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McAdams v. Dagit Brothers Holding Company, LLC

A-5139-07T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2010) (Unpublished)

RIPARIAN RIGHTS — New Jersey common law grants riparian rights to adjoining landowners unless such rights are excluded by a deed exception or by another legally binding document of conveyance.

An individual had, since 1990, owned a piece of land abutting a bay. In 2003, a limited liability company purchased a neighboring piece of land which included a lagoon that abutted both properties. The individual’s property had, since at least 1963, included an abutting dock located in the lagoon area. He used the dock continuously until the neighbor intentionally destroyed it in 2003. The individual’s deeds were silent as to the dock, neither restricting nor granting its use or existence. In 2006, the individual sued his neighbor seeking a declaration that he was the riparian owner of the land adjoining his property and the lagoon. The neighbor counterclaimed to quiet title to the same land. The lower court found that the individual had the right to use the lagoon because his neighbor was on constructive or inquiry notice of a 1958 judgment declaring those rights, and because the common law grants riparian rights to adjoining landowners unless they are excluded by a deed exception or by another legally binding document of conveyance.

The neighbor argued that it had no notice of the judgment because the judgment was never recorded. The lower court found that the neighbor had notice both by the open, visible, continuous use of the lagoon and dock by the individual, and by the recording of a lis pendens within sixty years of the neighbor’s acquisition of title. The lower court concluded that, in New Jersey, it is reasonable to search the chain of title for sixty years. The lower court also found that the rights granted in that judgment were not extinguished when the two subject properties were joined together for twenty days in 1958 by foreclosure. Because the common ownership was so brief, and for no independent common purpose, the severance of the tracts twenty days later served to sustained the rights.

Additionally, the lower court found that the codified common law supports a finding of riparian rights. Those rights of access to, and use of, the lagoon’s waters were conveyed by deed because it had no exception to those rights. Further, the dock was an acceptable use recognized by the common law incidental to the right of wharfing out. On appeal, the Appellate Division agreed substantially with the lower court’s findings and, seeing no error in that court’s conclusion, affirmed its rulings.


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