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Cavanagh v. Village of Ridgewood

A-3848-01T5 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2003) (Unpublished)

EASEMENTS—To determine the existence and scope of an easement, one looks not only at its physical attributes, but also at the circumstances that surrounded its installation in the first place.

A drainage course ran along the back of a residential property. Part of the drainage course consisted of drainage pipes and part of it was an open ditch into which the pipes emptied. The drainage course ran along several other lots in a subdivision and ultimately emptied into a pond. One property owner contended that the drainage course was the municipality’s “obligation to maintain, pursuant to an easement [the municipality] obtained at the time the subdivision was approved.” The lower court held that the municipality had an easement, “but that it extended only to the pipes on [the complainant’s] property and did not extend to the open drainage ditch.” The Appellate Division disagreed.

According to the Court, the lower court seemed “to have focused upon the existing condition of the easement as it traverse[d] [the complainant’s] property and which consist[ed] only partially of pipes.” This was inconsistent with the easement as depicted on the approved subdivision map. That map showed “a drainage course along the entire back” of the property. Further, records existed showing that the municipality’s concern at the time of the subdivision approval was “proper drainage for the entire subdivision, not just for the complainant’s property.” Correspondence from the municipality to the developer during the subdivision process said that if certain storm drainage problems could not be resolved “an easement should be provided along the course with rights vested in the [municipality] to maintain the channel.” As a result, it was apparent to the Appellate Division “that in approving the subdivision, the [municipality] exacted a drainage easement.” It felt that the municipality’s intent was probably to pipe the entire drainage course. Therefore, the easement would naturally have extended along the entire course. Lastly, it agreed that there was no express grant of such an easement, but observed that the lower court already found that although there was no express easement, there was an easement by implication.

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