Wilkinson v. Bd. of Cnty. Commissioners of St. Mary's Cnty.

CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Citation255 Md.App. 213,279 A.3d 1052
Decision Date28 July 2022
Parties John Allen WILKINSON, Trustee, Wilkinson Family Trust v. BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF ST. MARY'S COUNTY, Maryland and Christopher and Barbara Aiken, Trustees, Aiken Family Trust
Docket Number0478, Sept. Term, 2020

Argued by: V. Charles Donnelly (Amanda W. Sullivan, Law Office of V. Charles Donnelly on the brief), all of Solomons, MD, for Appellant

Argued by: Victoria M. Shearer (Eccleston and Wolfe, PC, John Breads, Jr. Local Government Insurance Trust all of Hanover, MD), J. Dirk Schwenk (Baylaw, LLC all of Annapolis, MD), all on the brief, for Appellee.

Panel: Leahy, Zic, Ripken, JJ.*

Zic, J.

This case concerns a dispute over ownership and access rights regarding a piece of real property located in St. Mary's County. The property is an irregularly shaped strip of unimproved land of approximately 0.196 acres bordering the shore of the Chesapeake Bay ("disputed property"), which is located in a subdivision known as Scotland Beach. John Allen Wilkinson, trustee for the Wilkinson Family Living Trust ("Wilkinson"), owns property that lies on either side of the disputed property. The disputed property bisects Wilkinson's property into (1) one large portion to the west of the disputed property, consisting of approximately one and one-half lots, including a house, and (2) a small triangle-shaped piece of shoreland to the east of the disputed property. Wilkinson filed suit against the Board of County Commissioners of St. Mary's County ("County"), asserting ownership of the disputed property. Christopher and Barbara Aiken, trustees of the Aiken Family Trust ("Aikens"), own undeveloped property to the south of Wilkinson's property and the disputed property. The Aikens successfully intervened as defendants, asserting that they have access rights over the disputed property.

On cross motions for summary judgment, the Circuit Court for St. Mary's County found that the County owned the disputed property in fee simple and denied Wilkinson's motion for summary judgment. The court further granted the County's motion for summary judgment as to all claims asserted by Wilkinson and the Aikens. As to the claims between the Aikens and Wilkinson, the court denied the Aikens’ motion for summary judgment and entered judgment in favor of Wilkinson. Wilkinson then appealed and the Aikens cross appealed.


Wilkinson presents three questions, which we have slightly rephrased as follows:

1. Did the court err in holding that the Brady deed is unambiguous and erroneously fail to consider evidence extrinsic to the deed?
2. If the court erred in holding that the Brady deed conveyed a fee simple interest instead of an easement, whether the court erroneously disregarded Wilkinson's claims of abandonment and estoppel of the easement thereby created?
3. If the court correctly held that the Brady deed conveyed a fee simple interest, whether the court erred in holding that the interest conveyed was a fee simple absolute?

As to the first question, we determine that the court did not err in holding that the deed is unambiguous. For the second question, because we hold that the court did not err in holding that the Brady deed conveyed a fee simple interest, we do not reach Wilkinson's contentions regarding abandonment and estoppel. As to the third question, we hold that the court did not err in determining that the County owns the disputed property in fee simple absolute.

In their cross appeal, the Aikens raise the following questions:

1. Whether the circuit court erred in determining that there was no public road south of Station Marker 14?
2. Whether the circuit court erred by dismissing the Aikens’ claim to quiet title?
3. Whether the circuit court erred by dismissing the Aikens’ tort claim for interference with easement for failure to provide notice to the County?

Regarding the Aikens’ first question, we hold that the court erred in concluding that there was no public road south of Station Marker 14. For the second question, we hold that the court did not err by dismissing the Aikens’ claim to quiet title. For the third question, we hold that the court did not err by dismissing the Aikens’ claim for interference with easement. We therefore affirm in part and vacate and remand in part.


The Scotland Beach subdivision is located on a peninsula that juts into the Chesapeake Bay. The Chesapeake Bay lies along the eastern shore of the peninsula, while Tanner Creek is along the west side. The Scotland Beach subdivision plat, recorded at Liber EBA 19, folio 408 on January 29, 1920 in the land records for St. Mary's County, is excerpted below1 :


The State Roads Commission of Maryland proposed a series of road projects to construct a State highway, designated "Scotland Beach to Point Lookout," to run through the peninsula. The proposed highway was intended to follow the northern boundary of the Scotland Beach subdivision and turn south, continuing along the shoreline of the Chesapeake Bay toward Point Lookout. The portion of the highway along the Chesapeake Bay was referred to as "Scotland Beach Road." As an adjunct to the Scotland Beach to Point Lookout highway, the State sought to extend an internal road, formerly known as Ed's Road, through the middle of the Scotland Beach subdivision. The internal road was to be designated as "Bay Front Drive" and would run from the northern end of the subdivision to the southern end, with its southern terminus connecting to Scotland Beach Road along the Chesapeake Bay shoreline.

