SJC: TOWN OF SUDBURY v. MBTA

KeywordsMassachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Easement. Real Property, Easement. Public Utilities, Electrical transmission line

In Sudbury v tMBTA, ete al, the SJC today affirmed a Land Court dismissal of the Town’s challenge to the MBTA’s plans to divert an easement to a private use.  The Town challenged the matter on the prior public use doctrine.  The SJC declined to extend the doctrine in this case, explaining ” the scope of the common-law doctrine of “prior public use.”  Under this long-standing doctrine, public lands acquired for one public use may not be diverted to another inconsistent public use unless the subsequent use is authorized by plain and explicit legislation.  Robbins v. Department of Pub. Works, 355 Mass. 328, 330 (1969).  Here, we are asked to extend this doctrine and to determine that the prior public use doctrine bars the diversion of public land devoted to one public use to an inconsistent private use.  Because such a sweeping change would not advance the purposes of the doctrine, and would create widespread uncertainty concerning numerous existing holdings of private land that were transferred by public entities, we decline to adopt the municipality’s proposed reworking of the doctrine.  Accordingly, we affirm the Land Court judge’s decision dismissing the complaint, albeit, in part, on somewhat different grounds.”  Issues of standing were also discussed by the SJC.  Click here for the full text of the SJC’s decision.

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