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Brighton Construction Inc. v. L & J Enterprises Inc.

Decided: October 18, 1972.


Kole, J.c.c., Temporarily Assigned.


[121 NJSuper Page 155] The basis of this action is a controversy surrounding the title to unimproved land located in the City of Paterson between 9th Avenue and East 29th Street. The land runs along the easterly side of what is now Route 20 for a distance of about 440 feet and along the westerly bank of the Passaic River for a distance of approximately 495 feet and varies in depth between these

boundaries from 35 to 175 feet, more or less. Viewed from a non-title perspective, the premises in question (hereinafter "the property") appear to be lands remaining in the area involved between Route 20 and the river after Route 20 was constructed.

Plaintiff Brighton Construction, Inc., contracted on August 2, 1971 with Benj. Grunauer Co. Inc. (hereinafter "Benj. Grunauer Co. ") to purchase the property for $7,500 and recorded the contract. A title search thereafter uncovered an alleged outstanding interest in the property, a quitclaim deed of January 8, 1969, from the City of Paterson to Tenth Avenue Citizens League (hereinafter "League") which, in turn, on September 30, 1970 had conveyed its interest to defendant L & J Enterprises, Inc. The latter now disputes plaintiff's title (actually that of plaintiff's vendor). Plaintiff demands judgment declaring that defendant has no interest in the property and that Benj. Grunauer Co. has good title as against defendant's claim, and requiring defendant to execute an instrument removing any cloud from plaintiff's title.

Defendant, though admitting that title to the property was once held by The Benj. Grunauer Incorporated (hereinafter "Benj. Grunauer, Inc. "), a corporation in dissolution, denies that Benj. Grunauer Co. , plaintiff's vendor, has or has ever had title. Defendant further notes that the property was the subject of a complaint to quiet title in this court resulting in a judgment entered in favor of the League, defendant's alleged predecessor in title, on September 4, 1970 (Docket C 2566-68). Defendant has filed a counterclaim charging that plaintiff negligently claimed title to the property and that plaintiff's filing of the contract caused the cancellation of a contract that defendant had to sell the property for $58,000 to 30 Wildwood Corporation. Defendant demands judgment directing plaintiff to withdraw the contract from the record, divesting plaintiff of any interest in the property, and awarding compensatory and punitive damages, counsel fees and costs.

Leveling demands for judgment similar to those made in its counterclaim, defendant has also filed a third-party complaint against plaintiff's vendor, Benj. Grunauer Co. In reply, the latter third-party defendant states that it has succeeded to the interests of Benj. Grunauer, Inc. and thus has title to the property; and that Betty Marke and Louise Syracuse, sole stockholders, officers and directors of Benj. Grunauer Co. , as residuary legatees of the estate of William Grunauer, deceased, the last surviving stockholder, registered agent and trustee in dissolution of Benj. Grunauer, Inc. , are entitled to control the disposition of the property.*fn1

Finally, third-party defendant Benj. Grunauer Co. has filed a claim against defendant demanding judgment vacating the aforementioned quiet title judgment in favor of the League, defendant's predecessor in title; voiding defendant's deed to the property; confirming that the interests of Benj. Grunauer, Inc. , including that in the property, are now held by Betty Marke and Louise Syracuse, as the residuary legatees of William Grunauer, and declaring that a deed conveying the property by Betty Marke and Louise Syracuse to plaintiff be a good deed, free from any lien or encumbrance occasioned by the judgment quieting title in the League.

Motions for summary judgment were made by all the parties and limited testimony was taken in connection therewith. The parties have acquiesced in the court's determination of the issue of title to the premises in question based on the affidavits and oral and documentary proofs presented.

I have considered the proofs and the law and make the findings predicated thereon which follow.

Benjamin Grunauer acquired title to 15 3/4 acres on the west bank of the Passaic River in Paterson on September 12, 1903. The lands ran to the Passaic River. (Second Tract, Deed Book E 16, p. 332). A map of these lands, "Map of New Eastside Property of B. Grunauer, Paterson, N.J., Scale 80' per inch, Wm. Ferguson & Son, Surveyors, April 1904," was filed with the register of deeds on February 17, 1908 (Map. No. 366). This map (hereinafter "the map") delineates and numbers lots and streets, including a street, "Boulevard," which appears to run on or near the easterly margin of the 15 3/4 acres which bound the Passaic River. Prior to this map the "Boulevard" did not exist as a street or proposed street.

