Table of contents
- Introduction - Property: Volume 1
Chapter One - Introduction
1.1 - Finders vs. Landowners
- 1.2 - Trespass
- 1.3 - Nuisance
- 1.1 - Finders vs. Landowners
- Chapter Two - Acquisition by Possession
- Chapter Three - Acquisition by Creation
- Chapter Four - Transfers
Assistant Professor of Law
University of Georgia School of Law
eLangdell® Press 2012
Christian Turner teaches courses in property, land use, legal theory, and the regulation of information. His research interests are in the public/private distinction and institutional analysis. Drawing from his mathematical training, he is interested in both the logic and illogic of the law— and in understanding seemingly complex and diverse legal principles as consequences of basic, trans-substantive ideas.
Prior to joining the faculty at the University of Georgia, Christian was a Visiting Assistant Professor at Fordham Law School, worked at Wiggin and Dana law firm in New Haven, and clerked for Judge Guido Calabresi on the Second Circuit. He is a graduate of Stanford Law School and holds a Ph.D. in mathematics from Texas A&M University.
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Carol M. Rose, Possession as the Origin of Property, 52 U Chi L Rev 73 (1985), reprinted with permission of the University of Chicago Law Review.
Lawrence Solum, Legal Theory Lexicon: Fit & Jusitfication - http://lsolum.typepad.com/legal_theory_lexicon/2004/04/legal_theory_le_1.html, reprinted with the permission of the author. This work by Colin Millers licensed and published by CALI eLangdell Press under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. CALI and CALI eLangdell Press reserve under copyright all rights not expressly granted by this Creative Commons license. CALI and CALI eLangdell Press do not assert copyright in US Government works or other public domain material included herein. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available through email@example.com.
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Version 1: March 29, 2012
Property is an odd subject. Typically a first-year, foundational course, it becomes apparent to beginning students rather quickly that it differs greatly from Contracts, Torts, and Criminal Law. Whereas those courses usually have a consistent rhythm, a mutually reinforcing structure, Property seems to be a grab bag of topics. Worse, the cases one studies are generally tort and contract cases. Are there property cases? What is distinctive about them?
To understand what we're about to embark on, you must first understand what is happening in your other courses. I will give a very brief overview here of my conception of the structure of legal systems. I find that thinking broadly at first helps to show how the study of Property Law is different and also to explain the structure of a typical first-year curriculum. A fuller explanation, intended for non-experts, can be found in a short series of blog posts at
An Atlas of Legal Systems
Contracts, Torts, and Criminal Law are substantive fields of the law. By that, I mean that they are basic categories of causes of action. They differ in the identity of the institution that controls lawmaking and prosecution.
Contract Law is the set of laws that are created by private entities (often, but not always, through bilateral agreement) and enforced by private lawsuits. Tort Law is the set of laws that are created by public entities (usually courts creating common law or legislatures) and enforced by private lawsuits. Criminal Law is the set of laws that are created by public entities and enforced by public lawsuits (or prosecutions).
So where is Property Law? Under this view, it does not exist as a substantive category. Indeed, a Property course consists of tort cases, contract cases, criminal cases, and a few cases nominally labeled property cases but which are easily seen to be contract cases with different default rules and procedures. The chart simply makes plain that it could not be otherwise.
Can you see why the set of laws in the Parens Patriae category might be a very small one?
Let's keep going for just a bit on the similarities among the substantive courses in order to discern a role for Property within a first-year education. While Contract, Tort, and Criminal Law differ in the nature of the institutions that make law and prosecute violations, they are remarkably similar in how their causes of action work. In each of these courses, you will learn an identical pattern for analyzing a lawsuit: Duty, Breach, Causation, Defenses, Damages. These may be taken up in different orders. The steps may even be given different names. But the essence is the same:
1. Did the defendant owe a _duty_ that is the subject of the lawsuit? Duties are what me might causally think of as "the law," the things we must do or not do. They are created by legislatures, contracts, or courts. In Contracts, you will be concerned with the procedures for enacting duties (offer and acceptance, for example) and interpreting written contracts to determine what duties have been created. In Torts, you will primarily study judge-made duties and the policies behind them. While in Criminal Law, many textbooks focus on the duties contained in the Model Penal Code.
2. Did the defendant breach the duty owed? Duties are often stated in general terms, and the question of breach is whether the a duty was violated under the specific facts of the case -- an exercise that often involves returning to the question of duty and gaining more precision about what is and what is not against the law. If I owe a duty to avoid injuring others by driving a car using the ordinary degree of care a reasonable and prudent person would under the circumstances, whether I violated that duty by shifting my attention to the air conditioning or heating while in heavy traffic is a question of breach.
3. Did the defendant's breach of a duty cause the result specified in the law, typically an injury to the plaintiff or victim? As you'll see in your other classes, this step usually involves two separate questions, one of logic and one of policy. First, was the defendant's breach a logical or but-for cause of the injury, in the sense that no injury would have occurred but for the breach? This is necessary but not sufficient for liability. In each substantive area, we also ask a policy question: was the breach a proximate cause of the injury? This is a question of policy that asks whether the breach was such that we think the defendant ought to be at least partially responsible, typically because the breach was a substantial factor in bringing about the injury.
4. Defenses, like proximate cause, are policy-based reasons to refuse to find all or some liability.
5. Damages, or remedy, actually varies quite a bit among the subjects. Some Contract courses even begin with this step as a way of illustrating the distinctive purposes of the enforcement of private agreements.
This underlying structure is an important part of why Contracts, Tort, and Criminal Law reinforce one another in the first-year curriculum. These subjects, and thus courses, ask the same questions, only with respect to lawmakers and prosecutors of differing types. Because the same concepts are repeated, learning about one area helps to learn about others.
Property, as a vaguely defined collection of contract, tort, and criminal cases, does not take on the natural structure of a substantive area of the law through the systematic study of duty, breach, causation, defenses, and damages. Instead this textbook and most Property courses survey various topics in law with two goals in mind. First, we will study a number of traditional property topics, those where the issue of "ownership" and what that entails have long been thought to be a central issue. Second, but most importantly, our interdisciplinary study will introduce some of the major analytical techniques in law, from reasoning using precedent to law and economics to distributive justice. As we roam among topics, our goal is always, relentlessly to ask, "Why?" "Why should the law protect this party's interest?" These major techniques that we will pick up along the way will help us provide better and better answers to this question.
As to our first goal, we will survey some of the major topics in the common law of land ownership as well as some highlights from the law of intellectual property. From trespass and nuisance, to land transfers, to adverse possession, to future interests, easement, covenants, and takings, there is quite a bit of fairly basic law that is not ordinarily covered in torts or contracts. Common to many of the topics we will cover are notions of "ownership" and "entitlement." We will see that these concepts are not self-defining. Instead, what it means to own something will depend entirely on how we resolve cases in which owners' rights are contested. It will never be good enough to respond to an argument that, say, a landowner should be stopped from making some use of his or her land by asserting that the landowner should win because it's his or her property. Whether property ownership includes a right to make such a use is the very issue being contested.
Even if it were more precise and dispositive, ownership could hardly be a unifying criterion for identifying a body of Property Law. Ownership or entitlement is a critical element in just about every legal dispute. In many cases, though, it doesn't come up. For example, in personal injury cases in torts, we rarely ask whether the plaintiff owned the part of her body that was injured. But the right to the integrity of that body part is indeed the very entitlement the law protects. Just because a thing is so well settled as not to be raised does not mean that it is not essential to the law. Moreover, there are cases in which the kind of ownership of one's body that is asserted is not so obviously of a sort the law should recognize, and so the entitlement question becomes important. (Do you own your body in the sense that you can sell it? In what circumstances?) The point is only that the issue of entitlement or ownership is critical to just about every contract, tort, and criminal case, even if it is often not disputed. This textbook and course focus on areas of the law in which what it is that the law protects, what the entitlement is and who has it, is at issue.
The substantive topics we will study are all interesting in their own ways, but we are not studying them to become practice experts. The primary purpose of law school training, in my view, is not to learn the law itself but to learn how to learn it. That is, you need to become familiar with the techniques of legal reasoning, the structure of the legal system, and the major analytical tools of the law. With these in hand, it becomes possible to read judicial opinions and statutes quickly and to synthesize new arguments. In practice, you will work on cases raising issues you have not studied, and, even if have, you will do new research to understand the specific state of the law as it applies to your case. Doing law is a process, not a recalling of memorized facts.
With this in mind, our second and most important purpose is to build a toolbox of big ideas that appear over and over again, across the substantive categories. During this semester, we will focus on several, including:
* Reasoning from bare precedent, using decided cases like puzzle pieces that must be fit together;
* Instrumentalism, the idea that legal rules should be crafted to attain some public purpose;
* Law and economics, a huge and pervasive topic that we initially explore using nuisance law;
* The substantive and institutional differences between rules and standards, which the cases involving possession nicely raise;
* The distinction between natural law and positivist approaches;
* Labor, possession, and communication theories of ownership;
* The use of exclusion (property rights) or governance regimes to solve coordination problems of users of common resources, which we explore in the traditional context of oil and other common pool resources but also in how to design a system of property rights in ideas and expression -- so-called intellectual property;
* The legal process school's understanding that which institution, say courts or legislatures, decides a question can be more important than any arguments concerning the right answer.
There are more, and which ones your instructor focuses on and the order in which he or she does so may vary. This book is only a source from which this very important instruction in using the tools of the law can proceed.
This sort of study takes patience on your part. Lacking the reassuring order of duty, breach, causation, damages, and defenses, this course will ask you, yes, to learn what the law is in a number of areas, but more importantly to deepen your understanding of law's reasons beyond the intuitions you may now have. You will be learning new ways to argue, new ways to read arguments. In Property Law, scanning across the whole field of law, we have the opportunity to learn not only law's "what" but law's "why."
Armory v. Delamirie,
1 Strange 505; 93 E.R. 664 (Court of King’s Bench 1722)
The plaintiff being a chimney sweeper’s boy found a jewel and carried it to the defendant’s shop (who was a goldsmith) to know what it was, and delivered it into the hands of the apprentice, who under pretence of weighing it, took out the stones, and calling to the master to let him know it came to three halfpence, the master offered the boy the money, who refused to take it, and insisted to have the thing again; whereupon the apprentice delivered him back the socket without the stones. And now in trover against the master these points were ruled:
That the finder of a jewel, though he does not by such finding acquire an absolute property or ownership, yet he has such a property as will enable him to keep it against all but the rightful owner, and subsequently may maintain trover.
That the action well lay against the master, who gives a credit to his apprentice, and is answerable for his neglect.
As to the value of the jewel several of the trade were examined to prove what a jewel of the finest water that would fit the socket would be worth; and the Chief Justice directed the jury, that unless the defendant did produce the jewel, and shew it not to be of the finest water, they should presume the strongest case against him, and make the value of the best jewels the measure of their damages: which they accordingly did.
Bridges v. Hawkesworth, 21 L.J. (Q.B.) 75 (1851)(footnotes omitted and paragraph breaks added)
This was an appeal brought by the plaintiff from the Westminster County Court.
The plaintiff was a traveller for a large firm with which the defendant, who was a shopkeeper, had dealings. On one occasion (October 1847) the plaintiff who had called at the defendant’s on business, on leaving the defendant’s shop noticed and picked up a small parcel which was lying an the shop floor. He immediately shewed it to the shopman, and on opening it found it contained bank notes to the value of 55 pounds. The plaintiff told the defendant who came in that he had found a parcel of notes, and requested the defendant to keep them to deliver to the owner. The defendant advertised the finding of them in the newspapers, stating that they should be restored to the owner on his properly describing them and paying the expenses. Three years having elapsed and no owner appearing to claim them, the plaintiff applied to the defendant for them, offering to pay the expense of the advertisements, and to indemnify the defendant against any claim in respect of them. The defendant refused to deliver them up, and the plaintiff consequently brought a plaint in the County Court of Westminster to recover the notes. The Judge decided that the defendant was entitled to keep them as against the plaintiff, and gave judgment for the defendant. It was found in the case that the plaintiff when he handed the notes over to the defendant to deliver to the true owner, did not intend to give up any title to them that he might possess.
