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M.G. Group of Companies, L.L.C. v. Johnkins

A-5023-06T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2008) (Unpublished)

EASEMENTS; ABANDONMENT — If the beneficiaries of an easement granted by deed never showed an intention to abandon use of the easement, it doesn’t matter that those beneficiaries subsequently gain access to the same local road by means other than the easement; therefore, such an easement should not be modified or eliminated.

A developer purchased a tract of land and obtained approval for the construction of a residential development on it. The developer, before the lower court, requested extinguishment of a fifty-foot-wide easement that extended along the length of the property and which abutted the proposed back yards of the proposed houses. This would allow it to enlarge the proposed back yards. The developer argued that the easement was long unused. The developer raised the alternative arguments that the easement should be reduced in size to ten feet in width or that the easement should be limited to residential traffic and no longer used for the transport of farm equipment. Four neighbors with properties along the easement were named as parties to the action. The residents testified that they regularly used the easement for its intended purpose. They argued, for that reason, there was no basis to extinguish the easement based on non-use.

The lower court found that even if the developer’s claim of non-use was proven, the easement had been established by deed and therefore could not be extinguished on a claim of non-use. The lower court additionally found that there was no evidence that the residents named in the developer’s action, each a beneficiary of the easement, ever intended to abandon use of the easement. It acknowledged that some of the neighboring residents had access to a local road by other means than the easement, but held that even those other means of access did not lessen the validity of the easement because their easement was created by deed and not by necessity. The lower court further found that the wetlands along parts of the easement did not prevent the easement from being used for its intended purpose and also that there was no reason to restrict the use of the easement to residential use, and not for the transport of farm equipment. As a result, it determined that there was no basis to reduce the width of the easement from fifty feet, as set forth in the deed, to ten feet, which was the width being used at the time of the action. On appeal, the Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s decision and held that it was supported by the evidence on the record.

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