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Blakeley v. Gorin

    Brief Fact Summary. The state has a land use plan with old restrictions that are now impeding development.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. When a restrictive covenant would impede the reasonable use of land, it will not be enforced.

    Facts. Petitioners own two parcels land separated by an alley. One lot is vacant; the other is the site of a hotel. They plan to build a structure on the vacant lot and will connect it to the hotel by a bridge over the alley. Respondents own a parcel of land adjacent to the vacant lot and which backs the same alley. The land has apartments, and the rear apartments derive their light and air from windows that face the alley. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts created restrictions in 1850, and among them was the requirement of keeping a passageway open in the area that is now the alley. PA statute states that no restriction shall be enforced unless the restriction is of actual and substantial benefit to the person claiming the right of enforcement. Petitioners claim the restriction is obsolete and unenforceable.

    Issue. If the reasonable use of land is being prevented by a restriction, must the restriction be reasonably enforced?

    Held. No.
    Respondents have an actual and substantial benefit in the enforcement of the restriction, and the proposed building will violate it. The light and air in the apartments will be affected by the new building.
    Though the restriction is not obsolute, it will not be specifically enforced. Money damages will be awarded to Respondents.
    Since the restriction was originally created, the neighborhood has gone through drastic changes. High-rise buildings have replaced family residences. The bridge will have only a modest impact in view of the drastic changes that have happened in the area.
    Enforecment of the restriction would impede reasonable use of the land for purposes for which it is most suitable. Petitioners’ proposal is the most suitable use of the land.
    The magnitude of the harm to Petitioners in specific enforcement of the restriction exceeds that to Respondents in its denial. The public interest also supports the construction of a new building.
    Money damages will be awarded to Respondents in lieu of specific enforcement.

    Dissent. The area has not undergone a drastic change. It still remains largely residential. The proposed building would be an unnecessarily large intrusion into the area, so Respondent should be allowed specific performance of the restriction.

    Discussion. If equity favors not enforcing a restriction, courts will not order specific performance but instead order money damages for the complaining party.


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