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Sanborn v. McLean - 233 Mich. 227, 206 N.W. 496 (1925)


Reciprocal negative easements are never retroactive; the very nature of their origin forbids. They arise, if at all, out of a benefit accorded land retained, by restrictions upon neighboring land sold by a common owner. Such a scheme of restrictions must start with a common owner; it cannot arise and fasten upon one lot by reason of other lot owners conforming to a general plan.


Defendant spouses Christina and John A. McLean started to erect a gasoline filling station at the rear end of their lot, located at Green Lawn subdivision, at the northeast corner of Collingwood Avenue and Second Boulevard, in the city of Detroit. Plaintiffs, who were owners of land adjoining and in the vicinity of defendants' land, claimed that the proposed gasoline station would be a nuisance per se and is in violation of the general plan fixed for use of all lots on the street for residence purposes only, as evidenced by restrictions upon 53 of the 91 lots fronting on Collingwood Avenue. The plaintiffs further asserted that the McLeans’ lot was subject to a reciprocal negative easement barring a use so detrimental to the enjoyment and value of its neighbors. The McLeans were thereafter enjoined by decree from erecting the gasoline station in question. On appeal, the McLeans insisted that no restrictions appeared in the chain of title and that they purchased without notice of any reciprocal negative easement. 


Were there restrictions appearing in the chain of title of the defendant spouses’ land?




The Supreme Court of Michigan held that restrictions were upon defendants' lot while it was still in the hands of common owners. Furthermore, the Court ruled that the abstract of title to defendants' lot revealed the common owners and the record showed deeds of lots in the plat were restricted to perfect and carry out the general plan that resulted in a reciprocal negative easement upon defendants' lot and all lots within its scope. According to the Court, defendants and their predecessors in title were bound by constructive notice under the recording acts. For 30 years, the united interests of all persons interested had carried out the common purpose of making and keeping all lots strictly residential, and defendants were the first to depart therefrom. Hence, the Court upheld the decree enjoining the defendants from erecting a gasoline station at the rear end of their lot. However, the Court held that work already completed on building need not be torn down if the building could be utilized for purpose within restriction.

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