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Patton v. North Jersey District Water Supply Commission

Decided: May 19, 1983.

THOMAS F. PATTON AND RALPH S. TYLER, JR., TRUSTEES FOR ERIE LACKAWANNA RAILWAY COMPANY, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
NORTH JERSEY DISTRICT WATER SUPPLY COMMISSION, A BODY POLITIC OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT, AND TOWNSHIP OF WAYNE, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, DEFENDANT



On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division.

For affirmance -- Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Clifford, Schreiber, Handler, Pollock, O'Hern and Garibaldi. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Schreiber, J.

Schreiber

Plaintiffs, as Trustees of the property of the Erie Lackawanna Railroad Company, a debtor in reorganization under the federal bankruptcy act, contracted to sell a tract of unimproved vacant land in Wayne Township to Trip Distributors, Inc. See Law of July 1, 1898 ch. 541 § 77 as amended, codified at 11 U.S.C.A. § 205 (West 1946), repealed by Pub.L. 95-598, Title I, § 401(a), Nov. 6, 1978, 92 Stat. 2549. A survey and title search of the property made in connection with the proposed purchase disclosed that title to 6.89 acres of the land to be sold was questionable. Plaintiffs thereupon instituted this action against the defendant, North Jersey District Water Supply Commission, to quiet title.

Upon conclusion of the trial, the court entered judgment in favor of the plaintiffs. It found that fee simple title had vested by adverse possession under "all applicable Statutes of Limitations pertaining to real estate, i.e., N.J.S. 2A:14-6 -- 20 year statute;

N.J.S. 2A:14-31 -- 30 year statute and N.J.S. 2A:14-30 -- 30 and 60 year statute . . . ." In particular the court found that title was obtained by adverse possession at the end of the 20-year period between 1847 and 1869 when the plaintiffs' predecessor in title had open, notorious and adverse possession. Upon the defendant's appeal, the Appellate Division reversed. It reasoned that there could be no adverse possession against the defendant or its predecessor in title because both were governmental agencies. It also reasoned that adverse possession could not lie because until 1927, when the defendant acquired title, the State had a remainder interest in the property in question and the State's interest in realty could not be subject to adverse possession. We granted plaintiffs' petition for certification. 91 N.J. 211 (1982). We affirm.

Substantially all the facts are undisputed. Most were stipulated by the parties. Our journey into the title record of the 6.89 acres begins on August 4, 1838. On that date James Van Duyne and his wife conveyed to the Morris Canal & Banking Company (Canal Company) a tract of land consisting of approximately 6.89 acres. An adjoining piece of land was also conveyed to the Canal Company on the same date by Peter Courter and his wife. The Canal Company remained the record owner of the property in question until it transferred the land to the defendant, North Jersey Water Supply Commission, on July 28, 1927.

The roots of the plaintiffs' claim to title begin on April 17, 1847. On that date the executors of the estate of James Van Duyne conveyed to Samuel Daniels and his wife by warranty deed a tract of land described as consisting of 13.13 acres, except for that portion of the land previously transferred to the Canal Company. Moses Taylor, as agent for the Morris and Essex Railroad Company, acquired from Samuel Daniels and his wife by warranty deed dated September 10, 1869, the entire 13.13 acreage. The description in the deed to the Morris and Essex Railroad Company did not exclude the acreage that James Van Duyne had sold to the Canal Company on August 4, 1838. The Morris and Essex Railroad Company was succeeded by various

railroad entities, the last being the Erie Lackawanna Railway Company whose trustees in bankruptcy are the plaintiffs in this suit.

Plaintiffs and defendant acknowledge that on the basis of the record title, the defendant is the owner of the disputed land. They also agree that, if plaintiffs have a superior right to the land, it must rest on adverse possession. The Appellate Division never reached the question whether adverse possession had been proven, the ground on which the trial court relied. Rather, the Appellate Division concluded that adverse possession could not run because of the Canal Company's status as a governmental entity and because of the State's remainder interest in the land created by the legislative act that incorporated the Canal Company.

Title by adverse possession may be acquired under (1) N.J.S.A. 2A:14-6 and 2A:14-7,*fn1 (2) N.J.S.A. 2A:14-30,*fn2 or (3) N.J.S.A. 2A:14-31.*fn3 These ...


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