Property Owner Sued to Recover $450 Cost of Snowplowing Shared Private Driveway

Appeals Followed Small Claims Judgment In Favor of Neighbors

Silvio Bet commenced a small claims action seeking $112.50 each from Wayne Geriak Elizabeth Manning as their pro rata shares of a $450 plowing expense for a shared private roadway. After a trial, the Justice Court of the Town of Lake Pleasant found in favor of  Geriak and Manning because there was no prior agreement between the parties to share plowing costs for the driveway. Bet appealed. County Court affirmed.  Bet appealed to the Appellate Division..

Appellate review of small claims matters is limited to determining whether ‘substantial justice has been done between the parties according to the rules and principles of substantive law. Only a clearly erroneous determination will be overturned.

The general rule is that, absent an express agreement, all persons benefited by an easement must share ratably in the cost of maintenance and repair. But the snow plowing could not be characterized as maintenance or repair. During testimony before Town Court, Bet testified that he purchased his property in 2012 and thereafter built a four-bedroom, two-bathroom home, which has a furnace and is used for all four seasons. Bet testified that he reached out to Geriak and Manning to inform them that he would be hiring a contractor to plow the driveway during the 2020/2021 winter season—and they responded that the contractor doing the plowing should be insured but did not explicitly agree to contribute toward the cost. Bet thereafter hired a contractor who plowed the driveway six times, for a total bill of $450.

Further testimony demonstrated that, on their properties, Geriak and Manning have “camps,” which were not used in the winter months. In fact, testimony established that the power and water to the camps were turned off during the winter months and that the camps did not have heat. Manning’s husband testified that he and Manning had owned the camp for 19 years and that they had never gone to the camp during the winter months. Geriak testified that his camp had been in his family since 1960 and has never been used during the winter months and he had no intention to use it during all four seasons. He also testified that he had gone up in the past once or twice a season to check on the camp and make sure “that the snow load didn’t crush the roof,” but that he walked in and then used his snowmobile. Geriak also explained that Bet’s contractor, who did the plowing, blocked Geriak’s camp with a large snowbank and Geriak had to use a tractor with a snow blower attachment to get through.

Given the foregoing testimony, it was established that Geriak and Manning did not benefit from the driveway being plowed in the winter inasmuch as they did not traditionally access their camps using the driveway in the winter months. And the evidence demonstrated that they had not explicitly agreed to contribute to the plowing.

In essence, Bet was seeking to create an expanded four-season easement which benefitted only himself. Therefore, Town Court’s decision declining to order Geriak and Manning to share in the snow plowing costs was not “clearly erroneous”. Accordingly, substantial justice was been done and County Court properly affirmed the judgment of Town Court in favor of Geriak and Manning.

Comments are closed.