2016-09-15 / Front Page

Lawyers sue church

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – A lawsuit filed by law firm TOSA, LLC against Second Congregational Church over easement rights, and a subsequent counterclaim suit by the church against the firm, have failed to reach resolution through arbitration.

The Second Congregational Church belongs to the conference of the Congregational Christian Churches and has been serving the Biddeford community for more than 200 years.

The initial complaint against Second Congregational Church, at 19 Crescent St., was filed in February by TOSA, LLC, a law firm that includes attorneys Sally Williams and Tom Greco, who practice law at 17 Church St. In April, the church countered with a suit of their own. The parties are disputing the conditions of an easement agreement established when the church sold 176 Crescent St. in 2006.

In a certified letter notifying the church that legal proceedings would be entered, attorney Stephen Hodsdon, who initially represented the firm, wrote that waste generated by the Bon Appetit soup kitchen, a shed structure on the property and parking by church officials in the driveway represented violations of the easement agreement that was established when the church sold 17 Crescent St. in 2006.

“A major source of problems has been the amount of waste generated by the Bon Appetit operation. I understand that the waste from the operation was initially just put out in large trash bags which were invariably picked apart by birds and/or rats with refuse being spread around the neighborhood,” Hodsdon wrote. “In more recent years, either the church or Bon Appetit has placed a shed structure on the property for purposes of containing the trash but, as I saw when I visited the property recently, the door to the shed is open and flapping in the wind and there is still garbage being stored in trash bins outside of the shed structure.”

Hodsdon said that the easement is explicit in providing that “no structure shall be erected or maintained thereon except a greenhouse and/or other garden related structures.” Hodsdon also wrote that church members do not have a right to park in the driveway except for loading and unloading.

In an affidavit filed in March, the Rev. Catherine Anglea, the church’s pastor, said members of the firm also began parking in the driveway area, and in 2015, Greco had approached the church with a plan to create more parking for both parties.

“I then suggested that the parties look into changing the terms of the easements to specifically allow for the proposed parking lost. Mr. Greco responded that he did not want to change the terms of the easement,” Anglea wrote. “A short time later, Mr. Greco began avoiding me. He also began approaching Deb Gagnon, director with the Bon Appetit Community Meal Program, to complain about the Bon Appetit’s use of the driveway. I was never informed that there was any discussion about the placing of trash in the garden shed.”

In the church’s answer to the complaint by TOSA, LLC, and counterclaim, attorney Karen Wolfram, representing the church, states that the garden shed adjacent to the church is used to store landscaping equipment, flower boxes and covered trash cans, and it has existed on the space for at least seven years without objection from the plaintiff or any previous landowner.

“Greco repeatedly represented to the church that it wanted the church to join in with the LLC in a project to create a paved parking lot accessed by the 17 Crescent St. property driveway which would include tearing down the carriage house on the LLC’s property and paving the garden easement area for the use and benefit of both the church and the LLC.

According to the response, after the LLC began excavation and removal of their carriage house, Anglea approached the LLC with concern that some work was being done on church property.

“Greco assured Reverend Anglea that he saw no problems with the boundary because both the LLC and the church were seeking additional parking, and repeatedly assured her that the boundaries and the easements were not a big deal, in his mind, and because the parties were seeking the same outcome, including, when he came to the church to discuss the future plans,” Wolfram wrote.

In its counterclaim, the church alleged that TOSA, LLC negligently misrepresented its intentions to the church by claiming it wanted to work with the church to create parking but later changing its mind and placing demands on the church’s use of the easement.

“The church has been damaged and continues to be damaged by the unlawful entry on its premises and property … by being denied the full and complete enjoyment and use of its property … and through the physical and/or otherwise blocking of access to the stairs of the walkway leading to the church kitchen, by physical damage to its property, by the driving and parking of vehicles on its land, by the depositing of material and/or litter harmful and/or damaging to the land, the creation of a cloud upon its title, the excavating and/or altering of the land, the removal of soil, the disturbing, removing and/or destroying of lawfully established monuments marking the boundaries of the church’s land and by the cost of defending its property and sums paid to its attorney.”

On June 27, the parties participated in mediation on the matter and reported to the court that, “The parties have reached a tentative agreement to settle. Whether this case reaches final settlement will be known in three weeks.”

In a letter to the court by Wolfram dated Aug. 26 however, Wolfram reports, “Plaintiff’s counsel has now advised counsel for defendant as to plaintiff’s position and this matter has not resolved.”

Anglea told the Courier by email, that members of the congregation had discussed the lawsuit.

“We must hold all our people with the love that God showed us through Christ, no matter what. However, though we show kindness, we also must speak our truth and stand for what is right,” Anglea said. “We ask that people remember to only show kindness to others at all times.”

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