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1101 CRNB, LLC v. Feed the Children, Inc.

2011 WL 124644 (U.S. Dist. Ct. D. N.J. 2011) (Unpublished)

EASEMENTS; QUASI-EASEMENTS — The Court sets forth five elements that must be satisfied in order to establish to a quasi-easement under New Jersey law.

Each of a limited liability company (LLC) and a non-profit corporation owned contiguous properties, subdivided from a larger tract of land. The properties each had a warehouse and the two warehouses faced each other. A common parking area separated the two warehouse’s docks. A dispute arose over the maintenance of the parking area. The non-profit corporate owner erected a fence on the property line, effectively dividing the parking area. The LLC owner claimed that the fence made it difficult for tractor trailers to access its loading locks and jeopardized a lease it had given for its property. It sought an injunction requiring removal of the fence and enjoining the non-profit corporate owner from interfering with the use and enjoyment of the LLC’s parking area. The non-profit corporation moved to dismiss.

In order for the LLC owner to establish a quasi-easement under New Jersey law, it had to satisfy the following five elements: 1) unity of title; 2) apparent use; 3) continuous nature of the use; 4) permanent character of the quasi-easement; and 5) reasonable necessity. Further, the LLC had to show that all elements existed at the time of the severance of title. Based on the evidence presented, the Court held there was a quasi-easement. The properties had been subdivided from a larger tract, creating unity in title. There was apparent and continuous use because the common parking area was used to access both parties’ warehouses from the time those warehouses were constructed. The Court noted that there was evidence that the common area was designed specifically and intentionally to be shared by the two properties. Thus, the use was permanent. Finally, the fence had made the use of the LLC’s warehouse undesirable, suggesting that the easement was a reasonable necessity.

The LLC owner also argued the existence of an easement by estoppel by reason of the non-profit corporation’s willful, malicious, and reckless conduct. The non-profit corporation claimed that there was no such cause of action under New Jersey law. The Court noted that while the New Jersey Supreme Court had not recognized an easement by estoppel, lower courts had found that a personal easement can be created under the principle of equitable estoppel. Here, however, the LLC did not allege that the non-profit corporation made a representation of any kind to the LLC, let alone a knowing misrepresentation with the intent to mislead. Because mere acquiescence does not amount to an affirmative misrepresentation, the elements of an equitable estoppel were not met.

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