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Randolph Town Center, L.P. v. County of Morris

186 N.J. 78, 891 A.2d 1202 (2006)

EASEMENTS; ADVERSE POSSESSION — A prescriptive easement by adverse possession over lands that are neither woodlands nor uncultivated requires that the prescriptive use take place over at least thirty uninterrupted years.

A county “claimed that it had established a prescriptive easement to drain water through a culvert” onto property owned by a developer. The developer, “in turn, contended that the drainage made planned commercial development infeasible, and constituted an inverse condemnation.” The lower court ruled in the county’s favor, but, in a published opinion, the Appellate Division reversed, holding that the lower court had incorrectly “charged that the period necessary to establish an easement by prescription was twenty years.” The Appellate Division ruled that “based on the record before it, a thirty-year prescriptive period [was] applicable because the property [was] neither ‘woodlands or uncultivated’ and contain[ed] the remnants of buildings or other improvements.” The Appellate Division “went on to rule that ‘neither the passage of that period nor its interruption was established at trial as a matter of law.” Further, the Appellate Division determined that the developer should have been “allowed to proffer evidence regarding the existence of a 1983 easement over the subject property to prove a break in the chain of adversity or for any other legitimate purpose so long as the jury [was] instructed accordingly.”

The developer filed a petition for certification before the New Jersey Supreme Court, and it was granted. “The sole issue presented [to the Supreme Court was] whether a governmental entity [could] acquire a prescriptive easement over private property without providing just compensation.” The Court declined to rule on that question because it felt that it “should not reach a constitutional questions unless its resolution [was] imperative to the disposition of the litigation. In this case, “the difficult inverse condemnation issue presented could be rendered moot by the new trial.” Therefore, “without resolving its correctness, [the Court] vacate[d] as premature that portion of the Appellate Division opinion that decided the inverse condemnation issue.”

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