In the recent case of Bliss v. Boston Clear Water Company, LLC (decided April 21, 2020), the Essex Land Court found that the plaintiff, Mary Bliss, had successfully proved a claim to ownership of property on the grounds of adverse possession because her family had been using the property adversely, openly, notoriously, exclusively, and continuously for a period spanning nearly thirty years. The Bliss family’s use of the disputed land began in 1985 when Mary’s husband, Gerald Bliss, started tending to the grounds of property that was owned at the time by his next-door neighbor. Specifically, the Bliss family paved a portion of the neighboring land, installed a fence around a well, constructed a pitcher’s mound and a hockey net, and even went so far as to hire a professional landscaping company to conduct routine maintenance on the land. In addition, the Bliss family parked their cars on the land and allowed their guests to park there, and the family’s children played openly on the property.
The Bliss family’s use of the neighboring property continued without interruption until the land was purchased by Boston Clear Water Company (hereinafter “BCW”) in 2014. A representative of BCW later entered the land on several occasions in order to mow the lawn and perform other activities. When she learned of this, Mary Bliss, as the trustee of the Mary B. Bliss Revocable Trust of 2001 (hereinafter “the Trust”), claimed that the Trust had established ownership of the land by adverse possession. Further, Ms. Bliss and BCW each brought competing claims for trespass against the other regarding their use of the land. After trial, the Land Court agreed with the plaintiff and held that the Trust had established title to the majority of the disputed land via adverse possession as of 2005 – twenty years after the Bliss family had begun to use the land. In rendering its decision, the Land Court gave weight to the open and notorious nature of the Bliss family’s occupation of the land, which was “sufficiently pronounced to be made known to visitors of the Bliss property and neighbors who passed by and looked out their windows”; the fact that there was no evidence that anyone besides the Bliss family had used the land, in any manner, prior to BCW in 2014; and the continuous nature of the family’s use of the land. The Court also held that BCW had committed trespass when the company’s representative accessed the land and awarded the Bliss family nominal damages as a result.