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Paulson v. Currie

2009 WL 670598 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2009) (Unpublished)

EASEMENTS; RELOCATION — Reasonable changes in the location and dimension of an easement are permissible, but only if the changes do not significantly lessen the utility of the easement, increase the burdens on the beneficiary of the easement, or frustrate the purpose of the easement.

A landowner had an easement to cross over a portion of its neighbor’s property. After more than twenty-four years, the neighbor decided to relocate the easement. The landowner sued.

The lower court issued an order enjoining the neighbor from interfering, obstructing or impeding access to the easement. The neighbor ignored the order. The landowner sought to have the order enforced and also requested the removal of fencing installed by the neighbor within the easement area. The lower court imposed monetary sanctions against the neighbor for non-compliance with the order, but did not require the neighbor to remove the fence because the gate attached to the fence was open. An appeal followed.

The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s order granting injunctive relief. It felt that the neighbor did not show the “strong showing of necessity” needed to relocate an easement without the consent of the owners of a dominant estate. The Court also held that reasonable changes in the location or dimension of an easement are permissible, but only if the changes do not significantly lessen the utility of the easement, increase the burdens on the beneficiary of the easement, or frustrate the purpose of the easement. Here, the Court ruled that the relocation would frustrate the purpose of the easement. The access easement was oval shaped, and provided a path to easily traverse between the numerous properties on the island and for access to fresh water wells. The Court agreed with the lower court that the simply planned oval should not become a “complex, amorphous, fractured form” by allowing each owner to designate different access points to the easement every time a walker came to a different residence. It distinguished this case from a prior decision of the Court by noting that the other case involved an easement that bisected a property, and enforcement there would have had a severe adverse effect on the beneficial enjoyment of the property by the owners of the servient estate. It also noted that, in the prior case, access to the easement had been denied for many years. In contrast, access to the easement before this Court had existed for twenty-four years prior to the unilateral change by the owner of the servient estate. The Court affirmed the monetary penalty imposed upon the neighbor for failure to comply with the lower court’s order. It noted the lower court had authority to impose a penalty because the amount was reasonable and rationally related to the goal of persuading the neighbor to comply with the order. As to the issue of the scope of the easement, the Court remanded the question to the lower court for further consideration. It believed that it was the lower court’s “responsibility in the first instance to address and render a reasoned opinion upon any question brought before it,” and not avoid the issue by deferring it to an appellate court.


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