Judgment was now delivered by Patteson, J.
The notes which are the subject of this action were evidently dropped by mere accident in the shop of the defendant by the owner of them. The facts do not warrant the supposition that they had been deposited there intentionally, nor has the case been at all put upon that ground. The plaintiff found them on the floor, they being manifestly lost by some one. The general right of the finder to any article which has been lost as against all the world except the true owner, was established in the case of Armory v. Delamirie, which has never been disputed. This right would clearly have accrued to the plaintiff had the notes been picked up by him outside the shop of the defendant; and if he once had the right, the case finds that he did not intend by delivering the notes to the defendant to waive the title (if any) which he had to them, but they were handed to the defendant merely for the purpose of delivering them to the owner should he appear. Nothing that was done afterwards has altered this state of things; the advertisements indeed in the newspapers referring to the defendant had the same object: the plaintiff has tendered the expense of those advertisements to the defendant, and offered him an indemnity against any claim to be made by the real owner, and has demanded the notes.
The case, therefore, resolves itself into the single point, on which it appears that the learned Judge decided it: namely, whether the circumstance of the notes being found inside the defendant’s shop, gives him, the defendant, the right to have them as against the plaintiff who found them. There is no authority to be found in our law directly in point. Perhaps the nearest case is that of Merry v. Green, but it differs in many respects from the present. We were referred in the course of the argument to the learned work of Von Savigny, edited by Chief Justice Perry, but even this work, full as it is of subtle distinctions and nice reasonings, does not afford a solution of the present question.
It was well asked on the argument, if the defendant has the right, when did it accrue to him? If at all, it must have been antecedent to the finding by the plaintiff, for that finding could not give the defendant any right. If the notes had been accidentally kicked into the street, and then found by some one passing by, could it be contended that the defendant was entitled to them, from the mere fact of their having been originally dropped in his shop? If the discovery had not been communicated to the defendant, could the real owner have had any cause of action against him, because they were found in his house? Certainly not. The notes never were in the custody of the defendant, nor within the protection of his house before they were found, as they would have been had they been intentionally deposited there, and the defendant has come under no responsibility, except from the communication made to him by the plaintiff, the finder, and the steps taken by way of advertisement. These steps were really taken by the defendant as the agent of the plaintiff, and he has been offered an indemnity, the sufficiency of which is not disputed.
We find therefore, no circumstances in this case to take it out of the general rule of law, that the finder of a lost article is entitled to it as against all parties except the real owner and we think that rule must prevail, and that the learned Judge was mistaken in holding that the place in which they were found makes any legal difference. Our judgment therefore is, that the plaintiff is entitled to these notes as against the defendant, and that the judgment of the Court below must be reversed, and judgment given for the plaintiff for 50 pounds. The plaintiff to have the costs of the appeal.
McAvoy v. Medina, 11 Allen 548 (1866)
A stranger in a shop who first sees a pocket-book which has been accidentally left by another upon a table there is not authorized to take and hold possession of it, as against the shop-keeper.
TORT to recover a sum of money found by the plaintiff in the shop of the defendant.
At the trial in the superior court, before Morton, J., it appeared that the defendant was a barber, and the plaintiff, being a customer in the defendant’s shop, saw and took up a pocket-book which was lying upon a table there, and said, “See what I have found.” The defendant came to the table and asked where he found it. The plaintiff laid it back in the same place and said, “I found it right there.” The defendant then took it and counted the money, and the plaintiff told him to keep it, and if the owner should come to give it to him; and otherwise to advertise it; which the defendant promised to do. Subsequently the plaintiff made three demands for the money, and the defendant never claimed to hold the same till the last demand. It was agreed that the pocket-book was placed upon the table by a transient customer of the defendant and accidentally left there, and was first seen and taken up by the plaintiff, and that the owner had not been found.
The judge ruled that the plaintiff could not maintain his action, and a verdict was accordingly returned for the defendant; and the plaintiff alleged exceptions.
It seems to be the settled law that the finder of lost property has a valid claim to the same against all the world except the true owner, and generally that the place in which it is found creates no exception to this rule. 2 Parsons on Con. 97. Bridges v. Hawkesworth, 7 Eng. Law & Eq. R. 424.
But this property is not, under the circumstances, to be treated as lost property in that sense in which a finder has a valid claim to hold the same until called for by the true owner. This property was voluntarily placed upon a table in the defendant’s shop by a customer of his who accidentally left the same there and has never called for it. The plaintiff also came there as a customer, and first saw the same and took it up from the table. The plaintiff did not by this acquire the right to take the property from the shop, but it was rather the duty of the defendant, when the fact became thus known to him, to use reasonable care for the safe keeping of the same until the owner should call for it. In the case of Bridges v. Hawkesworth the property, although found in a shop, was found on the floor of the same, and had not been placed there voluntarily by the owner, and the court held that the finder was entitled to the possession of the same, except as to the owner. But the present case more resembles that of Lawrence v. The State, 1 Humph. (Tenn.) 228, and is indeed very similar in its facts. The court there take a distinction between the case of property thus placed by the owner and neglected to be removed, and property lost. It was there held that “to place a pocket-book upon a table and to forget to take it away is not to lose it, in the sense in which the authorities referred to speak of lost property.”
We accept this as the better rule, and especially as one better adapted to secure the rights of the true owner.
In view of the facts of this case, the plaintiff acquired no original right to the property, and the defendant’s subsequent acts in receiving and holding the property in the manner he did does not create any.
Hamaker v. Blanchard, 90 Pa. 377 (1879)
Before SHARSWOOD, C. J., MERCUR, GORDON, PAXSON, WOODWARD, TRUNKEY and STERRETT, JJ.
Error to the Court of Common Pleas of Mifflin county: Of May Term 1879, No. 57.
Assumpsit by James Blanchard and Sophia, his wife, for the use of the wife, against W. W. Hamaker.
This was an appeal from the judgment of a justice of the peace. The material facts were these: Sophia Blanchard was a domestic servant in a hotel in Lewistown, of which the defendant was the proprietor. While thus employed, she found in the public parlor of the hotel, three twenty-dollar bills. On finding the money, she went with it to Mr. Hamaker, and informed him of the fact, and upon his remarking that he thought it belonged to a whip agent, a transient guest of the hotel, she gave it to him, for the purpose of returning it to said agent. It was afterwards ascertained that the money did not belong to the agent, and no claim was made for it by anyone. Sophia afterwards demanded the money of defendant, who refused to deliver it to her. Defendant admitted that he still had the custody of the money.
In the general charge the court (Bucher, P. J.,) inter alia, said:
If you find that this was lost money, Hamaker did not lose it, and that it never belonged to him, but that it belonged to some one else who has not appeared to claim it, then you ought to find for the plaintiff, on the principle that the finder of a lost chattel is entitled to the possession and use of it as against all the world except the true owner. * * * The counsel for the defendant asks us to say that as the defendant was the proprietor of a hotel and the money was found therein, the presumption of law is that it belonged to a guest, who had lost it, and that the defendant has a right to retain it as against this woman, the finder, to await the demand of the true owner. I decline to give you such instructions; but charge you that under the circumstances there is no presumption of law that this money was lost by a guest at the hotel, and that the defendant is entitled to keep it as against this woman for the true owner.
The verdict was for the plaintiffs for $60, with interest, and after judgment thereon, defendant took this writ and assigned for error the foregoing portions of the charge.
H. J. Culbertson, for plaintiff in error. It is only in the absence of all protection or responsibility in reference to a lost chattel, that the place in which a lost article is found does not constitute any exception to the general rule of law, that the finder is entitled to it as against all persons except the true owner: Bridges v. Hawkesworth, 7 Eng. Law and Eq. Rep. 430; McAvoy v. Medina, 11 Allen (Mass.) 549. An innkeeper is liable for the goods of his guest, including money, and if they are brought within the inn a responsibility is created: Houser v. Tully, 12 P. F. Smith 92; Packard v. Northcraft’s Administrators, 2 Metc. (Ky.) 439; Berkshire Woollen Co. v. Proctor, 7 Cush. 417; Edwards on Bailments, 2d ed., sect. 459; Story on Bailments, sect. 471; Jones on Bailments 95; Addison on Torts, Wood’s ed., vol. 1, pp. 755 and 752. He is bound to keep honest servants, and is responsible for the honesty of his servants and his guests: Houser v. Tully, supra; Gile v. Libby & Whitney, 36 Barb. (N. Y.) 70; Story on Bailments, supra. To allow servants to retain money found in an inn would encourage them to be dishonest. The better rule is to require them to deliver property so found to their employer, to be held for the true owner: Mathews v. Harsell, 1 E. D. Smith’s Rep. (N. Y.) 394. An innkeeper is held to a rigid responsibility in the care of his guests’ property, and it is a safe presumption of law that money found in an inn belonged to a guest, and that the innkeeper has a right to the custody of it as against his servant, the finder, to await the true owner, and if the latter does not make claim thereto, then he should have the money who bears the responsibility.
J. A. McKee, for defendants in error. There is no evidence that the money belonged to a guest of the hotel.
An innkeeper is under no obligation to one who casually steps into his house to transact business, using his parlor as a matter of convenience, and the innkeeper under such circumstances would not be liable for the loss of any property or money left there without his knowledge or consent: Story on Bailments, sec. 477; 2 Kent’s Com. 595.
There is no presumption of law that the money was lost by a guest. If this money was found in such a situation as to clearly indicate that it was lost, and not voluntarily placed where it was found, by the owner, by mistake or forgetfulness, then the finder is entitled to it: McAvoy v. Medina, supra.
Mr. Justice Trunkey delivered the opinion of the court, June 9th 1879.
It seems to be settled law that the finder of lost property has a valid claim to the same against all the world, except the true owner, and generally that the place in which it is found creates no exception to this rule. But property is not lost, in the sense of the rule, if it was intentionally laid on a table, counter or other place, by the owner, who forgot to take it away, and in such case the proprietor of the premises is entitled to retain the custody. Whenever the surroundings evidence that the article was deposited in its place, the finder has no right of possession against the owner of the building: McAvoy v. Medina, 11 Allen (Mass.) 548. An article casually dropped is within the rule. Where one went into a shop, and as he was leaving picked up a parcel of bank notes, which was lying on the floor, and immediately showed them to the shopman, it was held that the facts did not warrant the supposition that the notes had been deposited there intentionally, they being manifestly lost by some one, and there was no circumstance in the case to take it out of the general rule of law, that the finder of a lost article is entitled to it as against all persons, except the real owner: Bridges v. Hawkesworth, 7 Eng. Law & Eq. R. 424.
The decision in Mathews v. Harsell, 1 E. D. Smith (N. Y.) 393, is not in conflict with the principle, nor is it an exception. Mrs. Mathews, a domestic in the house of Mrs. Barmore, found some Texas notes, which she handed to her mistress, to keep for her. Mrs. Barmore afterwards intrusted the notes to Harsell, for the purpose of ascertaining their value, informing him that she was acting for her servant, for whom she held the notes. Harsell sold them, and appropriated the proceeds; whereupon Mrs. Mathews sued him and recovered their value, with interest from date of sale. Such is that case. True, Woodruff, J., says:
I am by no means prepared to hold that a house-servant who finds lost jewels, money or chattels, in the house of his or her employer, acquires any title even to retain possession against the will of the employer. It will tend much more to promote honesty and justice to require servants in such cases to deliver the property so found to the employer, for the benefit of the true owner.
To that remark, foreign to the case as understood by himself, he added the antidote:
And yet the Court of Queen’s Bench in England have recently decided that the place in which a lost article is found, does not form the ground of any exception to the general rule of law, that the finder is entitled to it against all persons, except the owner.
His views of what will promote honesty and justice are entitled to respect, yet many may think Mrs. Barmore’s method of treating servants far superior.
The assignments of error are to so much of the charge as instructed the jury that, if they found the money in question was lost, the defendant had no right to retain it because found in his hotel, the circumstances raising no presumption that it was lost by a guest, and their verdict ought to be for the plaintiff. That the money was not voluntarily placed where it was found, but accidentally lost, is settled by the verdict. It is admitted that it was found in the parlor, a public place open to all. There is nothing to indicate whether it was lost by a guest, or a boarder, or one who had called with or without business. The pretence that it was the property of a guest, to whom the defendant would be liable, is not founded on an act or circumstance in evidence.
