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Balise v. Balise

Supreme Court of New Hampshire, Rockingham

December 21, 2017

JANET BALISE & a.
v.
BRAD BALISE & a.

          Argued: November 16, 2017

          Soule, Leslie, Kidder, Sayward & Loughman, PLLC, of Salem (David W. Sayward on the brief and orally), for the plaintiffs.

          Forman, Clark, Pockell & Associates, P.A., of Londonderry (Steven A. Clark on the brief and orally), for defendants Brad Balise, Jon Carpenter, and Winifred Carpenter.

          DALIANIS, C.J.

         Defendants Brad Balise (Brad), Jon Carpenter, and his mother, Winifred Carpenter, appeal the entry of judgment by the Trial Court (Anderson, J.) in favor of the plaintiffs, Janet and Stanley Balise, on the plaintiffs' petition to quiet title and for a declaratory judgment that they have a right to use a discontinued portion of a road to access their property and install utilities to service it. We affirm.

         The relevant facts follow. The parties own property in Windham. The plaintiffs own tax lot 21-G-600 (Lot 600), Brad (the plaintiffs' son) owns tax lot 21-G-700 (Lot 700), and Winifred owns tax lot 24-G-100 (Lot 100). The plaintiffs formerly owned Lot 700. They sold it to Brad in 1999.

         Lots 100 and 700 are adjacent to one another and have frontage on Range Road, a public way. Lot 600 abuts Lot 700 and has no frontage on Range Road or on any other public way. The disputed road, which was discontinued in 1962, runs perpendicular to Range Road. The disputed road lies between Lots 700 and 100. Lot 600 abuts it.

         In the 1970's, a wooden barrier was placed across the disputed road. Since 1998, Brad has posted "No Trespassing" signs on the road. He has also parked vehicles and placed logs or boulders on it.

         The plaintiffs seek to construct a residential dwelling on Lot 600, using the disputed road to access their property and provide utilities to it. In 2015, they brought the instant lawsuit against the defendants. The plaintiffs sought a declaration that, pursuant to RSA 231:43 (Supp. 2016), they have a right to use the disputed road to access their lot, which has not been "extinguished by adverse possession or other actions of the Defendants, " and a declaration that their statutory right of access includes a right to install utilities in the disputed road. Thereafter, the plaintiffs moved for summary judgment as to both their claim of a right to use the disputed road for access to their lot and their claim of a right to install utilities in the disputed road. The defendants moved for summary judgment only as to the plaintiffs' claim of a right to install utilities.

         The trial court granted the plaintiffs' first requested declaratory judgment, ruling that they "have a statutory right of access" over the disputed road under RSA 231:43, III, "which the Defendants have not extinguished by adverse possession." However, the trial court denied the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment as to the plaintiffs' second requested declaratory judgment, deciding that whether the plaintiffs "are able to run utilities . . . is subject to the rule of reason, which is a question for the trier of fact." Subsequently, the court held a two-day bench trial, and after reviewing the evidence, which included a view of the disputed road and surrounding property, determined that it was reasonable for the plaintiffs to install a single utility pole on the disputed road and to install utilities underneath the road. This appeal followed.

         On appeal, the defendants contest the trial court's summary judgment rulings. They argue that, in granting partial summary judgment to the plaintiffs, the trial court erred by: (1) finding that the plaintiffs have a statutory right to access their lot over the disputed road; (2) determining that, in their deed conveying Lot 700 to Brad, the plaintiffs did not release their right to use the disputed road to access Lot 600; (3) granting summary judgment to the plaintiffs on the issue of adverse possession; and (4) determining that whether the plaintiffs "are able to run utilities . . . is subject to the rule of reason." We address each argument in turn.

         In reviewing a trial court's rulings on cross-motions for summary judgment, we consider the evidence in the light most favorable to each party in its capacity as the nonmoving party and, if no genuine issue of material fact exists, we determine whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. JMJ Properties, LLC v. Town of Auburn, 168 N.H. 127, 129 (2015). If our review of that evidence discloses no genuine issues of material fact, meaning facts that would affect the outcome of the litigation, and if the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, then we will affirm the grant of summary judgment. Sabinson v. Trustees of Dartmouth College, 160 N.H. 452, 455 (2010). We review the trial court's application of the law to the facts de novo. Brown v. Concord Group Ins. Co., 163 N.H. 522, 524-25 (2012).

         The defendants first argue that the trial court misconstrued RSA 231:43, III as granting the plaintiffs a right to access their lot over the disputed road. The defendants contend that RSA 231:43, III "was adopted to protect a landowner from being deprived of its only means of access, " and that, because the plaintiffs have other means of access to their lot, the statute does not grant them a right of access over the disputed road. They argue that the plaintiffs' alleged other means of access raises a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the plaintiffs are entitled to a statutory right of access. For the purposes of addressing the defendants' argument, we assume without deciding that the plaintiffs have other means of access to their lot.

         Because this issue requires us to determine whether the trial court correctly interpreted RSA 231:43, our standard of review is de novo. See Cady v. Town of Deerfield, 169 N.H. 575, 577 (2017). In matters of statutory interpretation, we are the final arbiter of legislative intent as expressed in the words of the statute considered as a whole. Id. We first examine the language of the statute and ascribe the plain and ordinary meanings to the words used. Id. We interpret legislative intent from the statute as written and will not consider what the legislature might have said or add ...


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