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Koepp v. Holland

February 4, 2010

CYNTHIA J. KOEPP, JOHN D. PLACE, TODD ZWIGARD AND PADDINGTON M. ZWIGARD, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
SUSANNE HOLLAND, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Norman A. Mordue, Chief U.S. District Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On December 2, 2008, plaintiffs Cynthia J. Koepp ("Koepp" or "plaintiff"), John D. Place ("Place" or "plaintiff"), Todd Zwigard ("T. Zwigard" or "plaintiff") and Paddington M. Zwigard ("P. Zwigard"or "plaintiff") commenced this action pursuant to Article 15 of the Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law ("RPAPL") in New York State Supreme Court, County of Cayuga. On December 24, 2008, defendant removed the action to this Court based on diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

Plaintiffs seek a determination of a claim to real property. According to the complaint, "the action concerns a strip of land 40 feet wide running very near the shores of Cayuga Lake formerly used as a railroad bed by the Cayuga Lake Railroad and then by successor railroad companies, including the Lehigh Valley Railroad Company".*fn1 The former railroad property was subsequently conveyed to defendant and plaintiffs claim ownership to "parcels of land through which said 40-foot former railroad land runs".*fn2 Plaintiffs also claim that pursuant to their deeds, they have easements over the 40-foot strip to access the western portion of their properties. In the alternative, plaintiffs seek to obtain and quiet title to said easements through adverse possession, necessity or prescription.

Prior to removal, plaintiffs filed an Order to Show Cause seeking a preliminary injunction enjoining and restraining defendant from building a permanent fence pending the termination of the action. On December 2, 2008, the Honorable Thomas G. Leone issued an ex parte order with a temporary restraining order. The Order provided, inter alia:

ORDERED, that pending the hearing of this Order to Show Cause for a preliminary injunction, plaintiffs are granted a temporary restraining order that the defendants herein be and hereby are enjoined and restrained from installing any additional fencing (not presently installed) that interferes with the use of the alleged easements.*fn3 Presently before the Court is plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 19) and defendant's cross motion for summary judgment (Dkt No. 23). Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment seeks a determination by the Court as a matter of law:

1. that plaintiffs own the property to the west of defendant's 40-foot strip;

2. that plaintiffs have rights-of-way by foot crossing the entire length of defendant's 40-foot strip;

3. that plaintiffs have three vehicular rights-of-way across defendant's 40-foot strip;

4. permanently enjoining defendant from erecting any fence, or in the alternative, permitting defendant to erect only 30 feet of fencing on the southern portion of the Koepp/Place property and no fencing on the Zwigard property.

Defendant's cross motion seeks summary judgment on the cross claims. Specifically, defendant seeks the following relief:

1. A determination that defendant holds a fee interest in the 40-foot strip;

2. A determination that, to the extent there is property west of the foot strip, plaintiffs do not own said property;

3. A determination that title to property west of the 40-foot strip is vested in defendant;

4. A determination that plaintiffs do not have any easement to cross defendant's property.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND*fn4

The facts, unless otherwise noted, are undisputed. In 1832, David and Sally Jane Holtslander conveyed a parcel of land in Aurora, designated as lot number 34, in the Township of Scipio, to Samuel Mandell ("Mandell"). The deed contained the following description of the premises:

. . . west to the shore of the Cayuga Lake thence southwardly along the shore of said Lake to the north west corner of land.

In 1851, Charles and Lemina Burling conveyed a parcel of land to Peter Fort ("Fort") described as follows:

On the east by the said highway on the south by land conveyed on the 28th day of April, 1832 by [] Holtslander to []Mandell and on the west by the said Cayuga Lake containing one and one half acre of land.

A. Deeds Conveying 40-foot Railroad Strip

In 1872, Mandell and Fort transferred a strip of land along Cayuga Lake to Cayuga Lake Railroad Company ("Cayuga Railroad") necessary to build a railway. The strip was used as a railroad bed by Cayuga Railroad and then by successor railroad companies, including the Lehigh Valley Railroad Company ("Lehigh Railroad"). The Mandell Deed contained the following description of the conveyance to Cayuga Railroad:

Beginning in the track of the said Railroad as indicated on the Map & Survey thereof on file in the Clerk's Office of Cayuga County. Bounded on the north by the lot of Peter Fort and south by the lot of Richard Morgan, being a strip forty two feet long and forty feet wide Viz. Twenty feet in width on each side measuring from the center of said Railroad. It is agreed that the Company shall in no way interfere with the well now on the premises of said Mandell to impair its usefulness & in consideration of said Company digging a drain to connect the above mentioned well with the Lake. The stone on the premises are to belong to said Company to be used for the purpose of a rip rap wall on said premises.

