Sanborn v. McLean – Case Brief Summary
Summary of Sanborn v. McLean, 233 Mich. 227, 206 N.W. 496, 60 A.L.R. 1212 (1925).
A plat consisting of 91 residential lots in a wealthy area was recorded in 1891. Most of the lots were deeded to others with a restriction imposing a restrictive negative easement on the land such that the lots could be used only for residential purposes. Deeds to other lots did not recite the restriction.
McLean (D) obtained a lot that did not have the restriction imposed upon it in the deed. McLean began to construct a gas station at the rear end of the lot and Sanborn (P) and other neighbors sought an injunction to prevent further construction. Sanborn claimed that operating a gas station on the lot violated the scheme of the original plat which called for the lots to be used for residential purposes only. Sanborn asserted that McLean’s lot was subject to the reciprocal negative easement imposed on the other lots despite the absence of the restriction on the deed. The trial court entered judgment for Sanborn and McLean appealed.
Is a reciprocal negative easement created in all real property conveyed by a common grantor even if the restrictions are explicitly contained on some but not all lots?
Holding and Rule
Yes. A reciprocal negative easement is created in all real property conveyed by a common grantor even if the restrictions are explicitly contained on some but not all lots.
Reciprocal Negative Easement
If the owner of two or more lots sells one with restrictions benefiting the land retained, the servitude becomes mutual. The restrictions imposed upon the sold lots are also imposed upon those that are retained.
A reciprocal negative easement runs with the land sold and is not personal to the owners. Such easements remain until they expire or they are terminated by other events, and operate on the use of the land through either actual or constructive notice. In order to create such an easement, the land must begin with a common owner; they are never applied retroactively.
In this case McLean’s lot was one of the lots that received benefits from the restrictions. Sanborn and McLean’s lots were previously owned by a common owner.
The easement may be enforced if McLean knew of or should have known of the restrictions. McLean was on inquiry notice beyond merely asking the grantor whether there were restrictions. It was clear that the residence was located in an area used strictly for residential purposes and reasonable inquiry would have informed him of the easements.
See Nollan v. California Coastal Commission for a constitutional law case brief involving an issue arising under the Takings Clause in connection with a requirement that owners of beachfront real estate grant a permanent easement for access to public beaches.