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Lewis v. Young, et al., 1998 N.Y. Int. 0127 (Oct. 27, 1998.

REAL PROPERTY - EASEMENTS - RELOCATION


ISSUE & DISPOSITION

Issue

Whether a landowner can relocate, without consent of the easement holder, an easement holder's right of way over the burdened premises.

Disposition

Yes. Under the circumstances of the instant case, the landowner can relocate the right of way of the easement holder provided that the easement holder's right of access and ingress is not impaired.

SUMMARY

The instant suit arose out a dispute among Southampton neighbors. Plaintiff and Defendant are owners of adjacent parcels of land, both parcels having originally been part of a larger parcel owned by the Brown family. In 1956, the Browns subdivided their lot keeping a four acre parcel for themselves and subdividing the remaining parcel into two lots. Later that year both subdivided lots were sold, one to the Jaffee family and one to the Katz family. As neither of the subdivided lots had access to the public roadway, both deeds granted the owners of the smaller lots an easement over the Brown parcel to the public roadway. In 1990, Defendant Young purchased the larger parcel formerly owned by the Browns with the intent to substantially improve the lot by knocking down the original cottage and erecting a larger structure complete with swimming pool and tennis court. The Defendant's deed referenced the right of way easements mentioned above.

Before the Defendant's construction project was underway, Jaffee allegedly gave oral consent to the planned renovation project and consented to the movement of the existing right of way in order to make room for the planned tennis court. In December 1993, Jaffee died and her property passed to Plaintiff Lewis, Jaffee's nephew. In 1994, negotiations among Katz, Lewis and the Young regarding the planned movement of the right of way began to escalate. In 1995, Plaintiff filed suit seeking a declaration regarding the parties' rights under the easement and a permanent injunction compelling Defendant to remove the tennis court and return the right of way to its original position. Defendant filed an answer and counterclaims.

The Supreme Court granted Plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment and dismissed Defendant's counterclaim for reformation. The Supreme Court held that Plaintiff had an easement over Defendant's property which Defendant had no right to move without consent, and further that the New York Dead Man's statute precluded any testimony regarding Jaffee's alleged consent to the move. The Appellate Division affirmed on slightly different grounds. The Court of Appeals granted leave to appeal and reversed. Employing a balancing test, the Court of Appeals concluded that "[i]n the absence of a demonstrated intent to provide otherwise, a landowner, consonant with the beneficial use and development of its property, can move that right of way, so long as the landowner bears the expense of the relocation, and so long as the change does not frustrate the parties' intent or object in creating the right of way, does not increase the burden on the easement holder, and does not significantly lessen the utility of the right of way."


Prepared by the liibulletin-ny Editorial Board.