On May 1, 1918 Benjamin Grunauer and his wife*fn2 conveyed to Benj. Grunauer, Inc. the 15 3/4-acre tract described in the 1903 deed (Deed Book B 27, p. 280). This conveyance in fact included those lots adjacent to the westerly edge of Boulevard (Lots Nos. 243, 245, 247, 249, 251, 253, 255, 257, 259, 261, 263, 265, 267 and 469) as shown on the map, but did not specifically refer to the map.

There is no disagreement among the parties to this action up to this point. But plaintiffs and third-party defendant on the one hand, and defendant on the other, visualize different chains of title to the property after 1918. By deed of October 31, 1919 (Deed Book A 28, p. 52), Benj. Grunauer, Inc. conveyed to Louis H. Grunauer by a metes and bounds description,*fn3 the lots adjacent to the westerly boundary of the Boulevard. The description also refers to the lot numbers in accordance with the map.

Defendant contends that Boulevard, as dedicated on the map, is a marginal highway extending to the banks of the Passaic River -- i.e. , a road laid along the extremity of

Benjamin Grunauer's property as shown on the map -- and that the property, between the easterly boundary of Boulevard (State Route 20) as now constructed and the westerly banks of the Passaic River, was in fact a part of the land dedicated as a marginal highway and is still so dedicated, even though it is not now being used as part of such highway. Since, defendant's argument continues, abutting lot owners who take in a chain of title leading back to the dedicator of a marginal highway also take the fee interest in the entire adjoining highway or street, title to the property was conveyed out of Benj. Grunauer, Inc. by its deed of October 31, 1919 to Louis Grunauer transferring the abutting lots by reference to the map.

These lots adjacent to and forming the western boundary of the Boulevard eventually passed from Louis H. Grunauer, through several conveyances, to Rhoda Realty Co., Inc., by deed of December 13, 1929 (Deed Book V 35, p. 218). Rhoda Realty Co., Inc., by deed of March 3, 1931, conveyed to the State of New Jersey, in connection with its acquisition of land for the construction of Route 20, easterly sections of the aforementioned lots "together with all right, title and interest that the grantor herein may have in and to the Boulevard and Ninth Avenue." (Deed Book L 36, p. 12).*fn4

Thus, according to defendant's version, the State of New Jersey had title to the property, it being part of the land dedicated as Boulevard and the State having acquired the abutting lot owners' fee interest in the area dedicated as Boulevard. Defendant's predecessor in title, The League, a New Jersey corporation not for profit, on January 8, 1969, through its attorney Harvey Goldberg, Esq., obtained a quitclaim deed from the City of Paterson (Deed Book I 87, p.

187).*fn5 The League thereafter instituted the aforementioned quiet title action and obtained the September 4, 1970 judgment quieting title to the property against a number of parties, including the State of New Jersey. The rights of the League to the property were obtained by defendant L & J Enterprises, Inc., pursuant to a September 30, 1970 deed for $200 (Deed Book U 89, p. 388). The aforementioned Harvey Goldberg is president of defendant, which is a business corporation.

Plaintiffs and third-party defendant agree that the October 31, 1919 deed by Benj. Grunauer, Inc. conveyed all of that corporation's interest in the previously mentioned lots abutting Boulevard and that the lots were conveyed pursuant to the map. But they contend that when Benjamin Grunauer, Inc. made the 1919 conveyance of lots by reference to the map, it dedicated, not a marginal road, but a road having adjacent to it lands on the easterly side of the Boulevard which it retained -- i.e. , that the property is not part of the lands dedicated as Boulevard, but lies between the eastern boundary of the dedicated Boulevard and the western banks of the Passaic River; and that third-party defendant Benjamin Grunauer Co. , through Benj. Grunauer, Inc. , a New Jersey corporation in dissolution since October 30, 1919, and its successors in interest, Marke and Syracuse, retain title and the authority to convey title to the property.

Defendant's claimed interest in the property stemming from the quitclaim deed given by the city and the judgment quieting title in favor of the League, defendant's predecessor, thus far has not been measured against that of plaintiffs and third-party defendant Benjamin Grunauer Co. Though evidence has been presented ...

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