McArthur v. Hood Rubber Co.

Decision Date24 May 1915
Citation109 N.E. 162,221 Mass. 372
PartiesMcARTHUR et al. v. HOOD RUBBER CO. et al.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court

Appeal from Superior Court, Middlesex County; Charles F. Jenney Judge.

Suit by Andrew McArthur and others against the Hood Rubber Company and others. From a decree dismissing the bill of complaint as against certain defendants, plaintiffs appeal. Reversed, and entered for plaintiffs.

COUNSEL

Adams &

Blinn, of Boston, for appellants.

OPINION

RUGG C.J.

This is a suit in equity brought to remove a cloud from and to quiet and establish the title to certain real estate of the plaintiffs in Watertown.

1. The first question presented is whether the superior court has jurisdiction of a suit of this sort. Proceedings to quiet title and to remove clouds from titles constitute a well-recognized branch of equity. Clouston v Shearer, 99 Mass. 209; Frost v. Spitley, 121 U.S. 552, 556, 7 Sup.Ct. 1129, 30 L.Ed. 1010. By St. 1904, c 448, exclusive and original jurisdiction was conferred on the land court both at law and in equity, among other matters, of 'petitions to determine the validity of incumbrances under the provisions of sections eleven to fourteen, both inclusive, of' R. L. c. 182. That statute does not deprive the superior court of the power to remove in equity clouds upon titles. First Congregational Society in East Longmeadow v. Metcalf, 193 Mass. 288, 79 N.E. 343, 7 L.R.A.(N.S.) 481, 118 Am.St.Rep. 484, 8 Ann.Cas. 1109. That subject is touched upon in R. L. c. 182, §§ 6 to 10, both inclusive, and the jurisdiction in the superior court in that regard has not been disturbed. The subsequent sections, 11 to 14, 'enable parties to obtain the construction of the court in regard to questions arising under written instruments, and not to determine matters in pais. See Arnold v. Reed, 162 Mass. 438 ; Blanchard v. Lowell, 177 Mass. 501 .' Crocker v. Cotting, 181 Mass. 146, 153 63 N.E. 402. The remedy afforded by these sections is not so comprehensive, adequate and complete as to exclude general equitable jurisdiction. R. L. c. 182, §§ 1 to 4, which confer power to order a party in proper instances to bring an action at law to try his title, has not limited the general authority of courts of equity. Smith v. Smith, 150 Mass. 73, 22 N.E. 437.

2. Some of the defendants have appeared and consented to the entry of a decree in favor of the plaintiffs. As to these no further question now is raised. The bill has been taken for confessed against numerous other defendants. The truth of the Mayberry v. Sprague, 207 Mass. 508, 512, 93 N.E. 925. But the allegations of the bill even after having been taken for confessed must be sufficient to authorize relief before a decree can be entered as against them in favor of the plaintiffs. Russell v. Lathorp, 122 Mass. 300.

3. The substance of these allegations is that, in a deed of this estate in 1871, from the town of Watertown, was the clause, 'This conveyance is made subject to restriction that no building shall be erected on either of said lots except dwelling houses as legitimately pertain thereto;' that although at that time the neighborhood was a choice residential district, it has now become wholly given over to manufacturing of an offensive character and to its attendant buildings, where large numbers of employés congregate, and stores, shops, cheap lodging houses, tenement houses and boarding houses are the only valuable uses for the property, and it is unfit for residential purposes; that because of these and other such like matters, 'the character of all the property * * * upon which said restriction was imposed has entirely changed; that the entire purposes for which said restriction was imposed have come to an absolute end; that said restriction has been for a long time entirely disregarded and universally violated by nearly all, if not all, the present owners of the lands,' and that it would be oppressive to undertake to enforce the restriction and would render of little or no value the petitioners' estate.

4. No question is made as to the initial validity of the restriction. The contention is that it not only has become unenforceable in equity by reason of changed conditions, under the doctrine of Jackson v. Stevenson, 156 Mass. 496, 31 N.E. 691, 32 Am.St.Rep. 476, but also has been extinguished thereby. It is plain that under the allegations of the bill no one of the defendants could obtain relief in equity for the enforcement of the restriction against the plaintiffs. Nor could any of them maintain an action at law against the plaintiffs for violation of the restriction except possibly for nominal damages, and even this is not certain. Moreover, it would not be for the interests of any of the defendants to assert that the land is still subject to the restriction. It is not averred that the plaintiffs have violated the restriction nor that its enforcement has been threatened by any of the defendants.

The facts set out in the bill show that as to these defendants the restriction has come to an end. This is the fair import of the allegations, although there is no categorical statement to that effect. The change in the character of the neighborhood is so radical that it seems plain that there can be no further life in the restriction. There are no facts which show that even as to the estate of any one of the defendants the removal of the restriction on the plaintiffs' land would be of...

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