WYKEHAM RISE, LLC v. ERIC A. FEDERER et al., SC 18653
Judicial District of Litchfield
Property Conveyance; Declaratory Judgment; Whether Grantor Intended Restrictive Covenants to Benefit Third Parties; Whether Third Party Beneficiaries can Enforce Restrictive Covenants. In 1990, the Wykeham Rise School sold its property in Washington, Connecticut (the school property) and did not retain any land adjoining the parcel it sold. The deed of sale contained restrictive covenants, including one preventing the building of any structures within 300 feet of an area known as the "playing field." The defendants acquired land abutting the playing field in 1995. The school property changed hands again in 2004, and, in 2005, the school assigned defendant Wendy Federer any rights it had in the restrictive covenants in the 1990 deed. The school property was subsequently conveyed to the plaintiff, which is considering development plans that would violate the restrictive covenants. The plaintiff brought this action seeking a declaration that the restrictive covenants are void and of no legal effect. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff, ruling that the restrictive covenants were invalid because the 1990 deed expressed a clear intent that they were to benefit only the school and not third parties such as the defendants. The defendants appeal, claiming that the trial court should have looked beyond the language of the deed in determining the intent of the grantor at the time the covenants were created and that, had it done so, it would have found that the covenants benefitted their property and that they were intended to do so. The defendants also claim that a restrictive covenant that benefits only a third party is enforceable, and that the demise of the unity of title doctrine—which dictated that a valid easement could only be created if the same person owned both the dominant and servient estates—suggests that the benefit of a restrictive covenant may be granted to one who is not a party to the transaction that creates the covenant. Among the defendants' other claims are that the court wrongly determined that the restrictive covenants did not run with the land and that the court should not have granted summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff where questions of material fact remained as to the defendants' special defenses of waiver and unclean hands.