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Donut Cannot Overburden Easement
by Ron Davis
A Dunkin Donuts franchise in Massachusetts must stop its customers from intruding on a neighboring shopping center property. So ruled a Massachusetts appellate court in a lawsuit involving the two parties.
The shopping center, Central Plaza in Lowell, had contended with the intrusion since the Dunkin Donuts franchise had opened a new drive-through window for its customers. But that convenience for customers caused long lines of car to routinely back up onto Central Plaza property, blocking its entrances and parking area.
Central Plaza’s owners responded by threatening to prevent access to the Dunkin Donuts drive-through window. The original owner of Central Plaza had granted Dunkin Donuts an easement, allowing its customers the right of entry onto shopping center property, but Central Plaza’s current owners argued that the easement did not permit the “overburdening” caused by daily long lines of cars on the property.
A Massachusetts court ruled that the Dunkin Donuts franchise had indeed overburdened the easement. And he ordered the franchisee to put a stop to the encroachment.
The Dunkin Donuts franchisee appealed on grounds that he would suffer substantial financial losses if he were to close his drive-through window.
The Massachusetts Court of Appeals, in upholding the lower court ruling, explained, “The judgment does not actually require the closing of the drive-through window. It simply prevents utilizing the easement to allow the stacking of vehicles on shopping center property to gain access to the drive-through window and thus block travel lanes, parking spaces and entrances and exits to the shopping center.” (Steinberg v. Brown, 792 N.E.2d 718)
Decision: August 2003
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