Many authorities were cited, in argument, touching the rights, duties and responsibilities of an innkeeper in relation to his guests; these are so well settled as to be uncontroverted. In respect to other persons than guests, an innkeeper is as another man. When money is found in his house, on the floor of a room common to all classes of persons, no presumption of ownership arises; the case is like the finding upon the floor of a shop. The research of counsel failed to discover authority that an innkeeper shall have an article which another finds in a public room of his house, where there is no circumstance pointing to its loss by a guest. In such case the general rule should prevail. If the finder be an honest woman, who immediately informs her employer, and gives him the article on his false pretence that he knows the owner and will restore it, she is entitled to have it back and hold it till the owner comes. A rule of law ought to apply to all alike. Persons employed in inns will be encouraged to fidelity by protecting them in equality of rights with others. The learned judge was right in his instructions to the jury.
Mercur, J., dissents.
Lawrence Solum, Legal Theory Lexicon: Fit and Justification
In 1975, Ronald Dworkin wrote Hard Cases (88 Harvard Law Review 1057 (1975) reprinted in Ronald Dworkin, Taking Rights Seriously ch 4 (Harvard University Press, 1977)). This is one of the most famous and influential articles in contemporary legal theory, and I would put it very high on my recommended legal-theory reading list. Lot’s of Dworkin’s ideas are very controversial, but one of his claims has become part of the way that most legal academics think about the law in general and the enterprise of judging in particular. I am referring to Dworkin’s distinction between “fit” and justification” and his claim that when judges decide hard cases, they choose the interpretation of the law that best fits and justifies the existing legal landscape–the constitution, statutes, regulations, and common law.
As always, the Legal Theory Lexicon is aimed at law students (especially first year law students) with an interest in legal theory. I know you are all very busy at this time of year, so I will do my best to be concise.
The Basic Idea
Suppose a judge is deciding a hard case. It could be a common law case or a constitutional case or a statutory case. How do judges approach this task when they are confronted with a case in which the law is up for grabs? That is, how do judges decide cases where there is an unsettled question of law? Dworkin’s basic idea is that the process of deciding a hard case has two dimensions–fit and justification. First, the judge might ask herself, “Of all the possible interpretations of the law that I could adopt as the basis for my decision, which one is consistent with the theory that best fits the existing legal landscape. Of all the rules I could adopt in this case, which ones are consistent with the relevant constitutional and statutory provisions and with the precedent.” When the judge had identified the alternatives that meet the criterion of fit, it is possible that there will be more than one possibility that fits. If so, then the judge can go on to ask the question, “Of the interpretations of the existing law that fit the constitution, statutes, and case law, which is the best interpretation? Which of the possible legal rules that I could adopt is most consistent with the normative theory that provides the best justification for the law as a whole.
What does it mean to say that a given rule fits the legal landscape? Suppose you are a judge deciding whether your jurisdiction will adopt the rule of contributory negligence or will choose instead to follow the comparative negligence approach. It is possible that only one of these two rules fits the existing law in your jurisdiction. For example, if the legislature has mandated the contributory negligence rule by statute, then as a judge (even a Supreme Court judge), you would be obliged to follow the statute and decide the case before you on the basis of contributory negligence. On the other hand, suppose you are in a newly created jurisdiction. No statute or binding precedent requires either comparative or contributory negligence. Both rules fit the existing legal landscape. In that case, Dworkin argues, you would need to decide a question of justification.
What does it mean to say that a judge might prefer one rule over another on the basis of the criterion of justification? Let’s continue with our example of the choice between contributory and comparative negligence. Since there is no statute or precedent that compels (or strongly guides) the choice, the judge must turn to some other basis in order to make her decision. She will need to get normative, i.e., to consider the normative justifications for tort law. Simplifying greatly, let’s suppose our judge decides that the tort of negligence is best understood as a system of compensation and “risk spreading.” She might then reason that the comparative negligence rule does a better job of serving this purpose than does a contributory negligence rule. Contributory negligence allows losses to go uncompensated when the plaintiff (victim) caused any of her own loss; comparative negligence does a better job of spreading the risk of accidents. [I know that this is a very crude argument, and I’m sure all of you can do better.]
In other words, the judge asks the question, “What normative theory best justifies the existing law and negligence?” And then proceeds to the question, “Given that justification of tort law, which of the alternative rules that I could apply to the case before me best serves the purposes of tort law?”
Two Kinds of Justification: Principle and Policy
In Hard Cases, Dworkin identified two different kinds of arguments that can be used to justify the law. He called these two different types arguments of “principle” and “policy.” As understood by Dworkin, arguments of principle are arguments that appeal to ideas about fairness and rights. If you would like to know more about arguments of principle, a good place to begin is with the Legal Theory Lexicon entry on Deontlogy.
Arguments of policy, on the other hand, appeal to consequences. For example, if you argued that a comparative negligence rule is better than a contributory negligence rule because it provides optimal incentives for taking precautions against accidents, you would have made an argument of policy in Dworkin’s sense.
If you are interested in the theoretical basis for arguments of policy, you could take a look at the Legal Theory Lexicon entry on Utilitarianism.
Dworkin himself argued that judges should consider arguments of principle and should not decide cases on the basis of arguments of policy. That feature of his theory is hugely controversial–as you could guess if, like most law students, you’ve heard endless discussion of policy in the classroom. But Dworkin could be right about “fit and justification,” even if he is wrong that the dimension of justification is limited to principle and excludes policy.
It is very difficult to generalize about law school exams; they vary enormously. But many standard issue spotting essay questions have built into them a “hard case,” an aspect of the fact pattern that is intended to trigger your discussion of the question, “What should the rule be?,” with respect to some controversial legal issue. If you try to answer the question, “What should the rule be?,” by telling your instructor, “Here is the majority rule,” or “Here are two alternative rules; I don’t know which one is the law, you will have missed the point of the question!
And that’s where Dworkin comes in. You can use “fit and justification” as the basis for organizing your answer to a “What should the law be?” question. Begin with fit. Which possible rules are consistent with the settled law? Then move to justification. Of the rules that fit, which is the best rule? Now list the arguments of principle and policy for and against each of the plausible candidates. Be sure to come to a conclusion. That is, end with something like, “Adopting a rule of comparative negligence is required by the theory that best fits and justifies the existing law of torts.”
Hannah v. Peel, 1945 K.B. 509 (King’s Bench Div.)
ACTION tried by Birkett J.
On December 13, 1938, the freehold of Gwernhaylod House, Overton-on-Dee, Shropshire, was conveyed to the defendant, Major Hugh Edward Ethelston Peel, who from that time to the end of 1940 never himself occupied the house and it remained unoccupied until October 5, 1939, when it was requisitioned, but after some months was released from requisition. Thereafter it remained unoccupied until July 18, 1940, when it was again requisitioned, the defendant being compensated by a payment at the rate of 250£ a year. In August, 1940, the plaintiff, Duncan Hannah, a lance-corporal, serving in a battery of the Royal Artillery, was stationed at the house and on the 21st of that month, when in a bedroom, used as a sick-bay, he was adjusting the black-out curtains when his hand touched something on the top of a window-frame, loose in a crevice, which he thought was a piece of dirt or plaster. The plaintiff grasped it and dropped it on the outside window ledge. On the following morning he saw that it was a brooch covered with cobwebs and dirt. Later, he took it with him when he went home on leave and his wife having told him it might be of value, at the end of October, 1940, he informed his commanding officer of his find and, on his advice, handed it over to the police, receiving a receipt for it. In August, 1942, the owner not having been found the police handed the brooch to the defendant, who sold it in October, 1942, for 66£, to Messrs. Spink & Son, Ltd., of London, who resold it in the following month for 88£. There was no evidence that the defendant had any knowledge of the existence of the brooch before it was found by the plaintiff. The defendant had offered the plaintiff a reward for the brooch, but the plaintiff refused to accept this and maintained throughout his right to the possession of the brooch as against all persons other than the owner, who was unknown. By a letter, dated October 5, 1942, the plaintiff’s solicitors demanded the return of the brooch from the defendant, but it was not returned and on October 21, 1943, the plaintiff issued his writ claiming the return of the brooch, or its value, and damages for its detention. By his defence, the defendant claimed the brooch on the ground that he was the owner of Gwernhaylod House and in possession thereof.
Scott Cairns for plaintiff. The plaintiff, as the finder of this brooch, is entitled to its possession as against all persons other than the owner, who is unknown: Armory v. Delamirie. The case of Bridges v. Hawkesworth is precisely in point, for in that case the finder of a parcel of bank-notes found it on the floor of a shop. The defendant here had no knowledge of the existence of the brooch, as the shopkeeper in Bridges v. Hawkesworth had no knowledge of the existence of the parcel of banknotes. As Professor A. L. Goodhart pointed out in his “Three Cases on Possession,” in “Essays in Jurisprudence and the Common Law” (1931), at pp. 76-90, Mr. Justice O. W. Holmes, Sir Frederick Pollock and Sir John Salmond all consider the decision in Bridges v. Hawkesworth to be correct; Mr. Justice Holmes on the ground that “the shopkeeper, not knowing of the thing, could not have the intent to appropriate it, and, having invited the public to his shop he could. not have the intent to exclude them from it”; Sir Frederick Pollock on the lack of de facto control by the shopkeeper; and Sir John Salmond on the absence of the animus possidendi. Lord Russell of Killowen C.J., in South Staffordshire Water Co. v. Sharman said that the ground of the decision in Bridges v. Hawkesworth as was pointed out by Patteson J. was that the notes, being dropped in the public part of the shop, were never in the custody of the shopkeeper, or “within the protection of his house.” But that was not so, since Patteson J. said in the earlier case that the county court judge, whose decision was appealed, was mistaken in holding that the place in which the parcel of notes was found made any difference. In South Staffordshire Water Co. v. Sharman the defendant while cleaning out, under the plaintiffs’ orders, a pool of water on their land, found two rings in the mud at the bottom of the pool. It was held that the plaintiffs were entitled to the possession of the rings. It is a sufficient explanation of that case that Sharman, as the servant or agent of the water company, though he was the first to obtain the custody of the rings, obtained possession of them for his employers, the water company, and could claim no title to them for himself. It may be that a man owns everything which is attached to or under his land: see Elwes v. Brigg Gas Co. But a man does not of necessity own or possess a chattel which is lying unattached on the surface of his land. The defendant did not know of the existence of this brooch and had never exercised any kind of control over it. The plaintiff, therefore, as its finder, is entitled to its possession.
Binney for defendant. The defendant was entitled to the possession of the brooch because, when it was found, it was on his land. Lord Russell of Killowen C.J. said in South Staffordshire Water Co. v. Sharman: “The general principle seems to me to be that where a person has possession of house or land, with a manifest intention to exercise control over it and the things which may be upon it or in it, then, if something is found on that land, whether by an employee of the owner or by a stranger, the presumption is that the possession of that thing is in the owner of the locus in quo.” If that statement of law is correct, the defendant here should succeed. The owner of this land does not lose his right to the chattels found on or in it by letting the land: Elwes v. Brigg Gas Co. The brooch here was found in a crevice of masonry and the facts are similar to those in South Staffordshire Water Co. v. Sharman. In neither case did the owner of the land know of the existence of the thing found. Bridges v. Hawkesworth can be distinguished on the ground that the parcel of notes was found in a part of the shop to which the public had access - in effect they were found in a public place. If Bridges v. Hawkesworth is not distinguishable, it has been overruled by South Staffordshire Water Co. v. Sharman and Elwes v. Briggs Gas Co.
Cur. adv. vult.
There is no issue of fact in this case between the parties. As to the issue in law, the rival claims of the parties can be stated in this way: The plaintiff says: “I claim the brooch as its finder and I have a good title against all the world, save only the true owner.” The defendant says: “My claim is superior to yours inasmuch as I am the freeholder. The brooch was found on my property, although I was never in occupation, and my title, therefore, ousts yours and in the absence of the true owner I am entitled to the brooch or its value.” Unhappily the law on this issue is in a very uncertain state and there is need of an authoritative decision of a higher court. Obviously if it could be said with certainty that this is the law, that the finder of a lost article, wherever found, has a good title against all the world save the true owner, then, of course, all my difficulties would be resolved; or again, if it could be said with equal certainty that this is the law, that the possessor of land is entitled as against the finder to all chattels found on the land, again my difficulties would be resolved. But, unfortunately, the authorities give some support to each of these conflicting propositions.
