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SDLL Associates, LLC v. Million

A-0713-04T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2006) (Unpublished)

EASEMENTS — A court analyzes, and then rejects a landlocked parcel owner’s claims for an access easement over neighboring lands under a variety of theories put forward by that owner.

Over the course of several decades, several adjoining lots were divided and subdivided. No one person ever owned all of the original parcels. As a result of the subdividing, one parcel ended up landlocked. The owner of the landlocked parcel sued for title to, or in the alternative, the right to use, an unpaved road across neighboring land for access to and from nearby roads. The landlocked parcel’s owner based its suit on theories of adverse possession, prescriptive easement, implied easement (quasi-easement), easement by estoppel, and easement by necessity. The lower court summarily dismissed the suit, and the landlocked parcel owner appealed.

To prove adverse possession, the landlocked parcel’s owner had to prove use of the road for at least thirty years, and that such use was actual, exclusive, adverse, open and notorious, and uninterrupted. As with an adverse possession claim, under the theory of easement by prescription, the person claiming the benefit of an easement must prove the easement was continuously used for at least thirty years. According to the Appellate Division, the lower court correctly concluded that no one had made use of the road since the mid-to-late 1970’s. Nor did the landlocked parcel’s owner prove that its predecessor in title used the road for any thirty consecutive year period. Further, the landlocked parcel’s owner did not prove exclusive use of the road. Accordingly, the lower court properly dismissed its adverse possession and easement by prescription claims.

To sustain a claim under either implied easement theory (easement by necessity or quasi-easement), the burdened land and the benefitted land must have, at one point, been united in title. Because the landowner could not establish unity of title, the lower court properly dismissed both the easement by necessity and the quasi-easement claims. To the extent New Jersey courts recognize an easement by estoppel, the present owner of the landlocked parcel would have had to prove that the person from whom it bought the property: (i) made false representations, engaged in concealing material facts, or engaged in other similar fraudulent conduct; (ii) intended, expected or reasonably foresaw that its buyer would rely on such fraudulent concealment; and (iii) knew the true facts. Additionally, the present owner of the landlocked parcel would have had to prove it: (a) had no knowledge of the true facts; (b) relied upon the conduct and statements of the seller; and (c) has suffered to its detriment. At trial, the present owner of the landlocked parcel never suggested that any neighbor or any of its predecessors in title misrepresented or concealed facts about which there was a duty to disclose. Nor was there evidence of any detrimental reliance. To the extent recorded documents to the neighboring properties referenced a right of way benefitting the landlocked parcel, such language merely put the adjoining landowners on notice of a potential prescriptive easement. Thus, the owner of the landlocked parcel still failed to carry its burden to prove the existence of a prescriptive easement.

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