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Siblings In-Law Litigate Woodside Driveway Easement

Court Asked to Find Easement by Implication/Necessity

Residential Lot A in Woodside, New York, owned by John Bonadio, is situated perpendicular to residential Lot B, owned by Elizabeth Bonadio. The two lots share a border. Lot A has a detached two-car garage, the entrance to which faces a driveway situated on Lot B. John’s father (Richard) acquired title to both lots in 1953, and used the driveway on Lot B to access the garage on Lot A.

In 1962, Richard conveyed title to Lot B to himself and his wife, Jane (Elizabeth’s mother). Also, in 1985, Richard similarly conveyed title to Lot A to himself and Jane. After Richard passed away in 1997, Jane became the sole owner of both lots. In 2007, Jane conveyed Lot B to Elizabeth (John’s sister-in-law). In 2008, Jane conveyed Lot A to John, retaining a life estate for herself. Jane died in 2016.

In 2016, Elizabeth, intending to sell Lot B, sought to erect a fence on the border of Lot B to prevent John, or his tenants, from using the driveway on Lot B to access the garage on Lot A. John sued Elizabeth and sought a judgment declaring that he had an easement over the driveway on Lot B to allow him to access the garage on Lot A.

John moved, among other things, for summary judgment on the first cause of action, for a judgment declaring that there was an easement by implication over Lot B in favor of Lot A, and on the fourth cause of action, for a permanent injunction preventing Elizabeth from obstructing access to the easement. Elizabeth cross-moved, inter alia, for summary judgment, in effect, declaring that John did not have an easement by implication over Lot B in favor of Lot A and dismissing the fourth cause of action. Supreme Court granted those branches of John’s motion and denied those branches of Elizabeth’s cross- motion. Elizabeth appealed.

An easement may be implied from pre-existing use upon severance of title when three elements are shown: (1) unity and subsequent separation of title; (2) the claimed easement must have, prior to separation, been so long continued and obvious or manifest as to show that it was meant to be permanent; and (3) the use must be necessary to the beneficial enjoyment of the land retained. Stated another way, an implied easement will arise upon severance of ownership when, during the unity of title, an apparently permanent and obvious servitude was imposed on one part of an estate in favor of another part, which servitude at the time of severance was in use and was reasonably necessary for the fair enjoyment of the other part of the estate. Implied easements are not favored by the law.

The appeals court found that Supreme Court erred in granting that branch of John’s motion which was for summary judgment on the first cause of action, for a judgment declaring that there was an easement by implication over Lot B. John failed to demonstrate his prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law on that cause of action. John did not establish that the use of the driveway on Lot B was a reasonable necessity to the beneficial use of the land and not a mere convenience. It was undisputed that Lot A was not landlocked and that John could access Lot A without using the driveway on Lot B. John testified at his deposition that the home situated on Lot A was rented to one set of tenants, and the parking spaces in the garage were rented to another set of tenants. So, access to off-street parking was a mere convenience. John could not establish that the easement was a reasonable necessity. Therefore, John had no easement by implication based on the preexisting use over Elizabeth’s driveway. Similarly, The Supreme Court should not have granted that branch of John’s motion which was for summary judgment on the cause of action for a permanent injunction enjoining Elizabeth from obstructing his access to the driveway on Lot B.

For the same reasons that those branches of John’s motion which were for summary judgment on the first and fourth causes of action should have been denied, The Supreme Court should have granted those branches of Elizabeth’s cross-motion which were for summary judgment in her favor on those causes of action.

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