In the famous case of Armory v. Delamirie, the plaintiff, who was a chimney sweeper’s boy, found a jewel and carried it to the defendant’s shop, who was a goldsmith, in order to know what it was, and he delivered it into the hands of the apprentice in the goldsmith’s shop, who made a pretence of weighing it and took out the stones and called to the master to let him know that it came to three-halfpence. The master offered the boy the money who refused to take it and insisted on having the jewel again. Whereupon the apprentice handed him back the socket of the jewel without the stones, and an action was brought in trover against the master, and it was ruled “that the finder of a jewel, though he does not by such finding acquire an absolute property or ownership, yet he has such a property as will enable him to keep it against all but the rightful owner, and consequently may maintain trover.” The case of Bridges v. Hawkesworth is in process of becoming almost equally as famous because of the disputation which has raged around it. The headnote in the Jurist is as follows: “The place in which a lost article is found does not constitute any exception to the general rule of law, that the finder is entitled to it as against all persons except the owner.” The case was in fact an appeal against a decision of the county court judge at Westminster. The facts appear to have been that in the year 1847 the plaintiff, who was a commercial traveller, called on a firm named Byfield & Hawkesworth on business, as he was in the habit of doing, and as he was leaving the shop he picked up a small parcel which was lying on the floor. He immediately showed it to the shopman, and opened it in his presence, when it was found to consist of a quantity of Bank of England notes, to the amount of 65£. The defendant, who was a partner in the firm of Byfield & Hawkesworth, was then called, and the plaintiff told him he had found the notes, and asked the defendant to keep them until the owner appeared to claim them. Then various advertisements were put in the papers asking for the owner, but the true owner was never found. No person having appeared to claim them, and three years having elapsed since they were found, the plaintiff applied to the defendant to have the notes returned to him, and offered to pay the expenses of the advertisements, and to give an indemnity. The defendant refused to deliver them up to the plaintiff, and an action was brought in the county court of Westminster in consequence of that refusal. The county court judge decided that the defendant, the shopkeeper, was entitled to the custody of the notes as against the plaintiff, and gave judgment for the defendant. Thereupon the appeal was brought which came before the court composed of Patteson J. and Wightman J. Patteson J. said: “The notes which are the subject of this action were incidentally dropped, by mere accident, in the shop of the defendant, by the owner of them. The facts do not warrant the supposition that they had been deposited there intentionally, nor has the case been put at all upon that ground. The plaintiff found them on the floor, they being manifestly lost by someone. The general right of the finder to any article which has been lost, as against all the world, except the true owner, was established in the case of Armory v. Delamirie which has never been disputed. This right would clearly have accrued to the plaintiff had the notes been picked up by him outside the shop of the defendant and if he once had the right, the case finds that he did not intend, by delivering the notes to the defendant, to waive the title (if any) which he had to them, but they were handed to the defendant merely for the purpose of delivering them to the owner should he appear.” Then a little later: “The case, therefore, resolves itself into the single point on which it appears that the learned judge decided it, namely, whether the circumstance of the notes being found inside the defendant’s shop gives him, the defendant, the right to have them as against the plaintiff, who found them.” After discussing the cases, and the argument, the learned judge said: “If the discovery had never been communicated to the defendant, could the real owner have had any cause of action against him because they were found in his house? Certainly not. The notes never were in the custody of the defendant, nor within the protection of his house, before they were found, as they would have been had they been intentionally deposited there; and the defendant has come under no responsibility, except from the communication made to him by the plaintiff, the finder, and the steps taken by way of advertisement. … We find, therefore, no circumstances in this case to take it out of the general rule of law, that the finder of a lost article is entitled to it as against all persons except the real owner, and we think that that rule must prevail, and that the learned judge was mistaken in holding that the place in which they were found makes any legal difference. Our judgment, therefore, is that the plaintiff is entitled to these notes as against the defendant.”
It is to be observed that in Bridges v. Hawkesworth which has been the subject of immense disputation, neither counsel put forward any argument on the fact that the notes were found in a shop. Counsel for the appellant assumed throughout that the position was the same as if the parcel had been found in a private house, and the learned judge spoke of “the protection of his” (the shopkeeper’s) “house.” The case for the appellant was that the shopkeeper never knew of the notes. Again, what is curious is that there was no suggestion that the place where the notes were found was in any way material; indeed, the judge in giving the judgment of the court expressly repudiates this and said in terms “The learned judge was mistaken in holding that the place in which they were found makes any legal difference.” It is, therefore, a little remarkable that in South Staffordshire Water Co. v. Sharman, Lord Russell of Killowen C.J. said: “The case of Bridges v. Hawkesworth stands by itself, and on special grounds; and on those grounds it seems to me that the decision in that case was right. Someone had accidentally dropped a bundle of banknotes in a public shop. The shopkeeper did not know they had been dropped, and did not in any sense exercise control over them. The shop was open to the public, and they were invited to come there.” That might be a matter of some doubt. Customers were invited there, but whether the public at large was, might be open to some question. Lord Russell continued: “A customer picked up the notes and gave them to the shopkeeper in order that he might advertise them. The owner of the notes was not found, and the finder then sought to recover them from the shopkeeper. It was held that he was entitled to do so, the ground of the decision being, as was pointed out by Patteson J., that the notes, being dropped in the public part of the shop, were never in the custody of the shopkeeper, or ‘within the protection of his house’.” Patteson J. never made any reference to the public part of the shop and, indeed, went out of his way to say that the learned county court judge was wrong in holding that the place where they were found made any legal difference.
Bridges v. Hawkesworth has been the subject of considerable comment by text-book writers and, amongst others, by Mr. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sir Frederick Pollock and Sir John Salmond. All three agree that the case was rightly decided, but they differ as to the grounds on which it was decided and put forward grounds, none of which, so far as I can discover, were ever advanced by the judges who decided the case. Mr. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote: “Common law judges and civilians would agree that the finder got possession first and so could keep it as against the shopkeeper. For the shopkeeper, not knowing of the thing, could not have the intent to appropriate it, and, having invited the public to his shop, he could not have the intent to exclude them from it.” So he introduces the matter of two intents which are not referred to by the judges who heard the case. Sir Frederick Pollock, whilst he agreed with Mr. Justice Holmes that Bridges v. Hawkesworth was properly decided wrote: “In such a case as Bridges v. Hawkesworth, where a parcel of banknotes was dropped on the floor in the part of a shop frequented by customers, it is impossible to say that the shopkeeper has any possession in fact. He does not expect objects of that kind to be on the floor of his shop, and some customer is more likely than the shopkeeper or his servant to see and take them up if they do come there.” He emphasizes the lack of de facto control on the part of the shopkeeper. Sir John Salmond wrote: “In Bridges v. Hawkesworth a parcel of banknotes was dropped on the floor of the defendant’s shop, where they were found by the plaintiff, a customer. It was held that the plaintiff had a good title to them as against the defendant. For the plaintiff, and not the defendant, was the first to acquire possession of them. The defendant had not the necessary animus, for he did not know of their existence.” Professor Goodhart, in our own day, in his work “Essays in Jurisprudence and the Common Law” (1931) has put forward a further view that perhaps Bridges v. Hawkesworth was wrongly decided. It is clear from the decision in Bridges v. Hawkesworth that an occupier of land does not in all cases possess an unattached thing on his land even though the true owner has lost possession.
With regard to South Staffordshire Water Co. v. Sharman, the first two lines of the headnote are: “The possessor of land is generally entitled, as against the finder, to chattels found on the land.” I am not sure that this is accurate. The facts were that the defendant Sharman, while cleaning out, under the orders of the plaintiffs, the South Staffordshire Water Company, a pool of water on their land, found two rings embedded in the mud at the bottom of the pool. He declined to deliver them to the plaintiffs, but failed to discover the real owner. In an action brought by the company against Sharman in detinue it was held that the company were entitled to the rings. Lord Russell of Killowen C.J. said: “The plaintiffs are the freeholders of the locus in quo, and as such they have the right to forbid anybody coming on their land or in any way interfering with it. They had the right to say that their pool should be cleaned out in any way that they thought fit, and to direct what should be done with anything found in the pool in the course of such cleaning out. It is no doubt right, as the counsel for the defendant contended, to say that the plaintiffs must show that they had actual control over the locus in quo and the things in it; but under the circumstances, can it be said that the Minster Pool and whatever might be in that pool were not under the control of the plaintiffs? In my opinion they were. … The principle on which this case must be decided, and the distinction which must be drawn between this case and that of Bridges v. Hawkesworth, is to be found in a passage in Pollock and Wright’s ‘Essay on Possession in the Common Law,’ p. 41: ‘The possession of land carries with it in general, by our law, possession of everything which is attached to or under that land, and, in the absence of a better title elsewhere, the right to possess it also’.” If that is right, it would clearly cover the case of the rings embedded in the mud of the pool, the words used being “attached to or under that land.” Lord Russell continued: “‘And it makes no difference that the possessor is not aware of the thing’s existence. … It is free to anyone who requires a specific intention as part of a de facto possession to treat this as a positive rule of law. But it seems preferable to say that the legal possession rests on a real de facto possession constituted by the occupier’s general power and intent to exclude unauthorized interference.’ That is the ground on which I prefer to base my judgment. There is a broad distinction between this case and those cited from Blackstone. Those were cases in which a thing was cast into a public place or into the sea - into a place, in fact, of which it could not be said that anyone had a real de facto possession, or a general power and intent to exclude unauthorized interference.” Then Lord Russell cited the passage which I read earlier in this judgment and continued: “It is somewhat strange” - I venture to echo those words - “that there is no more direct authority on the question; but the general principle seems to me to be that where a person has possession of house or land, with a manifest intention to exercise control over it and the things which may be upon or in it, then, if something is found on that land, whether by an employee of the owner or by a stranger, the presumption is that the possession of that thing is in the owner of the locus in quo.” It is to be observed that Lord Russell there is extending the meaning of the passage he had cited from Pollock and Wright’s essay on “Possession in the Common Law,” where the learned authors say that the possession of land carries with it possession of everything which is attached to or under that land. Then Lord Russell adds possession of everything which may be on or in that land. South Staffordshire Water Co. v. Sharman which was relied on by counsel for the defendant, has also been the subject of some discussion. It has been said that it establishes that if a man finds a thing as the servant or agent of another, he finds it not for himself, but for that other, and indeed that seems to afford a sufficient explanation of the case. The rings found at the bottom of the pool were not in the possession of the company, but it seems that though Sharman was the first to obtain possession of them, he obtained them for his employers and could claim no title for himself.
The only other case to which I need refer is Elwes v. Brigg Gas Co., in which land had been demised to a gas company for ninety-nine years with a reservation to the lessor of all mines and minerals. A pre-historic boat embedded in the soil was discovered by the lessees when they were digging to make a gasholder. It was held that the boat, whether regarded as a mineral or as part of the soil in which it was embedded when discovered, or as a chattel, did not pass to the lessees by the demise, but was the property of the lessor though he was ignorant of its existence at the time of granting the lease. Chitty J. said: “The first question which does actually arise in this case is whether the boat belonged to the plaintiff at the time of the granting of the lease. I hold that it did, whether it ought to be regarded as a mineral, or as part of the soil within the maxim above cited, or as a chattel. If it was a mineral or part of the soil in the sense above indicated, then it clearly belonged to the owners of the inheritance as part of the inheritance itself. But if it ought to be regarded as a chattel, I hold the property in the chattel was vested in the plaintiff, for the following reasons.” Then he gave the reasons, and continued: “The plaintiff then being thus in possession of the chattel, it follows that the property in the chattel was vested in him. Obviously the right of the original owner could not be established; it had for centuries been lost or barred, even supposing that the property had not been abandoned when the boat was first left on the spot where it was found. The plaintiff, then, had a lawful possession, good against all the world, and therefore the property in the boat. In my opinion it makes no difference, in these circumstances, that the plaintiff was not aware of the existence of the boat.”
