Massachusetts Agencies

General Descriptions vs. Specific Descriptions


Here are some interesting cases on descriptions . . .

Cassidy v. Charlestown Savings Bank, 21 N.E. 372 (1889)

A gave deed to B of land A did not own (next door lot), describing the property by metes and bounds, and followed the legal description with "being the same premises formerly conveyed by grantors to Otis Merriam by deed dated 9-1-'68, recorded 937/183." This latter reference was to a deed which correctly described the land in fact owned by A. Court:

If we could resort to external evidence, it might appear that [A's] intention was to convey the lot owned by him. But we must look for the intent in the deed itself, and, if the terms of the deed do not express the intent, it must fail. The description in the granting part of the deed is explicit and unambiguous, and imports an intention to convey the [next door lot]. The words descriptive of the estate intended to be conveyed are wholly without ambiguity. The subsequent clause, referring to the deed to Merriam does not create any ambiguity in the prior description, but is repugnant to it. The clause is not inserted for the purpose of describing the lot conveyed. Where, as in this case, the deed conveyed one estate by a particular description, such description must prevail over a subsequent general reference to a prior deed made for another purpose, and such reference must be rejected.

The court noted that the plaintiff was not without a remedy. A bill to reform the deed would lie.

Stone v. Stone, 61 N.E. 268 (1901)

Distinguished from Cassidy case. Court:

This case is not like the Cassidy case [and other cases]. In those cases a parcel of land is described at length, and then follows a clause stating in substance that they are the same premises as those described in a prior deed, which deed did not convey the premises described. In this case, on the contrary, the only description of the land conveyed is that it is the land covered by the prior deed (sic).

Cowden v. Cutting, 158 N.E.2d 324 (1959)

A deed was given by A to B. The deed described two parcels (which did not include locus) and stated: "meaning hereby to convey all my rights, title and interest to any and all real estate in said Sudbury, acquired by me as one of the three heirs of the late Charles O. Willis." In dicta (as the case was decided on other grounds) the court said:

Our cases appear to support the conclusion . . . that the controlling intention of the generality in the deed [from A to B] was to state what the parties understood the two expressly described parcels to be rather than to enlarge the grant.

See also Ide v. Bowden, 342 Mass. 22, 172 N.E.2d 88 (1961) and Tyler v. Hammond, 28 Mass. 193 (1831).

Hamlin v. Attorney General, 81 N.E. 275 (1907)

The question was whether a road was included in a conveyance. The deed described the property as "on the east line of said road." A general description preceded as follows: A certain piece of land, situated in the Town of Mattapoiset, and on the road leading from the village to the lighthouse . . . bounded as follows:" Although the court seized on the words "on the road" (in addition to the words "on the east line of the road") to indicate an intention not to convey the road, the court also said:

It has been held in many cases that a general statement of this kind is of no effect to control a particular description of the land conveyed. . . . [I]t is now fully settled that the description by metes and bounds is to prevail, although a different description is given by reference to the grantor's title deeds.

Hillside Co-op Bank v. Cavanaugh, 122 N.E. 187 (1919)

The original grantor gave a deed to the grantee describing "Lot 7" in the conveyance, although the parties intended to deal with Lot 8, and the grantee in fact went into possession of Lot 8. The court applied the rules of reformation referred to in the Cassidy case.

Morse v. Kelley, 26 N.E.2d 26 (1940)

One Wixon owned a parcel which was 180 feet in width. Wixon sold the property to Nickerson. Nickerson sold the property to Edwards. Edwards sold the westerly portion of his property to Robbins. His deed bounded the land on the west by other land of Robbins, on the east by other land of the grantor, on the north by the road and on the south by the sea. The only measurements given were seven and one-half rods (123.75 feet) on the road and the same distance on the sea. After this description the grantor added the statement: "This property is one-half of the premises formerly owned by . . . Wixon." The respondent claims under this title. The petitioners title comes from a deed from the devisees of Edwards, which described the land conveyed as bounded by Thompson on the east, by land of Crane (now claimed by the respondent) on the west, on the north by the road and on the south by the sea. The deed from the devisees gave a frontage on the road as 111 feet, and stated: "being one-half of the piece of property owned by . . . Nickerson."

The question was whether the deed from Edwards to Robbins conveyed property 123.75 feet in width or 90 ("one-half" of 180) feet in width. The court said:

[I]f the statement in the Robbins deed that "this is one-half of the premises formerly owned by . . . Wixon" is to be considered as a part of the description of the property intended to be conveyed, it must be construed in conjunction with the particular description of the premises which immediately precede it in the deed. It is settled that a clear and unambiguous particular description of the land controls a general description which is inconsistent with such particular description . . . . We do not think that the general reference to an aliquot part of the entire Wixon tract should prevail over the specific measurements of the front and rear bounds of the lot particularly described.