Access Easements

Caribbean House, Inc. v. North Hudson Yacht Club, 434 N.J. Super. 220 (App. Div. 2013).  This decision by Judge Accurso, issued today, involves an “easement of way,” or an access easement.  Plaintiff Caribbean House gave defendant North Hudson Yacht Club an express easement that granted the Yacht Club a general way from the Yacht Club’s otherwise landlocked tract to a street.  The broad language of the easement contained no evident limitation on the use of that easement.

When the Yacht Club entered into an arrangement for a nearby restaurant to have its patrons’ cars valet-parked on the Yacht Club’s property, which meant that the vehicles would cross over the easement area, Caribbean House sued to enjoin that use.  Caribbean House also moved for summary judgment, on the grounds that an easement could not, as a matter of law, be used so as to burden the easement property for “uses not serving or benefiting the Club.”  The Chancery Division granted summary judgment.  After further proceedings, including an order of the Chancery Division enforcing litigant’s rights under the summary judgment ruling, the Yacht Club appealed.  The Appellate Division, giving no deference to the Chancery Division’s purely legal determination, reversed.

Judge Accurso summarized some general easement law, and noted that “[w]here no limitation is placed on the extent of the use of an easement of way, it is available as a general way for all purposes to which the dominant tract might be devoted.”  The question was thus whether the parking use was one to which the Yacht Club’s land might be devoted.

Judge Accurso found that the Chancery Division had gone awry by not “attempting to ascertain the expressed intent of the parties from the language of the easement interpreted in light of the relevant circumstances,” as the Restatement (Third) of Property: Servitudes and New Jersey caselaw prescribe.  Instead, the Chancery Division mistakenly used a concept from the Restatement that (as shown by the illustrations to that part of the Restatement) applied only to using the easement to access property other than that held by the dominant landowner (here, the Yacht Club).  The benefit of the parking idea “is solely to Yacht Club’s property, notwithstanding the convenience the arrangement provides to patrons of [the restaurant].”  The easement “was unlimited, and thus is a general way for all purposes to which the Club’s property might be devoted,” which included the restaurant’s valet parking.