A review of these judgments shows that the authorities are in an unsatisfactory state, and I observe that Sir John Salmond in his book on Jurisprudence (9th ed., at p. 383), after referring to the cases of Elwes v. Brigg Gas Co. and South Staffordshire Water Co. v. Sharman, said: “Cases such as these, however, are capable of explanation on other grounds, and do not involve any necessary conflict either with the theory of possession or with the cases already cited, such as Bridges v. Hawkesworth . The general principle is that the first finder of a thing has a good title to it against all but the true owner, even though the thing is found on the property of another person,” and he cites Armory v. Delamirie and Bridges v. Hawkesworth in support of that proposition. Then he continues: “This principle, however, is subject to important exceptions, in which, owing to the special circumstances of the case, the better right is in him on whose property the thing is found,” and he names three cases as the principal ones: “When he on whose property the thing is found is already in possession not merely of the property, but of the thing itself; as in certain circumstances, even without specific knowledge, he undoubtedly may be.” The second limitation Sir John Salmond puts is: “If anyone finds a thing as the servant or agent of another he finds it not for himself, but for his employer.” Then: “A third case in which a finder obtains no title is that in which he gets possession only through a trespass or other act of wrongdoing.” It is fairly clear from the authorities that a man possesses everything which is attached to or under his land. Secondly, it would appear to be the law from the authorities I have cited, and
particularly from Bridges v. Hawkesworth, that a man does not necessarily possess a thing which is lying unattached on the surface of his land even though the thing is not possessed by someone else. A difficulty however, arises, because the rule which governs things an occupier possesses as against those which he does not, has never been very clearly formulated in our law. He may possess everything on the land from which he intends to exclude others, if Mr. Justice Holmes is right; or he may possess those things of which he has a de facto control, if Sir Frederick Pollock is right.
There is no doubt that in this case the brooch was lost in the ordinary meaning of that term, and I should imagine it had been lost for a very considerable time. Indeed, from this correspondence it appears that at one time the predecessors in title of the defendant were considering making some claim. But the moment the plaintiff discovered that the brooch might be of some value, he took the advice of his commanding officer and handed it to the police. His conduct was commendable and meritorious. The defendant was never physically in possession of these premises at any time. It is clear that the brooch was never his, in the ordinary acceptation of the term, in that he had the prior possession. He had no knowledge of it, until it was brought to his notice by the finder. A discussion of the merits does not seem to help, but it is clear on the facts that the brooch was “lost” in the ordinary meaning of that word; that it was “found” by the plaintiff in the ordinary meaning of that word, that its true owner has never been found, that the defendant was the owner of the premises and had his notice drawn to this matter by the plaintiff, who found the brooch. In those circumstances I propose to follow the decision in Bridges v. Hawkesworth,and to give judgment in this case for the plaintiff for 66£.
Terry v. Lock, 343 Ark. 452 (2001)
McHenry & McHenry Law Firm, by Donna McHenry, Robert McHenry, & Connie L. Grace, Little Rock, for appellants.
Grady & Adkisson, P.A., by William C. Adkisson, Conway, Conway, for appellees.
Ray Thornton, Justice.
On February 1, 1999, appellants, Joe Terry and David Stocks, were preparing the Best Western motel in Conway for renovation. The motel was owned by appellee, Lock Hospitality Inc., a corporation wholly owned by appellee, A.D. Lock and his wife. The appellants were removing the ceiling tiles in room 118, with Mr. Lock also present in the room. As the ceiling tiles were removed, a cardboard box was noticed near the heating and air supply vent where it had been concealed. Appellant Terry climbed a ladder to reach the box, opened it, and handed it to appellant Stocks. The box was filled with old, dry and dusty currency in varying denominations. Mr. Lock took the box and its contents to his office. Later in the day, appellants contacted the Conway Police Department and informed them of the discovery. The investigating officer contacted Mr. Lock, and the money was counted. The face value of the currency was determined to be $38,310.00.
Appellants filed a complaint in Faulkner County Chancery Court, asserting that the currency “being old and fragile is unique and has numismatic or antique value and may have a market value in excess of the totality of its denominations as collector’s funds.” Appellants sought a temporary restraining order and an injunction, directing appellees to refrain from spending or otherwise depositing the found money and to pay all of the money to either appellants or into the registry of the court. Appellants’ complaint also urged that under the “clean-up doctrine,” the chancery court had authority to decide a number of charges sounding in tort. Appellants also sought an order finding that appellees were holding the money in trust for appellants.
On the day the complaint was filed, the chancery court entered a temporary restraining order requiring appellees to deposit the found money with the registry of the court. On February 9, 1999, Mr. Lock and Lock Hospitality, Inc., filed their answer. Appellees raised the defenses of estoppel, laches, failure of consideration, and fraud in their answer. Eventually, all of the named appellees other than Mr. Lock and Lock Hospitality, Inc., were dismissed from the case.
On appeal, appellants now contend that the chancery court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction to hear and resolve the issues that they had asked the chancellor to resolve. We find no merit in this argument and conclude that the chancery court had jurisdiction under the clean-up doctrine to resolve the merits of the matters relating to ownership of the money.
The remaining issue for our review is whether the chancellor was clearly erroneous in characterizing the found money as “mislaid” property and consequently that the interest of Lock Hospitality, Inc., as the owner of the premises, is superior to the interest of appellants as finders of the money. We conclude that the chancellor was not clearly erroneous in finding that the money was mislaid property, and we affirm.
In their first point on appeal, appellants argue that the trial court was wholly without subject-matter jurisdiction to adjudicate the issues involved in this case. We have previously stated that parties may not consent to a court’s subject-matter jurisdiction where no such jurisdiction lies, nor may the jurisdiction be waived. Douthitt v. Douthitt, 326 Ark. 372, 930 S.W.2d 371 (1996). A court must determine if it has subject-matter jurisdiction of the case before it. Id. Subject-matter jurisdiction is always open, cannot be waived, can be questioned for the first time on appeal, and can even be raised by this court. Hamaker v. Strickland, 340 Ark. 593, 12 S.W.3d 210 (2000). In fact, this court has a duty to determine whether or not we have jurisdiction of the subject matter of an appeal. Id. Subject-matter jurisdiction is determined from the pleadings; the complaint, answer, or cross-complaint. Maroney v. City of Malvern, 320 Ark. 671, 899 S.W.2d 476(1995). Subject-matter jurisdiction is tested on the pleadings and not the proof. Id.
A court of chancery or equity may obtain jurisdiction over matters not normally within its purview pursuant to the clean-up doctrine, our long-recognized rule that once a chancery court acquires jurisdiction for one purpose, it may decide all other issues. Douthitt, supra. Generally, the clean-up doctrine allows the chancery court, having acquired jurisdiction for equitable purposes, to retain all claims in an action and grant all the relief, legal or equitable, to which the parties in the lawsuit are entitled. See Fulcher v. Dierks Lumber & Coal Co., 164 Ark. 261, 261 S.W. 645 (1924); see also Bright v. Gass, 38 Ark.App. 71, 831 S.W.2d 149 (1992).
In Liles v. Liles, 289 Ark. 159, 711 S.W.2d 447 (1986), we noted that “unless the chancery court has no tenable nexus whatever to the claim in question we will consider the matter of whether the claim should have been heard there to be one of propriety rather than one of subject-matter jurisdiction.” Id.
We have further noted that an error in bringing a suit in equity when there is an adequate remedy at law is waived by failure to move to transfer the cause to the circuit court; where the adequacy of the remedy at law is the only basis for questioning equity jurisdiction the chancellor’s decree is not subject to reversal for failure to transfer the case, unless the chancery court is wholly incompetent to grant the relief sought. Titan Oil & Gas, Inc. v. Shipley, 257 Ark. 278, 517 S.W.2d 210 (1974). Some examples of courts granting relief which they were “wholly without jurisdiction” to grant would be a chancery court trying a criminal case or a chancery court hearing a probate matter. See Dugal Logging, Inc. v. Arkansas Pulpwood Co., 66 Ark.App. 22, 988 S.W.2d 25 (1999).
We have also noted that when the issue is whether the chancery court has jurisdiction because the plaintiff lacks an adequate remedy at law, we will not allow it to be raised for the first time on appeal. Liles, supra. It is only when the court of equity is wholly incompetent to consider the matter before it that we will permit the issue of competency to be raised for the first time on appeal. Finally, we have held that it is a well-settled rule that one who has invoked the assistance of equity cannot later object to equity’s jurisdiction unless the subject matter of the suit is wholly beyond equitable cognizance. Leonards v. E.A. Martin Machinery Co., 321 Ark. 239, 900 S.W.2d 546 (1995).
Keeping in mind the foregoing applicable principles of law, we turn to the case now on review. In this case, appellants filed their complaint in Faulkner County Chancery Court. Looking at the pleadings filed in this case, we conclude that the chancery court properly had subject-matter jurisdiction to address the matter. The appellants’ complaint sought the following equitable remedies: (1) an injunction; (2) specific performance; and (3) the imposition of a constructive trust. Additionally, appellants asserted in their complaint that they were seeking equitable relief. Specifically, their complaint states: “the cash money, referred to herein above, being old and fragile is unique and has numismatic or antique value and may have fair market value in excess of the totality of its denominations as collector’s funds and therefore plaintiffs move for specific performance … .”
From the pleadings, it appears that appellants sought equitable remedies in the chancery court. As a result, when the chancery court addressed these remedies, that court then acquired jurisdiction over the remaining tort claims pursuant to the “clean-up doctrine.” Accordingly, we hold that the trial court was not wholly without subject-matter jurisdiction over this case.
The argument that the court should have transferred the case to circuit court is one of propriety rather than one of subject-matter jurisdiction. Appellants did not request that their case be transferred to circuit court at the trial court level. Because this issue was not raised below we may not consider it now for the first time on appeal. See, Titan Oil & Gas, supra; see also Liles, supra. Accordingly, the trial court is affirmed.
In their second point on appeal, appellants contend that the trial court’s finding that the property involved in this case was “mislaid” property was erroneous. Specifically, the trial court found “that the money in question was intentionally placed where it was found” and that when “money is mislaid, the finders would acquire no rights.” The trial court then concluded that “Lock Hospitality, Inc., as the owner of the premises is entitled to possession.” Appellants argue that the found property was not “mislaid property” but instead was “lost property,” “abandoned property,” or “treasure trove” and that the trial court’s finding that the money was “mislaid property” is clearly erroneous. We disagree.
The standards governing our review of a chancery court decision are well established. We review chancery cases de novo on the record, and we do not reverse unless we determine that the chancery court’s findings of fact were clearly erroneous. Newberry v. Scruggs, 336 Ark. 570, 986 S.W.2d 853 (1999).
We have not previously analyzed the various distinctions between different kinds of found property but those distinctions have been made in the common law, and have been analyzed in decisions from other jurisdictions. The Supreme Court of Iowa has explained that “under the common law, there are four categories of found property: (1) abandoned property, (2) lost property, (3) mislaid property, and (4) treasure trove.” Benjamin v. Lindner Aviation, Inc., 534 N.W.2d 400 (Iowa 1995); see also Jackson v. Steinberg, 186 Or. 129, 200 P.2d 376 (1948). “The rights of a finder of property depend on how the found property is classified.” Benjamin, supra. The character of the property should be determined by evaluating all the facts and circumstances present in the particular case. See Schley v. Couch, 155 Tex. 195, 284 S.W.2d 333 (1955) .
We next consider the classification of found property described in Benjamin, supra.
A. Abandoned property
Property is said to be “abandoned” when it is thrown away, or its possession is voluntarily forsaken by the owner, in which case it will become the property of the first occupant; or when it is involuntarily lost or left without the hope and expectation of again acquiring it, and then it becomes the property of the finder, subject to the superior claim of the owner. Eads v. Brazelton, 22 Ark. 499 (1861); see also Crosson v. Lion Oil & Refining Co., 169 Ark. 561, 275 S.W. 899 (1925).
