Willard v. First Church of Christ, Scientist:
Supreme Court of California
498 P.2d 987 (1972)
Issue: Was the easement transferred to the new owner (Willard)
-Common law: One cannot reserve an interest in property to a stranger to the title
Application: Recently, the common law rule has been attacked by many commentators, and invalidated by two states (Kentucky, and Oregon).
-The primary objective in construing a conveyance is to try to give effect to the intent of the grantor
-California courts have found ways to avoid the rigid structures of the rule by creating exceptions to it
-Willard contends that the old rule should be applied to invalidate the church's easement because grantees and title insurers have relied upon it.
-No evidence to support this contention have been presented.
-No evidence that a policy of title insurance was issued
-Willard could not have relied upon the common law rule to assure him of an absolute fee because he did not even read the deed containing the reservation
-The determination whether the old common law rule should be applied to grants made prior to this case involved a balancing of equitable and policy considerations
-Balance the injustice which would result from refusing to give effect to the grantor's intent against injustice, if any, which might result by failing ot give effect to reliance on the old rule and the policy against disturbing settled titles.
-Other cases may warrant an application of the balancing test, this case does not. No reliance
-Willard contends that the church has received no interest in this case because the clause stated only that the grant was "subject to" the church's easement, and not that the easement was either excepted or reserved
-The clause, as a whole, states that the easement is "given"
-Even if there is some ambiguity or conflict in the clause, the trial court found on substantial evidence that the parties to the deed intended to convey the easement to the church.
-Genuvieve McGuigan owned lots 19 and 20. (19 was occupied, and 20 was vacant)
-Was a member of the church located across the street from lots 19 and 20, and permitted the church to park in lot 20.
-Sold lot 19 to Petersen, who used the building as an office
-Petersen wanted to resell the lot, so he listed with Willard, a realtor, who expressed interest in purchasing both lots 19 and 20.
-At the time of sale, Petersen did not own lot 20. Petersen talked with McGuigan and McGuigan agreed to sell lot 20 if the easement would transfer with it.
-McGuigan testified that the lot was sold for 1/3 less than she would have without the easement
-Church's attorney drew up a provision in the deed including the easement in the sale
-Willard paid the agreed purchase price into the escrow and received Petersen's deed 10 days later. The deed did not mention an easement for parking by the church.
-Petersen did mention to Willard that the church would want to use lot 20 for parking
-Willard later became aware of the easement, and commenced the action to quiet title.
-Lower Court: Found that although intention to convey an easement was found, the clause employed was ineffective for that purpose because it was invalidated by the common law rule that one cannot "reserve" an interest in property to a stranger to the title.