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Carlson v. Latvian Lutheran Exile Church of Boston

Supreme Court of New Hampshire

September 21, 2017

CAROLYN J. CARLSON, TRUSTEE OF THE CAROLYN J. CARLSON LIVING TRUST
v.
LATVIAN LUTHERAN EXILE CHURCH OF BOSTON AND VICINITY PATRONS, INC.

          Argued: April 11, 2017

          Tarbell & Brodich, P.A., of Concord (David E. LeFevre on the brief and orally), for plaintiff Carolyn J. Carlson, Trustee of the Carolyn J. Carlson Living Trust.

          Orr & Reno, P.A., of Concord (Lisa Snow Wade on the brief and orally), for the defendant.

          LYNN, J.

         The defendant, Latvian Lutheran Exile Church of Boston and Vicinity Patrons, Inc. (Patrons), appeals an order of the Superior Court (Colburn, J.) declaring that it does not have an easement to use a private road to access Lake Massasecum. Plaintiff Carolyn J. Carlson, Trustee of the Carolyn J. Carlson Living Trust (Carlson), cross-appeals the trial court's denial of Carlson's petition to quiet title. Because we find that Carlson lacked standing to pursue both her actions, we affirm the trial court's ruling that she lacked standing on her petition to quiet title, vacate the trial court's grant of declaratory relief, and remand.

         I

         The relevant facts are as follows. One of the plaintiffs in the underlying lawsuit, Shirley Kingsbury, owned property in Bradford that borders both Lake Massasecum and Davis Road, which is a public road. A private driveway runs across the property from Lake Massasecum to Davis Road. Carlson also owns property on Lake Massasecum, and her deed to that property includes an easement to use the driveway to access her property.

         The present dispute began in August 2012 when Patrons, after consulting with counsel, told Carlson and Kingsbury that it had a right to use the driveway to access the lake. In November 2012, after Carlson and the other lakefront tract owners had left for the season, Patrons proceeded to widen, place crushed gravel upon, and cut back branches alongside the driveway. Thereafter, over the next year, a number of disputes occurred between the parties over whether Patrons had a right to use the driveway to access the lake.

         In 2014, Carlson and Kingsbury petitioned the trial court to quiet title to the driveway. They also sought a declaratory judgment that Patrons had no deeded right to use the driveway or, alternatively, that Patrons lost its deeded right to use the driveway through ouster. Patrons counterclaimed, seeking a declaratory judgment that it: (1) owns a valid deeded easement over the driveway; (2) has prescriptive rights over the driveway; and (3) has a right to use the driveway because the various deeds at issue contain equitable servitudes in its favor. Each party also requested permanent injunctive relief.

         The trial court held a bench trial over three days in July 2015, at which point the trial was suspended pending further hearing. Before the trial could resume, Kingsbury sold her lot to Lois and Fred Schweizer and withdrew from the case with the assent of both Carlson and Patrons. After the Schweizers were notified of the pending action, they informed counsel for both parties that "they did not want to participate in the litigation." The deed from Kingsbury to the Schweizers stated that the lot was being conveyed:

. . . SUBJECT TO the case of Carolyn J. Carlson, Trustee of the Carolyn J. Carlson Living Trust et al v. Latvian Lutheran Exile Church of Boston and Vicinity Patrons, Inc. . . . now pending and docketed in the Merrimack County Superior Court as case number 217-2014-CV-00044. The Sellers herein make no warranties or a representation concerning said action and the Buyer takes subject to same.

         Neither Carlson nor Patrons added the Schweizers as parties to the case.

         The trial resumed on December 8, 2015. After Carlson rested, Patrons moved for a directed verdict on Carlson's petition to quiet title, arguing that she lacked standing. The trial court denied Patrons' motion, but stated that it would review the issue at the close of the trial. The trial continued for another two days.

         Thereafter, Patrons renewed its argument that Carlson lacked standing with respect to her petition to quiet title and argued that Carlson also lacked standing to pursue a declaratory judgment. The trial court issued an order ruling that Carlson lacked standing on her petition to quiet title, but had standing to pursue her claim for declaratory relief. As to the latter claim, the trial court's ...


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