Said Company shall also erect & maintain a crossing for teams over the tract to the Lake & fill in on the east side level with track the whole width of said forty two feet.

The Fort deed provided the following description of the conveyance to Cayuga Railroad: CONVEYS, for the purposes of their said railroad and to their successors assigns forever, a strip of land across the westerly end of the Village lot, on the west side of the Main street in Aurora aforesaid, known as the Burling Lot, twenty feet in width on the west from the center line of the said rail road track, as now staked out & laid down on a map of said railroad line on file in Cayuga County Clerk's Office, and twenty feet in width on the east from said center line, also a like strip of land to wit: twenty feet on the west and twenty feet on the east side of said center line as now staked out & mapped as aforesaid across the westerly side of the homestead lot in Aurora aforesaid now owned & occupied by said Peter Fort.

The grant & conveyance of the two above described pieces of land are on the express condition that said Rail Road Company shall do & perform each of the following things to wit: First, that said Rail Road Company shall at their own expense remove the barn on the said "Burling Lot" and place same on substantial stone abutment, where said Fort may direct and fill up same as convenient in all respects for use as the same now is and shall make & grade a good & convenient wagon road between said barn & the garden fence down to the said road track and shall make & maintain a good crossing for wagons over said rail road track on each of the above described pieces of land.

Following a series of conveyances and assignments, Lehigh Railroad became the title owner of the 40-foot strip. As a quasi-public utility company, Lehigh Railroad was required to seek approval from the Interstate Commerce Commission ("ICC") if Lehigh Railroad wished to abandon operations and cease maintaining the railway. Sometime prior to 1971, Lehigh Railroad sought such approval and on or around June 3, 1971, the ICC entered a "Certificate and Order" authorizing Lehigh Railroad to abandon the Ithaca to Auburn Line. The Order indicates that the Commission considered the protest of, "the President of Wells College that the right-of-way of the line to be abandoned be disposed of by the applicant in a manner not adverse to the environmental interests of the residents in the area". On July 30, 1976, the New York Commissioner of Transportation signed a release of its preferential right to acquire the lands of Lehigh Railroad allowing the lands to be sold to private citizens. Subsequently, Lehigh Railroad filed a petition for relief under section 77 of the Bankruptcy Act with the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. On July 16, 1982, pursuant to the petition, the District Court entered a Consummation Order and Final Decree. The Consummation Order provided, inter alia:

3. Upon the Consummation Date, all of the assets of the Lehigh Valley Rail Road Company would vest in and become the absolute property of the reorganized company, subject to limited exceptions not applicable in this action, "free and clear of all claims, rights, demands, interests, liens and encumbrances of every kind and character, of the Debtor, its creditors, claimants and stockbrokers, whether or not properly or timely filed and whether or not approved, acknowledged or allowed in these proceedings".

The Consummation Date was September 30, 1982 and the Order was filed with the Cayuga County Clerk's Office on October 18, 1982.

In 1984, John Holland, Mary Holland and Lida Holland Churchville purchased the Former Railroad Property adjoining 311, 323, 327 and 331 Main Street, Aurora, New York.*fn5

The Holland's deed for the purchase of the 40-foot strip provided as follows:

All that part of the Lehigh Valley Railroad Company's Auburn & Ithaca branch right of way (40 feet wide West of Lots 25 and 26 and 30 feet wide West of Lots 27, and 28), lying Westerly of, adjacent and contiguous to Tax Lots 25, 26, 27 and 28 according to Tax Map No. 181.16 of the Village of Aurora, Cayuga County, New York; bounded on the North by the Westerly projection of the Northerly line of said Lot No. 25 and on the South by the Westerly projection of the

Southerly line of said Lot No. 28, containing 0.38 of an acre, more or less.

This deed is delivered by the party of the first part and accepted by the parties of the second part UNDER AND SUBJECT to the following:

(a) Visible easements and easements and restrictions of record.

On October 28, 2002, by deed, defendant took title and became the successor-in-interest to the interests of John Holland, Mary Holland and Lida Holland Churchville in the Holland Property.

