on the lot. No building shall be more than 2½ stories in height and no work shall commence on the construction of any buildings or dwellings until the proper plans have been filed and approved in writing by the [Developer]. No wood nor solid fence, signs, billboards or advertising matter shall be erected on any lot unless approved in writing by the [Developer].

* * *

8. That nothing herein contained shall construe [sic] a dedication of any road, lake, pond, park, playground, wharf, pier, [or] community beach until such time as the [Developer] may dedicate or convey the roads, etc., to any public authority having the power to acquire same.

* * *

11. All purchasers of waterfront property with riparian rights, agree not to erect any fences, piers, wharves or any obstructions to water rights without obtaining written permission from the [Developer].

* * *

16. All said covenants, restrictions and conditions are to run with the land and to be expressly recited by reference in all future conveyances.

In June 1965, the Subdivision was designated as the Hillsmere Estates Special Benefit District (the "District"). Pursuant to the Anne Arundel County Code ("County Code"), the designation of "Special Community Benefit District," County Code, § 4-7-204(cc) (2005, Mar. 2008 S-17 Supp.), permits the County to "furnish and provide special privileges or benefits to persons or property in the district[], and levy special taxes on property in the district[] receiving the special benefit to pay the costs of furnishing, providing, and maintaining the special privileges or benefits." Id., § 4-7-202(a). Under County Code § 4-7-101(d), each special community benefit district is administered "by a civic or community association that is an incorporated association and that provides for membership for each property owner in the district." HSIA was established as the administrator of the District.

By a "Deed and Agreement" executed on July 9, 1965, the Developer conveyed to HSIA certain "parks, playgrounds, wharves, piers, [and] community beaches" in the Subdivision, including the Community Beach and the Path, for "the purpose of promoting ... recreational, beneficial and civic interests of its members, and in general for the purpose of promoting and improving the welfare of said community." Further, the Deed and Agreement stated that the Community Beach was conveyed to the Association "for the purpose of holding and maintaining the same for the use of bona fide lot owners in Hillsmere Estates for recreation, play, sports and in general, as a beach area and boat park[.]" The Deed and Agreement also provided, in part:

TO HAVE AND TO HOLD the aforesaid parcels of land to and unto the proper use and benefit of the [appellant] for the use and benefit of all Hillsmere lot owners, its successors and assigns, in fee simple, for the uses and purposes and subject to the restrictions, conditions, and understanding as follows:

1. That the land, piers and all other properties and rights hereby conveyed shall be used and maintained exclusively and solely as a beach, boat park and recreational area and for no other use, interest or purpose whatever, by the [appellant] for itself and all lot owners, however, to be limited to lot owners of land within the boundaries of that area designated as "Hillsmere Estates" as shown on the aforesaid mentioned plats, ... subject also to the following:

(a) That the [Developer], ... its successors and assigns, does hereby reserve the right to grant the privilege of use of that portion of the land being hereby conveyed designated as Community Beach ..., including the right of ingress and egress to and from the same, unto the owners and purchasers (including future purchasers) of any other land of the [Developer] its successors and assigns, whether now or hereafter sold or conveyed by the [Developer], lying within the boundaries of all that area designated in the aforesaid plats of Hillsmere Estates, the grant of such use to be in common with others to whom such rights may have been heretofore granted or hereafter by the [Developer].

2. That the [appellant], its successors and assigns, will enforce, administer, protect and defend the uses and purposes for which this grant is made as above set forth and would do any and all things which may be calculated to improve and to further the improvements of said property hereby conveyed for beach recreational areas, and for no other use, intent or purpose whatsoever ...; and it further agrees to keep and maintain said land hereby conveyed in a reasonably clean, safe and proper condition in furtherance of the uses, purposes and objects of this grant.

3. That nothing herein contained shall be construed as to prohibit [sic] the [appellant] from making such reasonable and proper charges, to be determined by the lot owners in...

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