B. Lost property
“Lost property” is property which the owner has involuntarily parted with through neglect, carelessness, or inadvertence, that is, property which the owner has unwittingly suffered to pass out of his possession, and of whos whereabouts he has no knowledge. Property is deemed lost when it is unintentionally separated from the dominion of its owner. Popularly, property is lost when the owner does not know, and cannot ascertain, where it is, the essential test of lost property is whether the owner parted with the possession of the property intentionally, casually or involuntarily; only in the latter contingency may it be lost property. Property is not “lost” unless the owner parts with it involuntarily and unintentionally, and does not, at any time thereafter, know where to find it. A loss is always involuntary; there can be no intent to part with the ownership of lost property. 1 AM.JUR.2d Abandoned, Lost, Etc., Property s 4 (1994); see also Benjamin, supra; Ritz v. Selma United Methodist Church, 467 N.W.2d 266 (Iowa 1991); Jackson, supra.
The finder of lost property does not acquire absolute ownership, but acquires such property interest or right as will enable him to keep it against all the world but the rightful owner. This rule is not affected by the place of finding, as the finder of lost property has a right to possession of the article superior to that of the owner or occupant of the premises where it is found. 1 AM.JUR.2d Abandoned, Lost, Etc., Property s 18 (1994); see also Ritz, supra.
C. Mislaid property
“Mislaid property” is that which is intentionally put into a certain place and later forgotten. The place where money or property claimed as lost is found is an important factor in the determination of the question of whether it was lost or only mislaid. But where articles are accidentally dropped in any public place, public thoroughfare, or street, they are lost in the legal sense. In short, property will not be considered to have been lost unless the circumstances are such that, considering the place where, and the conditions under which, it is found, there is an inference that it was left there unintentionally. 1 AM.JUR.2d Abandoned, Lost, Etc., Property s 6 (1994); see also Benjamin, supra; Ritz, supra; Jackson, supra.
A finder of mislaid property acquires no ownership rights in it, and, where such property is found upon another’s premises, he has no right to its possession, but is required to turn it over to the owner of the premises. This is true whether the finder is an employee or occupier of the premises on which the mislaid article is found or a customer of the owner or occupant.
The right of possession, as against all except the true owner, is in the owner or occupant of the premises where the property is discovered, for mislaid property is presumed to have been left in the custody of the owner or occupier of the premises upon which it is found. The result is that the proprietor of the premises is entitled to retain possession of the thing, pending a search by him to discover the owner, or during such time as the owner may be considered to be engaged in trying to recover his property. When the owner of premises takes possession of mislaid personal property left by an invitee he becomes a gratuitous bailee by operation of law, with a duty to use ordinary care to return it to the owner.
The finder of mislaid property must turn it over to the owner or occupier of the premises where it is found; it is the latter’s duty to keep mislaid property for the owner, and he must use the care required of a gratuitous bailee for its safekeeping until the true owner calls for it. As against everyone but the true owner, the owner of such premises has the duty to defend his custody and possession of the mislaid property, and he is absolutely liable for a misdelivery. 1 AM.JUR.2d Abandoned, Lost, Etc., Property s 24 (1994); see also Benjamin, supra; Ritz, supra; Schley, supra.
D. Treasure trove
According to the common law, treasure trove is any gold or silver in coin, plate, or bullion, whose owner is unknown, found concealed in the earth or in a house or other private place, but not lying on the ground. Where the common-law treasure trove doctrine has been applied to determine the ownership of a find, property considered as treasure trove has included gold or silver coin, and its paper representatives, buried in the earth or hidden in some other private place, including a mattress, a cabinet sink, and a piano. It is not essential to its character as treasure trove that the thing shall have been hidden in the ground; it is sufficient if it is found concealed in other articles, such as bureaus, safes, or machinery. While, strictly speaking, treasure trove is gold or silver, it has been held to include the paper representatives thereof, especially where found hidden with those precious metals. 1 AM.JUR.2d Abandoned, Lost, Etc., Property s 7 (1994); see also Benjamin, supra; Jackson, supra. “Treasure trove carries with it the thought of antiquity; to be classed as treasure trove, the treasure must have been hidden or concealed so long as to indicate that the owner is probably dead or unknown.” 1 AM.JUR.2d Abandoned, Lost, Etc., Property s 8 (1994). “Title to treasure trove belongs to the finder, against all the world except the true owner.” 1 AM.JUR.2d Abandoned, Lost, Etc., Property s 26 (1994); see also Ritz, supra.
Remaining mindful of the various types of found property and the rights to possession of that property, we turn now to the case before us on review. Appellants were stripping motel rooms at the Best Western Motel, which belongs to Lock Hospitality Inc., on February 1, 1999. Their work, as independent contractors, included removing sheet rock or dry wall, ceiling tiles, and other material to prepare the motel for renovations. While working in room 118, appellants removed some ceiling tiles. Appellants found a cardboard box concealed on top of the heating and air vent that became visible as a result of the removal of the ceiling tiles. Appellant Terry described the box as “covered with dust.” Appellant Stocks stated in his affidavit that “the box and its contents appeared to have been located at the site for a very long time.” Mr. Lock testified that in 1988 a beam was replaced in room 118 and the box was not discovered at that time. Upon opening the box, a large amount of old, dusty currency was discovered. Both appellants and Mr. Lock were in the room when the box was discovered. Neither appellants nor appellees claim to have concealed the property in the ceiling. It is apparent that the box was not lost. The circumstances suggest that it was either abandoned property, mislaid property, or treasure trove. Considering all of the facts as presented, we cannot say that the trial court’s finding that the property was mislaid property was clearly erroneous. Specifically, we hold that the trial court’s findings that “the money in controversy was intentionally placed where it was found for its security, in order to shield it from unwelcome eyes …” and that the “money was mislaid property” were not clearly erroneous.
We note that other jurisdictions have addressed similar fact situations and have determined that the property at stake was “mislaid” property. The Iowa Supreme Court addressed this issue in Benjamin, supra. In that case, a bank hired Benjamin to perform a routine service inspection on an airplane which it owned. During the inspection, Benjamin removed a panel from the wing. Id. The screws to the panel were old and rusted and Benjamin had to use a drill to remove them. Upon removal of the panel, Benjamin discovered packets of currency totaling $18,000. Both Benjamin and the bank, as the owner of the plane, claimed ownership of the money. Id. The court reviewed the various types of property and determined that the money was “mislaid” property. The court explained that “the place where Benjamin found the money and the manner in which it was hidden are also important.” They further noted that “the bills were carefully tied and wrapped and then concealed in a location that was accessible only by removing screws and a panel. These circumstances support an inference that the money was placed there intentionally. This inference supports the conclusion that the money was mislaid.” Benjamin, supra. After reaching this conclusion, the court held “because the money discovered by Benjamin was properly found to be mislaid property, it belongs to the owner of the premises where it was found.” Id. The circumstances in Benjamin are similar to those now before us, and we are persuaded that the reasoning of the Iowa court was sound.
The Oregon Supreme Court has also considered a case involving facts similar to the case now on review before this court. In Jackson, supra., Mrs. Jackson, while working as a chamber maid at Arthur Hotel, discovered $800 concealed under the paper lining of a dresser drawer. Id. The court observed that “from the manner in which the bills in the instant case were carefully concealed beneath the paper lining of the drawer, it must be presumed that the concealment was effected intentionally and deliberately. The bills, therefore, cannot be regarded as abandoned property.” Id. The court then held:
The natural assumption is that the person who concealed the bills in the case at bar was a guest of the hotel. Their considerable value, and the manner of their concealment, indicate that the person who concealed them did so for purposes of security, and with the intention of reclaiming them. They were, therefore, to be classified not as lost, but as misplaced or forgotten property, and the defendant, as occupier of the premises where they were found, had the right and duty to take them into his possession and to hold them as a gratuitous bailee for the true owner.
The case now before us presents circumstances similar to those upon which Benjamin and Jackson were decided. The trial court found that the original owner of the $38,310.00 acted intentionally in concealing his property. The trial court also recognized that the found property did not have the characteristics of antiquity required for the classification as treasure trove. We cannot say that the trial court’s determination that the box was mislaid property was clearly erroneous. We hold that the trial court did not err when it found that the property in the present case was mislaid property and as such belongs to the owner of the premises in which the money was found. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court.
Jacque v. Steenberg Homes, Inc., 209 Wis. 2d 605 (1997)
For the plaintiffs-appellants there were briefs by Patrick A. Dewane, Jr. and Dewane, Dewane, Kummer, Lambert & Fox, Manitowoc, and oral argument by Patrick A. Dewane, Jr.
For the defendant-respondent there were briefs by Mark J. Mingo, Daniel L. Zitzer and Mingo & Yankala, S.C., Milwaukee, and oral argument by Mark Mingo.
William A. Bablitch, Justice.
Steenberg Homes had a mobile home to deliver. Unfortunately for Harvey and Lois Jacque (the Jacques), the easiest route of delivery was across their land. Despite adamant protests by the Jacques, Steenberg plowed a path through the Jacques’ snow-covered field and via that path, delivered the mobile home. Consequently, the Jacques sued Steenberg Homes for intentional trespass. At trial, Steenberg Homes conceded the intentional trespass, but argued that no compensatory damages had been proved, and that punitive damages could not be awarded without compensatory damages. Although the jury awarded the Jacques $1 in nominal damages and $100,000 in punitive damages, the circuit court set aside the jury’s award of $100,000. The court of appeals affirmed, reluctantly concluding that it could not reinstate the punitive damages because it was bound by precedent establishing that an award of nominal damages will not sustain a punitive damage award. We conclude that when nominal damages are awarded for an intentional trespass to land, punitive damages may, in the discretion of the jury, be awarded. We further conclude that the $100,000 awarded by the jury is not excessive. Accordingly, we reverse and remand for reinstatement of the punitive damage award.
The relevant facts follow. Plaintiffs, Lois and Harvey Jacques, are an elderly couple, now retired from farming, who own roughly 170 acres near Wilke’s Lake in the town of Schleswig. The defendant, Steenberg Homes, Inc. (Steenberg), is in the business of selling mobile homes. In the fall of 1993, a neighbor of the Jacques purchased a mobile home from Steenberg. Delivery of the mobile home was included in the sales price.
Steenberg determined that the easiest route to deliver the mobile home was across the Jacques’ land. Steenberg preferred transporting the home across the Jacques’ land because the only alternative was a private road which was covered in up to seven feet of snow and contained a sharp curve which would require sets of “rollers” to be used when maneuvering the home around the curve. Steenberg asked the Jacques on several separate occasions whether it could move the home across the Jacques’ farm field. The Jacques refused. The Jacques were sensitive about allowing others on their land because they had lost property valued at over $10,000 to other neighbors in an adverse possession action in the mid-1980’s. Despite repeated refusals from the Jacques, Steenberg decided to sell the mobile home, which was to be used as a summer cottage, and delivered it on February 15, 1994.
On the morning of delivery, Mr. Jacque observed the mobile home parked on the corner of the town road adjacent to his property. He decided to find out where the movers planned to take the home. The movers, who were Steenberg employees, showed Mr. Jacque the path they planned to take with the mobile home to reach the neighbor’s lot. The path cut across the Jacques’ land. Mr. Jacque informed the movers that it was the Jacques’ land they were planning to cross and that Steenberg did not have permission to cross their land. He told them that Steenberg had been refused permission to cross the Jacques’ land.
One of Steenberg’s employees called the assistant manager, who then came out to the Jacques’ home. In the meantime, the Jacques called and asked some of their neighbors and the town chairman to come over immediately. Once everyone was present, the Jacques showed the assistant manager an aerial map and plat book of the township to prove their ownership of the land, and reiterated their demand that the home not be moved across their land.
At that point, the assistant manager asked Mr. Jacque how much money it would take to get permission. Mr. Jacque responded that it was not a question of money; the Jacques just did not want Steenberg to cross their land. Mr. Jacque testified that he told Steenberg to “[F]ollow the road, that is what the road is for.” Steenberg employees left the meeting without permission to cross the land.
At trial, one of Steenberg’s employees testified that, upon coming out of the Jacques’ home, the assistant manager stated: “I don’t give a — what [Mr. Jacque] said, just get the home in there any way you can.” The other Steenberg employee confirmed this testimony and further testified that the assistant manager told him to park the company truck in such a way that no one could get down the town road to see the route the employees were taking with the home. The assistant manager denied giving these instructions, and Steenberg argued that the road was blocked for safety reasons.
