McKinnon v. Benedict

38 Wis.2d 607, 157 N.W.2d 665 (1968)

Quick Summary

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Roderick McKinnon (plaintiff) loaned money to Mr. and Mrs. Roy Benedict (defendants) with an agreement restricting development on their property. The Benedicts later violated this agreement, leading to legal action by McKinnon.

The main issue was whether this restrictive agreement was enforceable in equity against the Benedicts. The Supreme Court of Wisconsin found it to be unconscionable and unreasonably oppressive, thus reversing the trial court’s injunction against the Benedicts.

Facts of the Case

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Roderick McKinnon (McKinnon) (plaintiff) provided a loan of $5,000 to Mr. and Mrs. Roy Benedict (the Benedicts) (defendants), aiding them in purchasing Bent’s Camp, a resort next to McKinnon’s summer estate. In return for the loan, the Benedicts agreed not to remove trees or make improvements on key sections of their resort for 25 years.

Despite this, financial struggles led the Benedicts to invest $9,000 in constructing a trailer park and tent camp on the property, violating the agreement with McKinnon.

Upon discovering the Benedicts’ improvements, McKinnon sought legal action to enforce the agreement and stop further construction, leading to a trial court granting an injunction. The Benedicts subsequently appealed the decision.

Procedural Posture and History

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  1. Roderick McKinnon provided a loan to the Benedicts under certain conditions restricting property development.
  2. The Benedicts violated the agreement by constructing a trailer park and tent camp.
  3. McKinnon filed an action in equity seeking an injunction to halt further construction.
  4. The trial court granted the injunction in favor of McKinnon.
  5. The Benedicts appealed the trial court’s decision.

I.R.A.C. Format


Issue Icon

Whether the agreement between McKinnon and the Benedicts restricting property development was enforceable in equity against the Benedicts.

Rule of Law

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Courts of equity may refuse specific performance of a contract if it is unfair, causes disproportionate hardship, or was induced by sharp practice, misrepresentation, or mistake.

Reasoning and Analysis

Reasoning Icon

The court found that the agreement imposed an unreasonable burden on the Benedicts in exchange for inadequate consideration. The $5,000 loan provided by McKinnon was secured and only interest-free for seven months, which did not justify the long-term restrictions on property use.

Additionally, the promised assistance from McKinnon was negligible and did not offset the significant limitations placed on the Benedicts’ property rights.

The court emphasized that equity does not support contracts that are oppressive and that restrictions on land use are generally not favored in law unless supported by reasonable consideration.

Given that the detriment to McKinnon was minimal compared to the severe limitations on the Benedicts, the court concluded that enforcing the agreement would be inequitable and unreasonable.


Conclusion Icon

The Supreme Court of Wisconsin reversed the trial court’s injunction, determining that the contract was unreasonably oppressive against the Benedicts and not supported by adequate consideration.

Key Takeaways

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  1. An agreement that imposes an unfair burden with inadequate consideration is likely to be considered unconscionable and unenforceable in equity.
  2. Equity favors fairness and reasonableness in agreements, especially those involving restrictions on property use.
  3. Courts will not enforce a contract if it results in severe limitations on one party for a minimal benefit to another.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What factors make a contractual clause unenforceable due to unconscionability?

Unconscionability arises when there’s a stark inequality of bargaining power resulting in no real negotiation and an absence of meaningful choice, coupled with contract terms that are unreasonably favorable to the stronger party. The court will consider whether the clause was hidden in fine print, the relative understanding and education of the parties, and the disparity in terms used.

  • For example: A cell phone contract that binds a consumer to pay exorbitant fees for data usage without any possibility for negotiation may be deemed unconscionable.

How does inadequate consideration affect the enforceability of a contract?

Inadequate consideration can lead to a contract being unenforceable because it indicates that the obligations assumed by one party are disproportionate compared to the benefits received. When one party’s commitment is remarkably minimal compared to the other’s, courts may question whether there has been a fair exchange.

  • For example: If someone sells a valuable artwork worth thousands for just a dollar, this gross inadequacy might render the agreement unenforceable.

In what scenarios might courts refuse specific performance of a contractual term?

Courts may refuse specific performance when fulfilling the contract would result in excessive hardship on one party or contravene public policy. They will also consider if mutual mistakes were made or if there were misrepresentations during the agreement process.

  • For example: If fulfilling a contract to sell land would force someone from their family home and livelihood with no comparable benefit, a court might refuse specific performance on grounds of hardship.


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