Lewis v. Young Case Brief

Summary of Lewis v. Young, Ct. App N.Y. [1998]

Relevant Facts: The parties own adjoining parcels of land. Originally both were part of a single parcel owned by Browns. The Browns divided the parcel into three parcels, retaining one for themselves. When the two parcels were sold, their deeds granted rights of way to the public roadway to the new owners. Dfs subsequently purchased one of the lots and their deed reflected all the easements. Afterward Dfs began to improve the property. Prior to which they obtained their neighbors verbal consent w/o objection. In the middle of construction one neighbor died and her nephew received the deed to the property. His atty demanded certain concessions to which the Dfs agreed. As a result of Df’s husband passing, litigation, bad weather completion was stalled. Pls demanded the agreement or the former easement would be reinstituted at their cost.

Legal Issue(s): Whether easement granting right of way across “main driveway” gave owner of dominant tenement right of ingress and egress, rather than right to particular path, and is the owner of servient tenement permitted to relocate driveway at owner’s expense?

Court’s Holding: Yes , yes

Procedure: S. Ct granted partial summary to Pl, Df objected; App Div affirmed; Reversed.

Law or Rule(s): Where the intention in granting an easement is to afford only a right of ingress and egress, it is the right of passage, and not any right in a physical passageway itself, that is granted to the easement holder.

Court Rationale: In the absence of a demonstrated intent to provide otherwise, a landowner burdened by an express easement of ingress/egress may narrow it , cover it, gate it, or fence it off, so long as the easement holder’s right of passage is not impaired. Under the terms of the grant, the Pls secured right of convenient passage to and from their property, while the original owners retained the right to use their property as they saw fit, so long as it did not interfere with the right of passage granted to the servient owner. The deed does not reflect an intent to deny the dominant owner the right to ever relocate the main driveway. The indefinite description of the right of way suggests the opposite, that the parties intended to allow for relocation. The deed described two other easements by explicit reference to metes and bounds. Had they intended this right of way to be forever fixed in its location, they would have delineated it in a similar fashion.

The language of a grant does not in itself reveal an intent to preclude the owner’s right to relocate the right of way. Consideration must be given to the surrounding circumstances related to the conveyance. Nothing in the conduct of the parties indicates an intent to deny the right to relocate.

Plaintiff’s Argument: The original deed fixes the location of the easement, and there is no consent between the pl and df to relocate.

Defendant’s Argument: The description of the easement does not bar the df from relocating the easement, only bars the df from interfering with ingress/egress of easement holders.

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