This is an action for possession of certain real estate in Monmouth Beach, which had been conveyed in 1894 to the United States to be used for a lifesaving station. The issue to be resolved is whether the conveyance was an estate in fee simple or a fee determinable with a possibility of reverter.
Edward A. Walton and George F. Baker conveyed the premises to the United States by deed dated August 1, 1894. Plaintiffs are the successors in interest of the alleged reversionary interest of the grantors. The deed to the United States was pursuant to a statute enacted by Congress on March 3, 1875, 18 Stat. 371, authorizing the Treasurer of the United States to acquire the right to use and occupy certain sites for lifesaving and lifeboat stations. The property was used by the United States Coast Guard as a lifesaving station until 1965. The New
Jersey Marine Patrol began using the premises in 1965 for the supervision of boat safety. It continues to use the property for that purpose. The State of New Jersey purchased the property from the United States Government by a quit-claim deed dated August 15, 1968 for $29,800. During the negotiations for the sale the United States advised the State of New Jersey that there might be a title problem because of the decision in United States v. Roebling, 244 F. Supp. 736 (D.N.J.1965), involving a similar conveyance.
The dispute between the parties involves the interpretation of the 1894 deed. Defendant alleges that there was a conveyance of a fee simple estate to the United States. Plaintiffs allege that a fee simple determinable estate with a possibility of reverter was conveyed to the United States. They argue that because the property ceased to be used as a lifeboat station in 1965 the premises reverted to plaintiffs.
The relevant provisions of the deed are as follows:
Whereas, The Secretary of the Treasury has been authorized by law to establish the Life-Saving Station herein described;
And whereas, Congress, by Act of March 3, 1875, provided as follows, viz: "And the Secretary of the Treasury is hereby authorized, whenever he shall deem it advisable, to acquire, by donation or purchase, in behalf of the United States, the right to use and occupy sites for Life-saving or Life-boat Stations, Houses of Refuge, and sites for Pierhead Beacons, the establishment of which has been, or shall hereafter be, authorized by Congress;"
And whereas, the said Secretary of the Treasury deems it advisable to acquire, on behalf of the United States, the right to use and occupy the hereinafter-described lot of land as a site for a Life-Saving Station, . . .:
[W]ith full right of egress and ingress thereto in any direction over other lands of the grantor by those in the employ of the United States, on foot or with vehicles of any kind, with boats or any articles used for the purpose of carrying out the intentions of Congress in providing for the establishment of Life-Saving Stations, and the right to pass over any lands of the grantor in any manner in the prosecution of said purpose; and also the right to erect such structures upon the said land as the United States may see fit, and to remove any and all such structures and appliances at any time; the said premises to be used and occupied for the purpose named in said Act of March 3, 1875:
To have and to hold the said lot of land and privileges unto the United States ...