B. Deeds Conveying Fort/Mandell Property*fn6

1. Fort to Pierson

In 1877, the Executors of Peter Fort's estate conveyed Fort's land to Edward Pierson. The deed contained the following descriptive language:

On the north by a fence on the north side of said lot along the land extending from the road passing through the Village of Aurora aforesaid to Cayuga Lake, on the east by the said highway, on the south by land conveyed on the 28th day of April 1832 by the said David Holtslander to Samuel Mandell, and on the west by the said Cayuga Lake, containing one and a half acres of land be the same more or less and being the same premises conveyed to the said Peter Fort deceased by Charles Burling and wife by deed dated October 11, 1851. Excepting and reserving therefrom any and all vested rights or interests which the Cayuga Lake Railroad or its assigns may have in the above . . . And all the estate, right, title, interest, property, possession claim and demand whatsoever . . . with the appurtenances to have and to hold forever.

2. Pierson to Sadler

In 1878, Pierson conveyed the land to Maria A. Sadler. The deed contained the following description:

On the north by a fence on the north side of said lot along the land extending from the road passing through the Village of Aurora aforesaid to Cayuga Lake, on the east by the said highway, on the south by land conveyed on the 28th day of April 1832 by the said David Holtslander to Samuel Mandell, and on the west by the said Cayuga Lake. Reserving and excepting however from the above described premises so much thereof as has been herefore [sic] conveyed to the Cayuga lake Railroad Company for the purposes and uses of their railroads and assigns. The above being the same premises sold and conveyed on the Eleventh day of October 1851 by Charles Burling and wife to Peter Fort late of said Village of Aurora deceased. With the appurtenances and all the estate, title and interest therein of the said party of the first part.

3. Sadler to Morgan

In 1883, Sadler conveyed the land to Maria Morgan. The deed contained the following description:

On the north by an evergreen hedge along the north line of said lot and along the lane extending from the road through the village of Aurora aforesaid to Cayuga Lake on the east by the said highway on the south by land conveyed on the 28th day of April, 1832 by said David Holtslander to Samuel Mandell and on the west by the East Shore of Cayuga Lake excepting and reserving however from the above described premises so much thereof as has been heretofore conveyed to the Cayuga Lake Rail Road Company for the purpose and use of this Rail Road, and its assigns . . . with the appurtenances and all the estate title and interest therein of the said party of the first part . . .

4. Morgan to Lyon

In 1893, Morgan conveyed the land to Sanford G. Lyon, with the following description:

Beginning on the east shore of Cayuga Lake, at the northwest corner of lands owned by Samuel D. Mandell, thence easterly by the northline of said Mandell lot to its intersection with the Main Street of the Village of Aurora, New York thence northerly along the west boundary of said Main Street 132 feet or thereabout, to lands of Maria Morgan, thence along the southline of said Morgan's land to the east shore of Cayuga Lake thence along the east shore of said Lake, to point of beginning. Excepting and reviewing the above described premises as so much thereof as has been heretofore conveyed to the Cayuga Lake Rail Road Company for the purpose and use of this Rail Road, and its assigns. Witnesseth the appurtenances and all the estate, title and interest therein of the said part of the first part and the said Maria Morgan party of the first part does hereby covenant and agree to and with the said party of the second part, his heirs and assigns that the premises thus conveyed in the quiet and peaceable possession of said party of the second party, his heirs and assigns she will forever Warrant and Defend against any person whomever lawfully claiming the same, or any part thereof.

5. Mandell to Aurora Elgin Creamery Company

In 1896, Mandell conveyed his property to the Aurora Elgin Creamery Company. The deed described the property conveyed and stated, inter alia:

Beginning at the north-east corner of lands owned by the Aurora Royal Arch Chapter of Masons; running thence westerly along the north line of said chapter's land, and along the northline of lands owned by the Estate of Richard Morgan, deceased, to the lands conveyed by Samuel D. Mandell to the Cayuga Lake Rail Road Co.; thence northerly along the eastline of lands conveyed to said Rail Road Company to lands now owned by Sanford G. Lyon; thence easterly along said Lyon's southline to a point on the west line of Main Street of Aurora, N.Y., a distance of 42 feet and 4 inches from the point of beginning, thence southerly along the west line of said Main Street to place of beginnings containing 1/8 of an acre, be the same more or less. Together with all rights of way, reservations and privileges mentioned in the conveyance of Samuel D. Mandell to said Cayuga Lake Rail Road Company; also any land originally a part of this premises lying west of said land conveyed to the said Cayuga Lake Railroad Company.

6. Aurora Elgin Creamery Company to Lyon

In 1911, the Aurora Elgin Creamery Company conveyed the property ...


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