In the 1940s, the State Roads Commission acquired property for Bay Front Drive through condemnation proceedings and conveyances from landowners. In 1945, Joan Brady, a predecessor-in-interest to Wilkinson, deeded portions of her land to the State Roads Commission ("Brady deed") to be used for the Scotland Beach to Point Lookout highway and extension of Bay Front Drive. Ms. Brady owned Lots 17, 18, and 19, and the planned southern portion of Bay Front Drive would cut through a portion of Lots 18, 19, and 20. The Brady deed, recorded at CBG 15, folio 137, transferred the disputed property to the State and reads in part:

WHEREAS, the State Roads Commission of Maryland, acting for and on the behalf of the State of Maryland, finds it necessary to acquire land, easements, and or rights, etc., shown and or indicated on State Roads Commission of Maryland's Plat No. 1919 which is duly recorded, or intended to be recorded, among the Land Records of St. Mary's County in the State of Maryland in order to lay out, open, establish, construct, extend, widen, straighten, grade and improve, etc., under its Contract SM-154-1-811 and or improve in any manner a highway and/or bridge, together with the appurtenances thereto belonging known as the Scotland Beach to Point Lookout, as a part of the Maryland State Roads System, and, thereafter use, maintain and/or further improve said highway and/or bridge, and
WHEREAS, the laying out of said highway and/or bridge and their appurtenances, in addition to being required for public convenience, necessity and safety, is a material benefit to the undersigned,
NOW, THEREFORE, THIS DEED AND RELEASE WITNESSETH: That for and in consideration of the above premises, One Dollar ($1.00) and other good and valuable considerations, the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged, we do hereby grant and convey unto the State of Maryland, to the use of the State Roads Commission of Maryland, its successors and assigns, forever in fee simple , all our right, title, and interest, free and clear of liens and encumbrances, in and to all the land, together with the appurtenances thereto belonging, or in any wise appertaining, lying between the lines designated "right of way line" as shown and/or indicated on the aforesaid plat , all of which plat is made a part hereof, so far as our property and/or our rights may be affected by the said proposed highway and/or bridge and the appurtenances thereto belonging, or in any wise appertaining ....

(emphasis added). The Brady deed states that the property is conveyed "forever in fee simple ... free and clear of liens and encumbrances." It specified that the deeded property lies between the " ‘right of way line[s] as shown and/or indicated on [Plat 1919]," which effectively transferred a portion of Lot 18 and portion of Lot 19.

Bay Front Drive is depicted on Plats 1918 and 1919, both of which were recorded on June 19, 1952 and again on March 26, 1986. Plat 1918 shows the northern portion (beginning at the northern intersection of Scotland Beach Road to Station Marker 10). An excerpt of Plat 19182 is reproduced below:


Plat 1919 shows the remaining southern portion of Bay Front Drive (continuing from Station Marker 10 to the fantail-shaped portion at the end of the road, which would connect to the southern intersection of Scotland Beach Road), an excerpt of which is shown below3 :


Bay Front Drive was paved on the northern portion, ending around Station Marker 14. The southernmost portion of Bay Front Drive (from around Station Marker 14 to the fantail), however, was never paved due to erosion by storms and hurricanes, particularly Hurricane Hazel in 1954. The portion of land between Station Marker 14 and the disputed property is graveled. The storms eroded the land on the Chesapeake Bay side of the Scotland Beach peninsula, submerging much of the land where Scotland Beach Road was planned along the Chesapeake Bay shore and a portion of the southern fantail of Bay Front Drive. Due to the erosion, the planned extension of Scotland Beach Road was not completed.

In 1974, a predecessor-in-interest to Wilkinson granted St. Mary's County an easement to build and maintain a revetment along the shoreline to protect it from further erosion. The easement, which was recorded, is over a small corner of Lot 19 that was not conveyed by the Brady deed.

In 1988, the State Highway Administration, on behalf of the State, granted and...

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