Brief Fact Summary.
Plaintiffs brought suit seeking to obtain an injunction against the executor of Johnston’s estate, which sought to raze Johnston’s hand, sell the land, and give Johnston’s beneficiaries the estate. The house was located in an architectural city landmark. The trial court denied Plaintiffs’ petition. Plaintiffs appealed.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
The court may deem a condition, which compel the landowner’s successor in interest to the land to do something that is against pubic policy, to be void
Per Louise Woodruff Johnston’s will, the executor of the estate was to raze Johnston’s house, sell the land it was situated on, and give the proceeds of the sale to the beneficiaries. The house was located in an architectural city landmark, the Kings bury Place subdivision in St. Louis. Neighboring property owners and trustees of the subdivision where Johnston’s house was located (Plaintiffs) brought this action seeking an injunction to stop the destruction of the house, on the grounds that it would diminish their property values and would be against public policy. At trial,the parties determined that destroying the house, which was worth $40,000 as is, would give a net value of $650 to Johnston’s beneficiaries. Ultimately, the trial court denied the petition for injunction. Plaintiffs appealed.
Whether the court may deem a condition, which compels the landowner’s successor in interest to the land to do something that is against pubic policy, to be void.
Yes, the court may deem a condition, which compels the landowner’s successor in interest to the land to do something that is against pubic policy, to be void.
The majority incorrectly assumes that Johnston’s intent to destroy her house is “capricious” and “senseless” because the record is absent of any evidence of Johnston’s intent. Notably, the parties the majority is seeking to protect under its opinion, Johnston’s beneficiaries and the City of St. Louis, are not parties to this lawsuit. “[T]he policy of the law favors freedom in the testamentary disposition of property and that it is the duty of the courts to give effect to the intention of the testator, as expressed in his will, provided such intention does not contravene an established rule of law.”
Generally, a landowner has very few restraints on what he or she may do with his or her land while living on the land. Nevertheless,if the owner is attempting to mandate or compel his successor in interest to do something against the land that is against public policy, a court may deem the condition void. A person, while living, is generally restrained by his or her self-interest in their property from destroying his or her personal or real property.Nonetheless, after one’s death, the individual may lack self-interest and restraint. Thus, the court may properly step in if the actions are against public policy. In this case,the destruction of the Johnston’s house, solely because that is what it states in Johnston’s will, is against public policy because it would decrease the value to her beneficiaries and would also decrease the property values in the neighborhood. No one would be receiving a benefit from its destruction. Therefore, the court may deem the condition void, and the trial court is reversed.