NORTHAMPTON — The city of Easthampton has filed a lawsuit against abutters of the three former elementary school buildings after research into the deeds of the properties — used for years by the city — could not identify how the parcels were obtained.
The so-called “quiet title lawsuit,” filed in Hampshire County Superior Court this week, asks the court to order that the city owns the Center, Pepin and Maple school properties and has a good title on each. The lawsuit also asks the court to determine the boundaries of the school.
“Because, after having performed substantial due diligence, I cannot ascertain other individuals who may have a claim to the title or interest in the property, it is necessary to serve these defendants through publication,” wrote attorney Mark Tanner of Springfield law firm Bacon & Wilson, in an affidavit of the Oct. 18 court filing.
Each of the 15 abutters to the school properties, as well as any unknown claimants, have been named a defendant in this case. They were all sent letters dated Oct. 6 from Bacon & Wilson notifying them of this legal action.
The complaint, delivered to each abutter by a sheriff, contained plans that show boundary lines between the school properties and each abutters’ property. The plans were created by Easthampton-based Northeast Survey Consultants, according to City Planner Jeff Bagg. Abutters are being asked to agree to the boundary lines as drawn.
The City Council declared the schools surplus and no longer necessary for municipal use at a Sept. 21 public hearing. Councilors unanimously voted in favor of releasing a request for proposals to redevelop the school properties. In developing a request for proposals, extensive research was done to assemble a complete chain of titles for all three properties, all of which are more than 100 years old.
“The school properties are all so old. They were acquired by way of gifts and tax takings and purchases by the city,” said Tanner in an interview with the Gazette. “Although the city has been in possession of those parcels for more than 20 years and used the properties exclusively all those years, there’s not a clear record of how the city obtained ownership of the entire parcels … The easiest way to clean this up is through a complaint to quiet title.”
He explained that he performed a diligent search to locate interested parties of record relative to the school properties. He also consulted with Mayor Nicole LaChapelle, City Clerk Barbara LaBombard, and Bagg to determine what title references, plans or relevant documents the city possessed, and reviewed a number of documents in the Registries of Deeds.
“Despite our efforts, I was unable to assemble a complete chain of titles for any of the school properties,” he said.
“In Massachusetts, this is not all that uncommon when you get into old deeds,” Tanner said. “At times, a deed will describe an ‘oak tree’ or ‘Mrs. Jones’ farm’ as a frame of reference. It can be a real time consuming and cost prohibitive process.”
Defendants that agree with the presented boundary lines have been directed by Tanner to contact him to discuss entering into an agreement for judgment.
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