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Law School Case Brief

Millbrook Hunt v. Smith - 249 A.D.2d 281, 670 N.Y.S.2d 907 (App. Div. 2nd Dept. 1998)

Rule:

To determine the true character of an interest, a court must examine the nature of the right rather than the name given to it by the parties. The mere labeling of an interest as an easement does not necessarily make it an easement; it may be a license. Easements and licenses in real property are distinct in principle, though it is sometimes difficult to distinguish them. An easement implies an interest in land ordinarily created by a grant, and is permanent in nature. A license does not imply an interest in land, but is a mere personal privilege to commit some act or series of acts on the land of another without possessing any estate therein.

Facts:

Defendant landowner's predecessor in title had entered into an agreement with plaintiff, Millbrook Hunt, Inc, a fox hunting group, that permitted Millbrook Hunt to use the land to fox hunt for 75 years. Defendant landowner, Edgar O. Smith, ejected members of Millbrook Hunt from the property while they were performing maintenance on the trails. Millbrook Hunt filed suit against Smith, seeking both a declaration that it had an easement over the property and an injunction permanently enjoining Smith from interfering with the easement. The trial court concluded that Millbrook Hunt had an easement over the property, and Smith appealed.

Issue:

Did the fox hunting group have an easement over the landowner's property?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The state appellate court held that (1) the agreement was not a revocable lease, as claimed by the landowner; (2) under the agreement, Millbrook Hunt leased a one-quarter acre of land for a period of 75 years and reserved an absolute right to fox hunt on the remaining parcel of land; (3) Millbrook Hunt had an easement in the land, and the landowner did not have the right to completely exclude it from the property; and (4) the landowner had both actual and constructive notice of the easement before he bought the land and was estopped from denying its existence.

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