State of New Jersey v. Dikert

319 N.J. Super. 310, 725 A.2d 119 (App. Div. 1999)
  • Opinion Date: March 12, 1999

CONDEMNATION; EASEMENTS—The taking of adjacent property over which an access easement runs will not give rise to compensation if the property served still has reasonable access to the highway system.

Two property owners had the right to use an easement that ran from a public highway across neighboring land to their own property. A portion of the neighboring property owner’s land was condemned in connection with a highway improvement project. The two property owners filed a claim alleging that the condemnation of their neighbor’s property severed the access easement serving their properties, thereby obligating the condemning authority to pay just compensation. They also asserted that the construction of a service road would result in an inverse condemnation of their property by destroying its aesthetic value. The lower court concluded that the two property owners failed to set forth any facts warranting relief. It stated that in taking the easement, the condemning authority had provided the landowners with a reasonable alternative route to the highway and thus they were not entitled to compensation for the condemnation of a portion of the access easement. The lower court also ruled that the property owners’ other claims involved tort actions, not matters of inverse condemnation. Upon review, the Appellate Division pointed out that cases dealing with the impact of eminent domain on easements generally involve situations where: (1) the servient tenement, including an easement, is taken, precluding the dominant tenement on adjacent land from utilizing the easement; or, (2) those in which the taking is of an access easement utilized by the owner of property abutting a highway. The first category of cases refers to situations where land burdened with an easement is taken by eminent domain, and the owner’s measure of damages is the market value of the land as affected by the easement. The easement attaches to the land of the owner of the dominant fee and is appurtenant to its land, and must be valued with reference to it and not as though the easement constituted a separate property. In such a case, the owner of the dominant estate must be compensated for the value of the easement taken from it; the measure of damage is the difference between the market value of the dominant estate with the easement and its value without it. Under the second category of cases, a “preexisting easement of access to and from a public highway, possessed by an owner of land abutting on such highway, constitutes a right of property in which he cannot be deprived without just compensation.” Although a property owner may not be shut off from access to its land, there is a qualification to the usual principle of compensation. Where a reasonably suitable alternative means of access remains, compensation is not required because reasonable highway regulation will not give rise to a compensable taking. “Limitation of access, so long as reasonable access to the highway system remains, is not a taking by eminent domain, but is accomplished under the police power, and not compensable.” Moreover, the use of a more circuitous route does not necessarily constitute a compensable taking of property.

In this case, there was a combination of both categories. Although the State condemned the easement that had been reserved in the grant to the servient tenements that benefitted the two properties, by giving the two properties reasonable alternative means of access in place of the easement, no compensation was required.

With respect to the claim for compensation based on the change in the character of the land, the general rule is that acts done in the proper exercise of governmental powers, or pursuant to authority conferred by a valid act of the legislature, and not directly encroaching on private property, do not constitute a taking even though their consequences may impair the land’s use or value. “New Jersey follows the rule that ordinary losses or damages consequential to a taking, such as loss or destruction of good will, loss of profits, inability to relocate, and frustration of an condemnee’s plans are too remote and uncertain to measure accurately,” and hence, are not compensable. Consequently, the Appellate Division upheld the lower court’s dismissal of the claims.