Preserved Property Owner Does Not Have Standing to Challenge Approved Use by Neighboring Preserved

Updated: Jul 11, 2020


Lake with forest in the background (Photo by Edwin Remsberg).
Lake with forest in the background (Photo by Edwin Remsberg).

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I have written a few times on how the legal idea of standing can impact your ability to bring a lawsuit. In many cases, standing can require showing an injury-in-fact, causation relationship between the injury and the action of the defendant, and likelihood that the injury can actually be solved by a favorable decision. In some cases, the legislature may limit who may have standing even further. With conservation easements, for example, a state legislature may limit those who may enforce the conservation easement to the holder of the easement (such as a land trust). The Maine Supreme Court recently found a landowner of conserved property did not have standing to enforce the easement on neighboring property (Estate of Robbins, 2017).

In this case, Payson created a conservation easement by deed on 100 acres in 1997. The deed was granted to Cumberland Mainland and Islands Trust. The deed is currently held by Chebeague & Cumberland Land Trust and the 100 acres is now held by three different owners (Estate of Robbins (the Estate), Town of Cumberland, and a developer).


Tall trees and rocks on the side of a body of water (Photo by Edwin Remsberg).
Tall trees and rocks on the side of a body of water (Photo by Edwin Remsberg).

Problems arose when the town received approval to develop its portion of the 100 acres for a beach, a sixty-car parking lot, a bathhouse, and related amenities. The developer was looking at developing ten house lots on their portion of the 100 acres. The Land Trust reviewed the developer’s proposed plan and found it to be within the terms of the conservation easement. Then the Estate brought an action to enforce the conservation easement.

The district court found that the Estate did not have standing to enforce the easement. In Maine, the legislature has limited who may bring an action to enforce the terms of a conservation easement. Standing is limited to:

· An owner of an interest in the real property burdened by the easement;

· A holder of the easement;

· A person having a third-party right of enforcement; or

· The Attorney General . . .

Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 33, § 478(1)(A) – (D) (2017)). The district court concluded that the Estate was not an “owner of an interest in the real property burdened by the easement” under the terms of § 478. The Estate’s complaint was dismissed for lack of standing and the Estate appealed.