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Boylan v. The Borough of Point Pleasant Beach

410 N.J. Super. 564, 983 A.2d 1122 (App. Div. 2009)

DEEDS SUBDIVISIONS; BOUNDARIES — Where a deed is ambiguous with respect to a property’s border, it is appropriate to look at a filed subdivision map to determine the proper border and, in construing the deed and the map, a court must look to the intention of the parties, but where the intention is not clear, then a court may consider extrinsic evidence to determine the intent.

Sixty-three lots of shore property were subdivided in 1920. The subdivision maps depicted the eastern boundary of the lots as a straight line and gave precise measurements for the eastern boundaries of each of lot. The area beyond the eastern boundaries of each lot was depicted on the subdivision map as “beach.” Years later, the owner of one of the lots filed a quiet title action to gain title to a 75 foot wide strip of land being used by the municipality as a beach. The owner claimed that the eastern boundary of its property extended beyond the boundaries listed on the subdivision maps. It pointed to a 1921 deed to a predecessor-in-title which described the lot as including “so much of Lot 1 in Block 9 as has not been submerged to high water mark in the Atlantic Ocean be the same what it may.” The owner argued that, based on the 1921 deed, the eastern boundary of their property extended to the high water mark of the Atlantic Ocean, which would include the strip of land being used by the municipality. The lower court disagreed, finding that the boundaries of the owner’s property were as depicted in the subdivision map.

The owner appealed, but the Appellate Division affirmed. The Court found that the 1921 deed was ambiguous with respect to the property’s eastern boundary, and therefore it was appropriate to look to the filed subdivision map to determine the proper border. It noted that in construing a deed, a court must look to the intention of the parties. If the intention is not clear, then a court may consider extrinsic evidence to determine the intent. If there is no extrinsic evidence, then a court must construe the deed as a whole without giving disproportionate emphasis to any part of the deed. In this case, the Court noted that the subdivision map showed the eastern boundaries of the sixty-three lots as a straight line followed by a wavy line described as “beach” and “Title to Low Water Mark.” It concluded that since the subdivision map did not contain the location of the high water mark, it was fair to conclude that the lots had a fixed eastern boundary and not a boundary extending to the high water mark. The Court also rejected the owner’s claim because the Court believed that the language in the 1921 deed limited the lot boundaries instead of expanding them. The deed did not describe the property’s eastern boundary as extending up to the high water mark. Instead, it limited it to so much of the property as had not been submerged to the high water mark. The Court noted that its interpretation of the boundaries was bolstered by the fact that none of the other deeds to the subdivided lots contained references to the high water mark, and the eastern boundaries of all of those lots were depicted in the subdivision map.


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