Ryan v. Township of Washington

A-0175-96T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 1997) (Unpublished)
  • Opinion Date: November 14, 1997

MUNICIPALITIES; EASEMENTS—Just because a municipality has an easement to run a drainage ditch through a landowner’s property doesn’t mean that the municipality is responsible if the ditch isn’t large enough to handle all of the water flow.

A parcel of land was subject to an easement granted to the Township of Washington for water drainage. The easement was obtained by the Township to enable it to install a larger culvert under the adjacent road. Under the terms of the easement, the Township agreed to indemnify the landowner against “claims arising out of any storm water drain constructed pursuant to the easement agreement” as well as against liability and loss resulting from “the maintenance or operation on the premises.” The current landowner (who acquired the property subject to the easement) claimed the terms of the easement required the Township to actually construct an enlarged culvert to contain the water flowing through the easement within the boundaries of the property, and that the municipality’s failure to do so resulted in erosion and other damage to the property outside the easement’s confines. The landowner also sought injunctive relief against future development, claiming the result of further development would be a greater volume of water being discharged onto the property. Finally, the owner alleged the Township should be declared to have abandoned the easement due to its failure to utilize and maintain it. The Chancery Division entered a judgment of no cause of action and dismissed the owner’s complaint, holding that not only was there no obligation on the part of the Township to relocate or otherwise contain the natural path of the water across the property, but the grantor of the easement expressly reserved the right to itself to divert the water over a different course. The Appellate Division affirmed.