The employees, after beginning down the private road, ultimately used a “bobcat” to cut a path through the Jacques’ snow-covered field and hauled the home across the Jacques’ land to the neighbor’s lot. One employee testified that upon returning to the office and informing the assistant manager that they had gone across the field, the assistant manager reacted by giggling and laughing. The other employee confirmed this testimony. The assistant manager disputed this testimony.
When a neighbor informed the Jacques that Steenberg had, in fact, moved the mobile home across the Jacques’ land, Mr. Jacque called the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department. After interviewing the parties and observing the scene, an officer from the sheriff’s department issued a $30 citation to Steenberg’s assistant manager.
The Jacques commenced an intentional tort action in Manitowoc County Circuit Court, Judge Allan J. Deehr presiding, seeking compensatory and punitive damages from Steenberg. The case was tried before a jury on December 1, 1994. At the completion of the Jacques’ case, Steenberg moved for a directed verdict under Wis. Stat. § 805.14(3). For purposes of the motion, Steenberg admitted to an intentional trespass to land, but asked the circuit court to find that the Jacques were not entitled to compensatory damages or punitive damages based on insufficiency of the evidence. The circuit court denied Steenberg’s motion and the questions of punitive and compensatory damages were submitted to the jury. The jury awarded the Jacques $1 nominal damages and $100,000 punitive damages. Steenberg filed post-verdict motions claiming that the punitive damage award must be set aside because Wisconsin law did not allow a punitive damage award unless the jury also awarded compensatory damages. Alternatively, Steenberg asked the circuit court to remit the punitive damage award. The circuit court granted Steenberg’s motion to set aside the award. Consequently, it did not reach Steenberg’s motion for remittitur.
This case presents three issues: (1) whether an award of nominal damages for intentional trespass to land may support a punitive damage award and, if so; (2) whether the law should apply to Steenberg or should only be applied prospectively and, if we apply the law to Steenberg; (3) whether the $100,000 in punitive damages awarded by the jury is excessive.
The first issue is a question of law which we review de novo… . .
Before the question of punitive damages in a tort action can properly be submitted to the jury, the circuit court must determine, as a matter of law, that the evidence will support an award of punitive damages. To determine whether, as a matter of law, the question of punitive damages should have been submitted to the jury, this court reviews the record de novo.
Steenberg argues that, as a matter of law, punitive damages could not be awarded by the jury because punitive damages must be supported by an award of compensatory damages and here the jury awarded only nominal and punitive damages. The Jacques contend that the rationale supporting the compensatory damage award requirement is inapposite when the wrongful act is an intentional trespass to land. We agree with the Jacques.
Our analysis begins with a statement of the rule and the rationale supporting the rule. First, we consider the individual and societal interests implicated when an intentional trespass to land occurs. Then, we analyze the rationale supporting the rule in light of these interests.
The general rule was stated in Barnard v. Cohen, 165 Wis. 417 (1917), where the question presented was: “In an action for libel, can there be a recovery of punitory damages if only nominal compensatory damages are found?” With the bare assertion that authority and better reason supported its conclusion, the Barnard court said no. Id. at. 418. Barnard continues to state the general rule of punitive damages in Wisconsin. The rationale for the compensatory damage requirement is that if the individual cannot show actual harm, he or she has but a nominal interest, hence, society has little interest in having the unlawful, but otherwise harmless, conduct deterred, therefore, punitive damages are inappropriate.
However, whether nominal damages can support a punitive damage award in the case of an intentional trespass to land has never been squarely addressed by this court. Nonetheless, Wisconsin law is not without reference to this situation. In 1854 the court established punitive damages, allowing the assessment of “damages as a punishment to the defendant for the purpose of making an example.” McWilliams v. Bragg, 3 Wis. 424, 425 (1854). The McWilliams court related the facts and an illustrative tale from the English case of Merest v. Harvey, 128 Eng. Rep. 761 (C.P. 1814), to explain the rationale underlying punitive damages.
In Merest, a landowner was shooting birds in his field when he was approached by the local magistrate who wanted to hunt with him. Although the landowner refused, the magistrate proceeded to hunt. When the landowner continued to object, the magistrate threatened to have him jailed and dared him to file suit. Although little actual harm had been caused, the English court upheld damages of 500 pounds, explaining “in a case where a man disregards every principle which actuates the conduct of gentlemen, what is to restrain him except large damages?” McWilliams, 3 Wis. 424 at 428.
To explain the need for punitive damages, even where actual harm is slight, McWilliams related the hypothetical tale from Merest of an intentional trespasser:
Suppose a gentleman has a paved walk in his paddock, before his window, and that a man intrudes and walks up and down before the window of his house, and looks in while the owner is at dinner, is the trespasser permitted to say “here is a halfpenny for you which is the full extent of the mischief I have done.” Would that be a compensation? I cannot say that it would be … .
McWilliams, 3 Wis. at 428. Thus, in the case establishing punitive damages in this state, this court recognized that in certain situations of trespass, the actual harm is not in the damage done to the land, which may be minimal, but in the loss of the individual’s right to exclude others from his or her property and, the court implied that this right may be punished by a large damage award despite the lack of measurable harm.
Steenberg contends that the rule established in Barnard prohibits a punitive damage award, as a matter of law, unless the plaintiff also receives compensatory damages. Because the Jacques did not receive a compensatory damage award, Steenberg contends that the punitive damage award must be set aside. The Jacques argue that the rationale for not allowing nominal damages to support a punitive damage award is inapposite when the wrongful act involved is an intentional trespass to land. The Jacques argue that both the individual and society have significant interests in deterring intentional trespass to land, regardless of the lack of measurable harm that results. We agree with the Jacques. An examination of the individual interests invaded by an intentional trespass to land, and society’s interests in preventing intentional trespass to land, leads us to the conclusion that the Barnard rule should not apply when the tort supporting the award is intentional trespass to land.
We turn first to the individual landowner’s interest in protecting his or her land from trespass. The United States Supreme Court has recognized that the private landowner’s right to exclude others from his or her land is “one of the most essential sticks in the bundle of rights that are commonly characterized as property.” Dolan v. City of Tigard, 512 U.S. 374, 384 (1994). This court has long recognized “[e]very person[’s] constitutional right to the exclusive enjoyment of his own property for any purpose which does not invade the rights of another person.” Diana Shooting Club v. Lamoreux, 114 Wis. 44, 59 (1902) (holding that the victim of an intentional trespass should have been allowed to take judgment for nominal damages and costs). Thus, both this court and the Supreme Court recognize the individual’s legal right to exclude others from private property.
Yet a right is hollow if the legal system provides insufficient means to protect it. Felix Cohen offers the following analysis summarizing the relationship between the individual and the state regarding property rights:
[T]hat is property to which the following label can be attached:
To the world:
Keep off X unless you have my permission, which I may grant or withhold.
Signed: Private Citizen
Endorsed: The state
Felix S. Cohen, Dialogue on Private Property, IX Rutgers Law Review 357, 374 (1954). Harvey and Lois Jacque have the right to tell Steenberg Homes and any other trespasser, “No, you cannot cross our land.” But that right has no practical meaning unless protected by the State. And, as this court recognized as early as 1854, a “halfpenny” award does not constitute state protection.
The nature of the nominal damage award in an intentional trespass to land case further supports an exception to Barnard. Because a legal right is involved, the law recognizes that actual harm occurs in every trespass. The action for intentional trespass to land is directed at vindication of the legal right. W. Page Keeton, Prosser and Keeton on Torts, § 13 (5th ed.1984). The law infers some damage from every direct entry upon the land of another. Id.The law recognizes actual harm in every trespass to land whether or not compensatory damages are awarded. Id. Thus, in the case of intentional trespass to land, the nominal damage award represents the recognition that, although immeasurable in mere dollars, actual harm has occurred.
The potential for harm resulting from intentional trespass also supports an exception to Barnard. A series of intentional trespasses, as the Jacques had the misfortune to discover in an unrelated action, can threaten the individual’s very ownership of the land. The conduct of an intentional trespasser, if repeated, might ripen into prescription or adverse possession and, as a consequence, the individual landowner can lose his or her property rights to the trespasser. SeeWis. Stat. § 893.28.
In sum, the individual has a strong interest in excluding trespassers from his or her land. Although only nominal damages were awarded to the Jacques, Steenberg’s intentional trespass caused actual harm. We turn next to society’s interest in protecting private property from the intentional trespasser.
Society has an interest in punishing and deterring intentional trespassers beyond that of protecting the interests of the individual landowner. Society has an interest in preserving the integrity of the legal system. Private landowners should feel confident that wrongdoers who trespass upon their land will be appropriately punished. When landowners have confidence in the legal system, they are less likely to resort to “self-help” remedies. In McWilliams, the court recognized the importance of “‘prevent [ing] the practice of dueling, [by permitting] juries [ ] to punish insult by exemplary damages.’” McWilliams, 3 Wis. at 428. Although dueling is rarely a modern form of self-help, one can easily imagine a frustrated landowner taking the law into his or her own hands when faced with a brazen trespasser, like Steenberg, who refuses to heed no trespass warnings.
People expect wrongdoers to be appropriately punished. Punitive damages have the effect of bringing to punishment types of conduct that, though oppressive and hurtful to the individual, almost invariably go unpunished by the public prosecutor. Kink v. Combs, 28 Wis. 2d 65 (1965). The $30 forfeiture was certainly not an appropriate punishment for Steenberg’s egregious trespass in the eyes of the Jacques. It was more akin to Merest’s “halfpenny.” If punitive damages are not allowed in a situation like this, what punishment will prohibit the intentional trespass to land? Moreover, what is to stop Steenberg Homes from concluding, in the future, that delivering its mobile homes via an intentional trespass and paying the resulting Class B forfeiture, is not more profitable than obeying the law? Steenberg Homes plowed a path across the Jacques’ land and dragged the mobile home across that path, in the face of the Jacques’ adamant refusal. A $30 forfeiture and a $1 nominal damage award are unlikely to restrain Steenberg Homes from similar conduct in the future. An appropriate punitive damage award probably will.
In sum, as the court of appeals noted, the Barnard rule sends the wrong message to Steenberg Homes and any others who contemplate trespassing on the land of another. It implicitly tells them that they are free to go where they please, regardless of the landowner’s wishes. As long as they cause no compensable harm, the only deterrent intentional trespassers face is the nominal damage award of $1, the modern equivalent of Merest’s halfpenny, and the possibility of a Class B forfeiture under Wis. Stat. § 943.13. We conclude that both the private landowner and society have much more than a nominal interest in excluding others from private land. Intentional trespass to land causes actual harm to the individual, regardless of whether that harm can be measured in mere dollars. Consequently, the Barnard rationale will not support a refusal to allow punitive damages when the tort involved is an intentional trespass to land. Accordingly, assuming that the other requirements for punitive damages have been met, we hold that nominal damages may support a punitive damage award in an action for intentional trespass to land.
Our holding is supported by respected legal commentary. The Restatement (Second) of Torts supports the proposition that an award of nominal damages will support an award of punitive damages in a trespass to land action:
The fact that the actor knows that his entry is without the consent of the possessor and without any other privilege to do so, while not necessary to make him liable, may affect the amount of damages recoverable against him, by showing such a complete disregard of the possessor’s legally protected interest in the exclusive possession of his land as to justify the imposition of punitive in addition to nominal damages for even a harmless trespass, or in addition to compensatory damages for one which is harmful.
Restatement (Second) of Torts § 163 cmt. e (1979). The Restatement reiterates this position under the punitive damages section: nominal damages support an award of punitive damages “when a tort, such as trespass to land, is committed for an outrageous purpose, but no significant harm has resulted.” Restatement (Second) of Torts § 908 cmt. c (1979).
Prosser also finds the compensatory damages prerequisite unsupportable:
Since it is precisely in the cases of nominal damages that the policy of providing an incentive for plaintiffs to bring petty outrages into court comes into play, the view very much to be preferred appears to be that of the minority which have held that there is sufficient support for punitive damages.
