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Snyder v. Stasak

A-2073-02T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2003) (Unpublished)

EASEMENTS—Even if there is no express easement or prescriptive easement, one may still exist if, when land was owned by a single owner, a feature on one part of the land, such as a water supply, benefitted another part and then the two parts were separately conveyed.

For many years, water lines ran across an adjacent property that drew spring water as its sole supply. The two lots were separated by a road, but at one time they were under common ownership. The lot’s owners argued that a 1927 deed gave them the right to use the water. That deed recited: “the rights as heretofore acquired by adjoining owners of land to the use of such water as overflows from the spring located on [a particular lot] and running through [a number of lots, including the lot through which the pipes ran]... .” There was no such language in prior deeds. The language appeared in later conveyances and ultimately was referred to in the most recent conveyance which subjected the land in question “to easements and restrictions of record.” The lower court rejected the theory that this language created an easement, finding “the language of the easement too indefinite to convey the rights claimed” and also because the owners of the lot using the water did not own a lot “adjoining” the lot in question. The Appellate Division agreed that the deed language did “not expressly convey any rights.” It could not find any “evidence of surrounding circumstances sufficient to give the easement present meaning.” In particular, it could not determine the meaning of “adjoining owners of land,” because when the deed was written, the grantor “appeared to own all the land in the vicinity of the spring on both sides of” the road.

The Appellate Division also looked at the doctrine of “easement by prescription.” In New Jersey, “the nature of the use creating an easement by prescription has been found to be the same as that of the acquisition of title by adverse possession.” Here, the use was neither adverse nor hostile. In fact, it was permissive for many years. Finally, the Court looked at the doctrine of “easement by implication.” “Implied easements operate on the principle that the parties to the conveyance are presumed to act with reference to the actual, visible and known condition of the properties at the time of the conveyance and intend that the benefits and burdens manifestly belonging respectively to each part of the entire tract shall remain unchanged.” One form of implied easement is that of necessity “occurring, for instance, when a landlocked piece of property is conveyed.” This was not the case before the Court. On the other hand, “implied easements also include quasi-easements” which rest “upon an owner’s use preexisting the conveyance. It [is] a legal fiction designed to surmount the conceptual barrier which prevented the courts from recognizing an owner’s easement in his own land.” The Court pointed to a case that explained the following: “Although the conveyor owned the property before the conveyance, he may well have used one part thereof for the benefit of another part. Such a use constituted a ‘quasi easement’ which the conveyor could effectively ‘except’ on a conveyance of the servient land.” The parties to the matter did not raise the possibility of a quasi-easement before the lower court, “nor were proofs directed toward that possibility.” Consequently, the matter was remanded to the lower court for the presentation of such proofs and an analysis under the doctrine of “easement by implication.”

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