TERESA A. FRECH et al. v. CARL F. PIONTKOWSKI et al., SC 18400

Judicial District of Middlesex


     Property; Easement; Whether an Artificial Body of Water may be Subject to a Prescriptive Easement for Recreational Use.  The defendants own the Obed Heights Reservoir, a man-made body of water impounded by a dam built around 1890.  The plaintiffs, Teresa A. Frech and Kenneth Andersen, own, respectively, lots 10 and 11 in a subdivision located on the east shore of the reservoir.  The plaintiffs brought this action, seeking a judgment that the western boundaries of their properties extended to the edge of the reservoir or, alternatively, if they did not own all the land to the edge of the reservoir, that they had acquired that land by adverse possession.  Additionally, the plaintiffs claimed that they had acquired a prescriptive easement to use the reservoir for recreational purposes.  The defendants counterclaimed seeking to quiet title to the disputed land and the reservoir.  The trial court first concluded that the western boundaries of both lots 10 and 11 extended to the edge of the reservoir.  The court also found that, even if the defendants had record title to the disputed area, the plaintiffs proved that they had acquired title to the disputed area by adverse possession.  Next, the court determined that the plaintiffs had established a prescriptive easement over the reservoir to use it for non-commercial recreational purposes, including boating, swimming, fishing and skating.  In so ruling, the court rejected the defendants claim that, because the reservoir is non-navigable, the plaintiffs could not acquire a prescriptive easement over it as a matter of law.  It noted that, under S.O. & C. Co. v. Ansonia Water Co., 83 Conn. 613 (1910), riparian rights over a non-navigable body of water may be gained and lost by adverse use.   On appeal, the defendants challenge the trial court's decision that the plaintiffs had acquired a prescriptive easement over the reservoir for recreational purposes.  The defendants claim, among other things, that a prescriptive easement over an artificial body of water for recreational purposes should not be granted because it places an unreasonable burden on the servient owners of maintaining the body of water in perpetuity.  They contend that such a burden is unique to servient owners of artificial bodies of water and that servient owners of dry land are under no obligation to maintain their properties for prescriptive easement purposes.  Additionally, they claim that seasonal or occasional recreational uses such as boating and swimming should not be considered open and visible uses for purposes of establishing a prescriptive easement because, in the absence of wharfing out or the construction of a dock, they leave no trail on a body of water.