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Spreen v. Man-Cif, Inc.

A-3827-01T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2003) (Unpublished)

EASEMENTS—The validity of an easement granted to a municipality is not conditioned upon adoption of a municipal ordinance approving acquisition of the easement.

Property owners sued a municipality and a developer for trespass and damage to their property caused by a drainage pipe installed across their property by the developer pursuant to a recorded easement. In their claim, the property owners claimed that the easement, allegedly granted to the municipality by the prior owner, was a forgery. The municipality moved to dismiss the case on the ground of the entire controversy doctrine. The property owners, who reclaimed title to the property in foreclosure previously had sued unsuccessfully to foreclose or eliminate the municipality’s interest in the drainage easement. Their rejected claim was that the easement, though valid, was wiped out in the sheriff’s sale that deeded the property to them. In that case, the property owners did not raise the claim that the deed may have been forged even though they were aware of a prior owner’s claim that he did not sign it. The lower court found, and the Appellate Division agreed, that the property owners were aware of a possible forgery claim regarding the deed of easement while the first lawsuit was pending. Therefore, by not presenting it earlier, they were barred from raising it in a later lawsuit.

The property owners also challenged the validity of the easement because there was no formal ordinance adopted by the municipality approving the acquisition of the easement before the purchase. The Appellate Division agreed with the lower court’s determination that the failure to adopt an ordinance does not invalidate an easement. It noted that the intention of the prior owner to grant the easement, and of the municipality to purchase it, was evident in the signing of the deed. The municipality could ratify its acceptance of the deed at any time, so its failure to do so before the deed of easement was executed and recorded did not invalidate it.

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