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Willard v. First Church of Christ, Scientist, Pacifica

    Citation. 7 Cal. 3d 473, 498 P.2d 987, 102 Cal. Rptr. 739, 1972 Cal.

    Brief Fact Summary. The Plaintiffs, Mr. and Mrs. Willard (Plaintiffs), sued to quiet title regarding an easement they did not believe existed on the property. The Defendant, First Church of Christ, Scientist, Pacifica (Defendant), contended that they were granted an easement, which was in the deed prior to the conveyance to the current owners.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A grantor may in a deed to real property, reserve an interest in that property for third parties.


    Facts. Mrs. McGuigan owned two lots and permitted her church to use one of her lots for parking. Mrs. McGuigan sold the lot to Mr. Peterson who sold it to the Plaintiffs. There was an easement on the lot that the church used for parking, permitting the church to continue to use the lot for parking. The Plaintiffs were unaware of the easement, which was not on the deed. Plaintiffs filed an action to quiet title to the lot against the Church. The trial court entered judgment quieting title to the Plaintiffs. The Defendant appealed.

    Issue. Whether a grantor may, in deeding real property to one person, reserve an interest in that property for a third party.

    Held. Reversed. The court abandoned the old common law rule of rejecting conveyances that vest interests in third parties and held that in the case, such a reservation vests the interest in the third party.
    The courts primary objective in construing a conveyance is to give effect to the intent of the grantor and is to be interpreted in the same way as other contracts.
    In order to determine whether a court should apply the old common law rule to grants made prior to the courts decision, a balancing of equitable and policy considerations must occur. The court should examine the injustice of refusing to give effect to the grantor’s intent versus the result of failing to give effect to an individual’s reliance on the old common law rule and policy against disturbing settled titles.

    Discussion. The court discussed why the old feudal rule of rejecting any reservation in land that vested rights in third parties was no longer applicable and in the end, frustrated the grantor’s intent. The court found that the grantor clearly intended to vest an interest in the property to the church and that the Plaintiffs were not at a bigger injustice with this decision to forego the old rule which would have rejected the conveyance to the church.


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