Summary of Sanborn v. McLean, Supreme Ct. of MI (1925)
Parties: McLeans were the covenantees; Sanborn is the enjoining party.
Cause of action/remedy sought: The following is an equitable action for an injunction (permanent?).
Procedural History: McLeans enjoined in the lower court. This court affirms.
Facts: McLeans owned land adjoining land between two streets, on which they wanted to build a gas station. The land which they want to build was part of an exclusive neighborhood, and the deed had a provision stating the land was to be used to build residences only. DF’s insist that there are no restrictions that appear in the chain of title. PL’s claim a station would be a nuisance per se, and look to the neighborhood covenant where it is express that the subdivision was planned for residential use only, save the lots fronting Woodward and Hamilton Blvd. McLeans’ home fronts Collingwood.
Issue(s): Under MI property law, may an owner be enjoined from building a gas station on its land when an opposing co-covenantor with the land claims a restriction (negative reciprocal easement) that runs with the land?
Holding: Yes. If the owner of two or more lots, so situated as to bear the relation, sells one with restrictions of benefit to the land retained, the servitude becomes mutual, and , during the period of restraint, the owner of the lots or lots retained can do nothing forbidden to the owner of the lot sold. For want of a better descriptive term this is styled a reciprocal negative easement.
Court’s Rationale/Reasoning: If a reciprocal negative easement attached to DF’s lot it began by the common owner and neighboring lots by way of sale of other lots with restrictions beneficial at that time to it. So the court looked to see what lots if any were sold with restrictions with the common owner before the sale of DF’s lots. But only sales on Collingwood.
So they looked to the original deed in the neighborhood, which said nothing but residences. The next person in the chain of title conveyed the same restrictions, and so on. The deed can be enforced provided DF’s had actual/constructive notice. Looking to the deeds surrounding the lot, as well as the original lot, it was clear to the court there were acts taken which would provide constructive notice (additionally there was written notice in some of the deeds as well) to only provide residential properties on the land. This means, that despite his having been told by his grantor that the land had no restrictions, he had a duty to check the record. If everyone else around him was going residential, he should have known as well to conform to those standards set by his neighboring landowners.
If the building built on the lot can be used for residential purposes, then it can remain on the land.
Rule: A negative reciprocal easement runs with the land sold by virtue of express fastening and abides with the land retained until loosened by expiration of its period of service or by events working its destruction. It is not personal to owners but operative upon use of the land by any owner having actual or constructive notice. Benefits and burdens carry to subsequent landowners to its affirmative or negative mandates, originates with the original owner, and is never retroactive, as the very nature of their origin forbids.
Did court avoid issues?: No.