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Ramapo Hunt & Polo Club Homeowner’s Association, Inc. v. County of Bergen

A-4267-03T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2005) (Unpublished)

QUIET TITLE; PUBLIC BRIDGES —For a bridge to be considered public, the general public must have free and uninterrupted use of it as a matter of right.

A municipality built a bridge on a private road. After construction, it repaired and maintained the bridge for many years until the property on which the bridge was located was purchased by a new owner. The new owner then conveyed the bridge and surrounding property to a homeowner’s association which exercised full dominion over the bridge. Shortly after the conveyance, the association limited the use of the bridge to homeowners in a nearby development, all of whom were association members, and excluded the general public from using the bridge. The association repaired and maintained the bridge for several years until it began to question its ownership. The association believed that the bridge was public, and concluded the municipality owned the bridge. It filed a complaint to quiet title to the bridge in the municipality. It also sought declaratory relief, requesting that the lower court name the municipality as owner of the bridge which would require the municipality to repair and maintain the bridge. In response, the municipality denied ownership of the bridge and asserted that the bridge was private. The lower court agreed, holding that the bridge was private because it was closed to the general public and only used by the homeowners in the nearby development. The association appealed, asserting that the lower court erred in not including any findings of fact in its decision.

The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s ruling. It rejected the association’s assertion that the lower court did not make any findings of facts in its decision. It held that the lower court found that the bridge was located on a road that had been deemed private for many years. In concluding that the bridge was private, the lower court found that the bridge did not have a public purpose because it was only used by the surrounding homeowners and was closed to the general public. The Appellate Division held that all of the lower court’s factual findings were supported by substantial and credible evidence in the record. It further ruled that the fact that the bridge was constructed and maintained by the municipality for many years did not conclusively indicate that the bridge was public. In order for a bridge to be considered public, the public at large must have free and uninterrupted use of the bridge. In the present case, the association did not permit the general public to have free and interrupted use of the bridge to the general public. As a result, the Court concluded that ownership of the bridge was vested in the association which was responsible for its repair and maintenance.

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