Court Reaffirms “Reasonable Use Rule”

January 9, 2013 | No Comments
Posted by Paul H. Schneider

New Jersey has long followed the “reasonable use rule” in cases where one landowner sues another for diverting or discharging stormwater that allegedly causes flooding.  In the 1956 case of Armstrong v. Francis Corp., the New Jersey Supreme Court held that one owning or occupying land “is legally privileged to make reasonable use of his land, even though the flow of surface water is altered thereby and causes some harm to others.”  Liability was limited to situations where this “harmful interference with the flow of surface water is unreasonable.”  The Appellate Division of Superior Court reaffirmed this principle in its January 8, 2013 decision in Gourley v. Township of Monroe.  There, Mr. and Mrs. Gourley brought claims of nuisance and inverse condemnation against the Township of Monroe in Gloucester County, claiming that development approved by the Township on neighboring land caused flooding on the Gourleys’ property.  The plaintiffs also claimed this resulted in a taking of their property for which the Township must pay just compensation.  Relying on the “reasonable use rule,” the Appellate Division upheld a trial court’s decision dismissing the plaintiffs’ claim.

This decision makes clear that more than half a century after Armstrong v. Francis Corp. property owners and municipalities alike may still rely upon the reasonable use rule to protect them from liability in appropriate situations.

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