Fence blocking public access to beach enjoined

Neighbors win claim of express easement to access beach along Long Island Sound. In 1928, Locust Point Estate subdivided a large parcel of land on the Throgs Neck peninsula in the Bronx into six residential parcels, and recorded a declaration granting to the new owners easements over six private roads including Casler Place, a dead-end street leading to a patch of beach on the shore of the Long Island Sound. Casler Place remained a private road until 1986 when the City dedicated all but the eastern end of the block as a public street. 

Susan and Thomas Acquafredda own property abutting the beach on the north and south sides of Casler Place. In 2008, the Acquafreddas obtained permission from the State Department of Environmental Conservation and the City Department of Citywide Administrative Services to rebuild a north/south seawall at the end of Casler Place. The Acquafreddas also rebuilt a fence running across Casler Place in front of the seawall and the unmapped portion of the street.

A group of neighbors claimed that the rebuilt seawall and fence blocked their access to the public beach, and sought a court order to prevent the Acquafreddas from keeping the fence. The neighbors argued that the 1928 declaration granted them an easement to access the beach along Casler Place, and submitted evidence indicating that residents had used the street to access the beach since the early 1930s. Further, the neighbors claimed that the Acquafreddas had built a portion of the fence on the public street.

The Acquafreddas argued that the 1928 declaration only created an easement over the private roads to reach a public highway and not to provide access to the beach. The Acquafreddas claimed that after purchasing the property in 1993, they maintained exclusive control over the fence running across Casler Place. In addition, the Acquafreddas submitted deeds from 1993 and 2007 for property on the north side of Casler Place indicating that they owned the land on which the fence stands. According to the Acquafreddas, the City’s installation of a fire hydrant in front of the fence, as well as a sign on the fence stating “END,” was an acknowledgment that the Acquafredda’s owned the land behind the fence.

In April 2010, Bronx Supreme Court Justice Edgar G. Walker issued a preliminary injunction preventing the Acquafreddas from maintaining the fence, occupying the property behind the fence, or blocking public access to the beach. The Acquafreddas appealed. The First Department affirmed the lower court’s decision, agreeing that the neighbors were likely to succeed in their lawsuit.

The First Department initially found that a 2007 deed purportedly expanding the Acquafredda’s property to include a portion of the unmapped street, which listed Thomas Acquafredda has both the grantor and grantee, “appear[ed] to be a fraudulent conveyance,” because the 1993 deed originally conveying the property to the Acquafreddas did not describe the property as including any portion of the unmapped street. Notwithstanding the legality of the transfer, the First Department found that the 1928 declaration’s “certain and unambiguous” language expressly granted an easement extending to the beach. Further, the First Department also found that the neighbors would likely succeed in demonstrating that they had an easement by prescription based on their longtime use of the unmapped portion of the street and the beach.

Gilliland v. Acquafredda, 2011 N.Y. Slip Op. 9207 (1st Dep’t Dec. 20, 2011) (Attorneys: Robert F. Moraco and Eric M. Baum, for neighbors; Simon H. Rothkrug, for Acquafredda).

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