Ambiguous Town Meeting Vote Did Not Completely Discontinue Town Road

Town of Goshen v. Casagrande
New Hampshire Supreme Court No. 2017-0137
Friday, January 26, 2018

Carl Casagrande appealed a decision of the Superior Court that found in favor of the Town of Goshen that a road abutting his property was a Class VI town road not his private property.  In 1891 the Goshen Town Meeting had voted to “discontinue and throw up” a portion of Page Hill Road in Goshen that terminated at the Newport town line on the condition “Newport will throw up theirs to meet us.”  The trial ruled that Casagrande had not met his burden to prove the road had been completely discontinued.

Casagrande owns property with frontage on Page Hill Road in Goshen. Page Hill Road runs from Province Road in Goshen to the Newport town line, where it becomes a Newport town highway. On the unmaintained portion of Page Hill Road, Casagrande has installed a combination-locked gate that prevents vehicle access to Page Hill Road north of his driveway. Only town police, local fire officials, and abutters who request access have the combination to the lock. The Town of Goshen filed suit in superior court requesting that the court permanently enjoin Casagrande from blocking public access to Page Hill Road.

The question for the Supreme Court was whether the 1891 vote had completely discontinued Page Hill Road, or, whether the unmaintained portion of Page Hill Road remained a Class VI highway open to the public.  The Court restated that discontinuance is not favored in the law, and that once a road is established as a public highway, it is presumed to exist as a public highway until it is discontinued.  Furthermore, when reviewing the legal effect of a town meeting action the Court recognizes that town meetings do not consistently express their purposes with legal precision and nicety and that votes adopted by such meetings will be liberally construed to give legal effect to language imprecisely employed to express the corporate purpose.

The Court observed that Casagrande’s position required a constrained interpretation of the town meeting vote contrary to the principle that town meeting votes are liberally construed. The Court ruled that the town meeting vote was at best ambiguous, and that Casagrande did not meet his burden of proof.  Consequently, Page Hill Road remained a Class VI public highway. 

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