Our metropolitan area Courts regularly address disputes over driveway access between suburban neighbors. And, as a recent case illustrates, their rural counterparts present the Court with similar controversies over easements through contiguous properties.
Strong Real Estate, LLC, 55 Town Line, LLC, and Robert Weigel owned lots in a 10-lot subdivision located in the Town of East Hampton. The original owner of these lots granted the Town, among other things, two agricultural easements as a condition of the Town’s approval of the plan for the subdivision. “Agricultural Easement B” burdens lot 9 of the subdivision, while “Agricultural Easement A” burdens, inter alia, portions of lots 2, 6, and 10. When granting these easements to the Town, the original owner reserved for the owner of lot 9 a right to enter easement A “for the sole purpose of engaging in agricultural activities and any use incidental thereto.”
At the time this action was commenced, 55 Town owned lot 9, Weigel owned lot 2, and Strong owned lots 6 and 10. 55 Town had purchased lot 9 in August 2015 and submitted to the Town a plan to install structures related to the operation of a horse farm on easement B. Strong alleged that, as part of that plan, 55 Town planned to use the portion of easement A burdening Strong’s lot 10 to travel between easement B and Wainscott Hollow Road, a public road that lot 9 otherwise had no access to.
Strong sued for a judgment declaring that 55 Town was not permitted to use the portion of easement A on lot 10 to access Wainscott Hollow Road. 55 Town moved to dismiss the complaint. Supreme Court granted the motion to dismiss. Strong and Weigel separately appealed.
Weigel’s appeal was must be dismissed, as he was not aggrieved by the portion of the order appealed from.
A motion to dismiss a complaint on the ground that a defense was founded on documentary evidence may be appropriately granted only where the documentary evidence utterly refutes the plaintiff’s factual allegations and conclusively establishes a defense as a matter of law. The documentary evidence that forms the basis of the defense must be such that it resolves all factual issues as a matter of law, and conclusively disposes of the plaintiff’s claim.
Easements by express grant are construed to give effect to the parties’ intent, as manifested by the language of the grant. The extent of an easement claimed under a grant is generally limited by the language of the grant, as a grantor may create an extensive or a limited easement.
The documents submitted by 55 Town failed to conclusively establish that it was permitted to use easement A for the purpose of ingress and egress to Wainscott Hollow Road. The plain language of the right of entry allowed 55 Town to enter easement A for the sole purpose of engaging in agricultural activities and any use incidental thereto. Although the record demonstrated that 55 Town intended to operate a horse farm on easement B, it did not demonstrate that it intended to enter easement A for the sole purpose of engaging in agricultural activities, as it admittedly intended to use easement A solely as a thoroughfare between easement B and Wainscott Hollow Road.
Contrary to 55 Town’s contention, the plain meaning of the phrase “and any use incidental thereto” contemplated a use incidental to the agricultural activities on easement A, specifically, not agricultural activities outside of easement A. The record contained no evidence demonstrating that the grantor intended to allow the owner of lot 9 to enter easement A for a reason other than to engage in agricultural activities there, and thus, at the very least, there was an ambiguity as to whether 55 Town may use easement A solely as a thoroughfare, warranting denial of the motion to dismiss.