ELLSWORTH, Maine — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has upheld a Superior Court decision dismissing a request from an Orland landowner seeking a declaratory judgment on the location of the Orland-Penobscot boundary line.
That decision leaves the town boundary line in the location that has been agreed to and accepted as accurate by officials in both towns.
The supreme court justices, however, vacated the Superior Court decision to dismiss four other related counts in the complaint.
According to court documents, landowner Douglas L. Boothby filed a five-count complaint in Hancock County Superior Court in 2008 regarding a land dispute that dated back to 2001. The complaint included claims of trespass and a request for a declaratory judgment finding that the boundary line between Orland and Penobscot was not where the towns believed it to be.
Boothby owns land on Toddy Pond on Short Point in Orland, according to the documents. Defendants Joseph and Barbara Grindle and Charles and Theresa Gough also own property on Toddy Pond. All of the deeds trace their titles to the same original grantor, and each deed describes the property in relation to the Orland-Penobscot boundary line.
Boothby, however, contests the location of Orland-Penobscot boundary line. In 2004, Boothby commissioned a survey of his land which determined that the true town line was not the line recognized as the boundary by all of the defendants and accepted as correct by the selectmen in Orland and Penobscot.
The justices noted that both towns accept the accuracy of the existing line, which is marked by blue blazing, and that the towns have no interest in changing that line. Boothby claims title to certain lands based on a boundary line indicated by his survey, and the claims of trespass stem from the fact that parties have built camps on their property based on the boundary line accepted by the towns.
In 2001, the court documents note, Boothby discovered two unauthorized uses of his land. Grindle had built a cabin or camp on the property, and Gough had created a clearing and turnaround for a camper.
The case has implications for the towns in reference to the assessment and collection of taxes, for other landowners, some of whom have already built structures on their land, and for Boothby, who claims that there has been construction on land that he actually owns.
Boothby’s complaint named the Goughs and the Grindles as defendants, and also added 20 additional parties in interest, including the towns of Orland and Penobscot. In response, the defendants and some of the parties in interest filed various counterclaims.
The Superior Court dismissed Boothby’s request for a ruling on the location of the boundary line noting that the court lacked the authority to do so. The supreme court affirmed that decision.
Boothby, according to court documents, had argued that “the location of the boundary on the face of the earth, like the location of any property boundary, is a question of act subject to judicial determination.”
The justices, however, ruled that the request for a declaratory judgment “is a clear and unequivocal invitation to the Superior Court to establish the Orland-Penobscot boundary line in a location other than that marked by the blue blazed line that both towns accept as the true boundary.”
They noted that the Legislature alone has the authority to alter the boundaries of a town through a clear process established by the Legislature. The courts’ role in that process is to appoint commissioners at the request of a municipality to determine the location of a municipal boundary line and to review the report from those commissioners.
The justices affirmed the Superior Court decision to dismiss the count requesting a declaratory judgment because the court “correctly found that it lacked the authority to establish municipal boundaries.”
They vacated the court’s dismissal of the remaining counts in the complaint.
In their opinion, the justices said the dismissal of the counts including trespass was “apparently predicated on its assumption that those claims must necessarily fail if the blue blazed line is the presumptive town boundary.”
While that may be the ultimate outcome, the justices ruled that it was not possible to determine from the pleadings whether all of those counts would be affected by that initial ruling. The justices sent the remaining four counts back to Superior Court for further proceedings.