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Court: Private Property Can't Block Access to Graves

Posted July 17, 2007

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— The state Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that people can go onto private property to visit family gravesites.

Rethea Massey sued Douglas Hoffman three years ago when Hoffman prevented her from visiting her grandparents' graves. Hoffman bought the property in 2001 and said he didn't know graves were on his land.

"He didn't want us up there. He didn't want any part of it. He said he'd have anybody arrested," Massey said. "My daddy said on his death bed, 'As long as you think you're right, keep going.' So, I'm going.'"

Wake County Superior Court sided first with Massey, then Hoffman in the dispute. In its ruling, the state Court of Appeals said state law allows people to visit gravesites for restoring, maintaining and visiting, even if they're on private property.

"If you look at the appeal records, there's a lot of studies that have been done to access gravesites, and this just gives credence to the statute and says it's enforceable," said C. Terrell Thomas Jr., Massey's attorney.

The appellate court also ruled that Hoffman filed his motion for dismissal too late.

"It will affect a lot of people, people from the future and people from the past," said Massey, adding that she plans to put a fence around the gravesite.

Hoffman's attorney, Ronald Garber, declined to comment.


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  • Sthrnldy Jul 18, 2007

    Why was this portion of land sold to begin with!? Normally everything within reason would be done to keep the graves and a small portion of land within the family. My family has done this since 1786. Our family by no means was considered "well off" or "wealthy". We took care and made sure of a final resting place for our own. I am now responsible for this small portion of land and it's upkeep. Unfortunately "family graves" are sold off and other memebers are completely unaware of the sale. I feel for this woman and I'm sure it saddens her to have to "fight " over the freedom to visit her deceased ancestors. But then again, it should have been her FAMILY and those before her to ensure access to future generations. The new landowner should have the right to stop ANYONE from going onto his property. The family SHOULD NOT have the right to claim it a Family Gravesight. But hopefully he would have the heart to allow this elderly woman visits until her days are ended.

  • A_Local Jul 18, 2007

    I am familiar with this issue, as I live in the area....

    Nobody is exactly sure where these graves are at. Unless there have been some developments in the past few months, the site was merely handed down by word of mouth. In riding past this area for over 30 years, I have never seen anything that resembles a grave marker. Even the older people in the area aren't sure where the graves are located or if they were disturbed due to the construction of the present-day road. (The older road did not follow the exact same route.)

  • strolling bones Jul 18, 2007

    @taxman...would graves prevent a clear title? I do not think the title is in dispute is it? That is the only obligation of the lawyer to make sure the title is clear not to know what is located on the land. Sounds like there was no legal easement.

  • silver Jul 18, 2007

    I think the garve should be moved. You don't just want anyone coming on your property.

  • smitty Jul 17, 2007

    It will end up like that Poltergeist movie and coffins will start coming out of the ground. The undead will be mighty displeased and the house will be sucked into another dimension.

  • Navaho1 Jul 17, 2007

    The real problems start when the family decides to bury more of its people there - claiming it to be a family graveyard. The landowner usually looses - mainly because he needs a 10000 dollar retainer for a skilled attorney.

  • Tax Man Jul 17, 2007

    If the landowner did not know the graves were on his property when he bought it, he should sue his closing attorney for malpractice or the title company for not having clear title. Otherwise believe he is stuck with a permanent easement for access to the gravesites and would be in criminal violation if he tried to move or otherwise dig up the graves. Can't believe he did not know there were graves on the property when he bought it. Gotta inspect the property because if it is out in the open and you do not notice it, it is too bad later. Maybe the folks who have their family buried there could hold a weekly memorial at the graves.

  • Jokers Wild II Jul 17, 2007

    I would say that it is pretty cold-hearted to prevent someone from visiting a grave site that was already there when the property was purchased by the owner! I sure hope for the sake of humanity, that this guy had no idea they wanted to visit dead relatives graves..

  • Nancy Jul 17, 2007

    I believe there are federal statutes as well as some state statutes pertaining to moving graves or otherwise decimating them.

    It isn't something that can be done legally to my knowledge.

  • then who cares Jul 17, 2007

    I have a feeling this is not over! What if the landowner wants the graves moved? What legal obligations does the landowner have to maintain the grave; or to maintain access to the grave? What if the landowner decides to put a pond there?