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Point Pleasant Manor Building Co. v. Brown

Decided: October 29, 1956.

POINT PLEASANT MANOR BUILDING CO., A CORPORATION OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
ARTHUR F. BROWN & FRANCES G. BROWN, HIS WIFE; CLARENCE J. SAFRANIK & DOROTHY SAFRANIK, HIS WIFE; ROBERT W. TAYLOR & EVELYN TAYLOR, HIS WIFE; LEON LABODA & ROSE MAY LABODA, HIS WIFE; THE TOWNSHIP OF BRICK, OCEAN COUNTY, AND THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE TOWNSHIP OF BRICK, OCEAN COUNTY, A BODY CORPORATE, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



Clapp, Jayne and Francis. The opinion of the court was delivered by Clapp, S.j.a.d.

Clapp

Plaintiff appeals from a declaratory judgment adjudicating that a certain area in Brick Township, 2 1/4 acres in size, a part of a large tract of land once wholly owned by plaintiff, was dedicated by plaintiff for the use of the public. The dedication has never been accepted. Of the defendants to the cause, none seem to have appeared except the Township of Brick and the township's board of education. The case was tried before the court without a jury.

Plaintiff was the developer of the large tract, having erected thereon and sold (it asserts) some 160 houses. On a map marked P-2, made by an engineer retained and paid

by plaintiff, the above-mentioned area of 2 1/4 acres was assigned no block number, but instead it bore this legend:

"RESERVED FOR PROPOSED SCHOOL AND PLAYGROUND."

The map was approved by the township in November 1950 and filed in February 1953. 50 or 100 copies of it were printed for the use of salesmen -- that is, so that they could sell lots from it. In fact one salesman sold 60 lots from it, and another made other sales therefrom. Most of the buyers were young married couples, who were to some extent induced to purchase lots because of the legend and representations made by salesmen that eventually a school would be located in the area stated; a majority of the purchasers were "vitally interested in a school." One of plaintiff's salesmen actually took some purchasers to the place and pointed it out as the site of the school or playground. Apparently too (although there is some dispute over this) a copy of the map hung on the wall of plaintiff's model house and another was kept at the sales office. Without doubt the legend played a part in many sales. In fact a reference to the map was made in six of the deeds given by the plaintiff.

Another map, marked P-3, was prepared on plaintiff's behalf, and in January 1953 it was approved by the township and filed. On it a block number was assigned to the reserved area, and the whole block was cut up into nine lots. Plaintiff, starting in May 1953, has built five one-family houses on this block.

Plaintiff argues that there was never any intention to dedicate the area. In a case of this sort, we are concerned not with intentions that remain unrevealed, but with those that are manifested in words and acts. Haven Homes, Inc., v. Raritan Tp. , 19 N.J. 239, 246 (1955). More particularly, we are concerned here with the legend placed on the map by the engineer and with the use made of it by plaintiff's salesmen as a selling point. The trial court rejected as unbelievable all statements and intimations in the record

that plaintiff did not know of and consent to the printing of this legend and the salesmen's use of it.

Plaintiff claims that, even if it were to be held responsible for the inscription on the map, nevertheless the very wording of that inscription establishes that no dedication was intended. It argues that the term "reserved" does not indicate a present appropriation of land to public use; it indicates merely a holding back; and that likewise the word "proposed" negatives any present intention to make a dedication. If the word "reserved" stood by itself on the map and that was all there was to establish the dedication, Rosenson v. Bochenek , 102 N.J. Eq. 543, 544 (E. & A. 1928) would be in point. Cf. Cleveland v. Bergen Bldg. & Imp. Co. , 55 A. 117 (Ch. 1903). But a notation on a map, that an area is reserved for a specified public purpose, creates an ambiguity. The word "reserved" in this context may merely indicate, depending on the circumstances, that the area has been reserved from the development, that is, not included in it. See Annotation, Ann. Cas. 1916 D , 1079, 1080; Kansas City & N. Connecting R. Co. v. Baker , 183 Mo. 312, 82 S.W. 85, 88 (Sup. Ct. 1904).

The question then is what does "Proposed School and Playground" mean. The word "proposed" is also ambiguous. It may in some cases suggest merely a prospective dedication (Brady v. Farley , 193 Md. 255, 66 A. 2 d 474 (Ct. App. 1949)); City of Brownsville v. West , 149 S.W. 2 d 1034 (Tex. Civ. App. 1941); or it may suggest that a dedication theretofore made has not yet been accepted. Cf. Mayor and Council of City of Bayonne v. Ford , 43 N.J.L. 292, 294 (Sup. Ct. 1881), which held that the assertion of ownership in an ...


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