Page Keeton, et. al., Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts § 2, at 14 (5th ed.1984) (citations omitted). A minority of other jurisdictions follow this approach. See, Annotation, Sufficiency of Showing of Actual Damages to Support Award of Punitive Damages-Modern Cases, 40 A.L.R.4th 11, 36 (1985).
In conclusion, we hold that when nominal damages are awarded for an intentional trespass to land, punitive damages may, in the discretion of the jury, be awarded. Our decision today shall apply to Steenberg Homes. Finally, we hold that the $100,000 punitive damages awarded by the jury is not excessive. Accordingly, we reverse and remand to the circuit court for reinstatement of the punitive damage award.
Reversed and remanded with directions.
Ploof v. Putname, 81 Vt. 471 (1908)
Martin S. Vilas and Cowles & Moulton, for plaintiff.
Batchelder & Bates, for defendant.
It is alleged as the ground on recovery that on the 13th day of November 1904, the defendant was the owner of a certain island in Lake Champlain, and of a certain dock attached thereto, which island and dock were then in charge of the defendant’s servant; that the plaintiff was then possessed of and sailing upon said lake a certain loaded sloop, on which were the plaintiff and his wife and two minor children; that there then arose a sudden and violent tempest, whereby the sloop and the property and persons therein were placed in great danger of destruction; that, to save these from destruction or injury, the plaintiff was compelled to, and did, moor the sloop to defendant’s dock; that the defendant, by his servant, unmoored the sloop, whereupon it was driven upon the shore by the tempest, without the plaintiff’s fault; and that the sloop and its contents were thereby destroyed, and the plaintiff and his wife and children cast into the lake and upon the shore, receiving injuries. This claim is set forth in two counts-one in trespass, charging that the defendant by his servant with force and arms willfully and designedly unmoored the sloop; the other in case, alleging that it was the duty of the defendant by his servant to permit the plaintiff to moor his sloop to the dock, and to permit it to remain so moored during the continuance of the tempest, but that the defendant by his servant, in disregard of this duty, negligently, carelessly, and wrongfully unmoored the sloop. Both counts are demurred to generally.
There are many cases in the books which hold that necessity, and an inability to control movements inaugurated in the proper exercise of a strict right, will justify entries upon land and interferences with personal property that would otherwise have been trespasses. A reference to a few of these will be sufficient to illustrate the doctrine. In Miller v. Fandrye, Poph. 161, trespass was brought for chasing sheep, and the defendant pleaded that the sheep were trespassing upon his land, and that he with a little dog chased them out, and that, as soon as the sheep were off his land, he called in the dog. It was argued that, although the defendant might lawfully drive the sheep from his own ground with a dog, he had no right to pursue them into the next ground; but the court considered that the defendant might drive the sheep from his land with a dog, and that the nature of a dog is such that he cannot be withdrawn in an instant, and that, as the defendant had done his best to recall the dog, trespass would not lie. In trespass of cattle taken in A., defendant pleaded that he was seised of C. and found the cattle there damage feasant, and chased them towards the pound, and they escaped from him and went into A., and he presently retook them; and this was held a good plea. 21 Edw. IV, 64; Vin. Ab. Trespass, H. a, 4, pl. 19. If one have a way over the land of another for his beasts to pass, and the beasts, being properly driven, feed the grass by morsels in passing, or run out of the way and are promptly pursued and brought back, trespass will not lie. See Vin. Ab. Trespass, K. a, pl. 1. A traveler on a highway who finds it obstructed from a sudden and temporary cause may pass upon the adjoining land without becoming a trespasser because of the necessity. Henn’s Case, W. Jones, 296; Campbell v. Race, 7 Cush. (Mass.) 408, 54 Am. Dec. 728; Hyde v. Jamaica, 27 Vt. 443 (459); Morey v. Fitzgerald, 56 Vt. 487, 48 Am. Rep. 811. An entry upon land to save goods which are in danger of being lost or destroyed by water or fire is not a trespass. 21 Hen. VII, 27; Vin. Ab. Trespass, H. a, 4, pl. 24, K. a, pl. 3. In Proctor v. Adams, 113 Mass. 376, 18 Am. Rep. 500, the defendant went upon the plaintiff’s beach for the purpose of saving and restoring to the lawful owner a boat which had been driven ashore, and was in danger of being carried off by the sea; and it was held no trespass. See, also, Dunwich v. Sterry, 1 B. & Ad. 831.
This doctrine of necessity applies with special force to the preservation of human life. One assaulted and in peril of his life may run through the close of another to escape from his assailant. 37 Hen. VII, pl. 26. One may sacrifice the personal property of another to save his life or the lives of his fellows. In Mouse’s Case, 12 Co. 63, the defendant was sued for taking and carrying away the plaintiff’s casket and its contents. It appeared that the ferryman of Gravesend took 47 passengers into his barge to pass to London, among whom were the plaintiff and defendant; and the barge being upon the water a great tempest happened, and a strong wind, so that the barge and all the passengers were in danger of being lost if certain ponderous things were not cast out, and the defendant thereupon cast out the plaintiff’s casket. It was resolved that in case of necessity, to save the lives of the passengers, it was lawful for the defendant, being a passenger, to cast the plaintiff’s casket out of the barge; that, if the ferryman surcharge the barge, the owner shall have his remedy upon the surcharge against the ferryman, but that if there be no surcharge, and the danger accrue only by the act of God, as by tempest, without fault of the ferryman, every one ought to bear his loss to safeguard the life of a man.
It is clear that an entry upon the land of another may be justified by necessity, and that the declaration before us discloses a necessity for mooring the sloop. But the defendant questions the sufficiency of the counts because they do not negative the existence of natural objects to which the plaintiff could have moored with equal safety. The allegations are, in substance, that the stress of a sudden and violent tempest compelled the plaintiff to moor to defendant’s dock to save his sloop and the people in it. The averment of necessity is complete, for it covers not only the necessity of mooring to the dock; and the details of the situation which created this necessity, whatever the legal requirements regarding them, are matters of proof, and need not be alleged. It is certain that the rule suggested cannot be held applicable irrespective of circumstance, and the question must be left for adjudication upon proceedings had with reference to the evidence or the charge.
The defendant insists that the counts are defective, in that they fail to show that the servant in casting off the rope was acting within the scope of his employment. It is said that the allegation that the island and dock were in charge of the servant does not imply authority to do an unlawful act, and that the allegations as a whole fairly indicate that the servant unmoored the sloop for a wrongful purpose of his own, and not by virtue of any general authority or special instruction received from the defendant. But we think the counts are sufficient in this respect. The allegation is that the defendant did this by his servant. The words “willfully, and designedly” in one count, and “negligently, carelessly, and wrongfully” in the other, are not applied to the servant, but to the defendant acting through the servant. The necessary implication is that the servant was acting within the scope of his employment. 13 Ency. P. & Pr. 922; Voegeli v. Pickel Marble, etc., Co., 49 Mo. App. 643; Wabash Ry. Co. v. Savage, 110 Ind. 156, 9 N. E. 85. See, also, Palmer v. St. Albans, 60 Vt. 427, 13 Atl. 569, 6 Am. St. Rep. 125.
Judgment affirmed and cause remanded.
Hinman V. Pacific Air Transport, 84 F.2d 755 (9th Cir. 1936)
Bruce Murchison and M. L. Clopton, both of Los Angeles, Cal., for appellants.
Newlin & Ashburn, Gurney E. Newlin, Paul Sandmeyer, and George W. Tackabury, all of Los Angeles, Cal., for appellees.
Before WILBUR, MATHEWS, and HANEY, Circuit Judges.
Haney, Circuit Judge.
From decrees sustaining motions to dismiss filed by defendants in two suits, appellants appeal and bring for review by this court the rights of a landowner in connection with the flight of aircraft above his land. Appellant filed one bill against Pacific Air Transport, an Oregon corporation, and another bill against United Air Lines Transport Corporation, a Delaware corporation, in each of which the allegations are nearly identical. Although two appeals are before the court, briefs filed discuss both cases, and therefore we will consider them together.
Appellants filed a first amended bill against Pacific Air Transport after a motion to dismiss the original bill had been sustained, and after a motion to dismiss the first amended bill had been sustained, they filed their second amended bill, which is the bill before this court. In the United Air Lines Transport Corporation case, the first amended bill is before this court, there having been an original bill, which was dismissed.
Appellants allege, in the bills under consideration, facts showing diversity of citizenship and that the amount in controversy exceeds $3,000 exclusive of interest and costs; that they are the owners and in possession of 72 1/2 acres of real property in the city of Burbank, Los Angeles county, Cal., ‘together with a stratum of air-space superjacent to and overlying said tract * * * and extending upwards * * * to such an altitude as plaintiffs * * * may reasonably expect now or hereafter to utilize, use or occupy said airspace. Without limiting said altitude or defining the upward extent of said stratum of airspace or of plaintiff’s ownership, utilization and possession thereof, plaintiffs allege that they * * * may reasonably expect now and hereafter to utilize, use and occupy said airspace and each and every portion thereof to an altitude of not less than 150 feet above the surface of the land * * * ‘. The reasonable value of the property is alleged to be in excess of $300,000.
It is then alleged that defendants are engaged in the business of operating a commercial air line, and that at all times ‘after the month of May, 1929, defendants daily, repeatedly and upon numerous occasions have disturbed, invaded and trespassed upon the ownership and possession of plaintiffs’ tract’; that at said times defendants have operated aircraft in, across, and through said airspace at altitudes less than 100 feet above the surface; that plaintiffs notified defendants to desist from trespassing on said airspace; and that defendants have disregarded said notice, unlawfully and against the will of plaintiffs, and continue and threaten to continue such trespasses.
It is further alleged: ‘That in operating aircraft as aforesaid, defendants followed and on substantially all occasions herein referred to have followed one of two courses, ways and paths in, across and through said airspace, which by reason of constant and repeated user by defendants have become and are well defined by constant user * * * .’ Thereafter the first of such courses, designated ‘A,’ is described with particularity with regard to the surface boundaries of plaintiffs’ land; course ‘A’ is averred to be 75 yards wide over the north side of plaintiffs’ land the place of entry, the lowest boundary of the course above the surface to be 25 feet, and the highest boundary to be 175 feet above the surface. At the south side of plaintiffs’ land, the course is said to be 100 yards wide, the lowest boundary to be 5 feet above the surface, and the highest boundary to be 45 feet above the surface.
The second course is also described particularly, and although there is some difference in the width of the course, the height above the surface is the same as course A.
It is alleged that the direction of the breeze determines which course defendants use on a particular occasion, and that defendants have used such courses since the time of the notice given them by plaintiffs, openly, notoriously, and under claim of right adverse to plaintiffs.
In the last paragraph it is alleged that the remedy at law is inadequate; that unless defendants are enjoined they will repeat the said trespasses and will impose a servitude upon plaintiffs’ utilization, use, occupancy, and enjoyment of the surface of their land to their irreparable injury; and that injunctive relief is necessary to prevent a multiplicity of legal proceedings.
In each bill under consideration, there is a second cause of action. The allegations of the first cause, except the last paragraph, are adopted in the second cause, and it is further alleged that the reasonable value of the utilization, use, and occupancy of said courses is $1,500 per month; that ‘by reason of defendants’ invasion and disturbance of and trespass upon plaintiffs’ ownership and possession of said airspace, plaintiffs have suffered damage’ in the sum of $90,000.
The prayer asks an injunction restraining the operation of the aircraft through the airspace over plaintiffs’ property and for $90,000 damages in each of the cases.
Appellees contend that it is settled law in California that the owner of land has no property rights in superjacent airspace, either by code enactments or by judicial decrees and that the ad coelum doctrine does not apply in California. We have examined the statutes of California, particularly California Civil Code, s 659 and s 829, as well as Grandona v. Lovdal, 78 Cal. 611, 21 P. 366, 12 Am.St.Rep. 121. Wood v. Moulton, 146 Cal. 317, 80 P. 92; and Kafka v. Bozio, 191 Cal. 746, 218 P. 753, 29 A.L.R. 833, but we find nothing therein to negative the ad coelum formula. Furthermore, if we should adopt this formula as being the law, there might be serious doubt as to whether a state statute could change it without running counter to the Fourteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United States. If we could accept and literally construe the ad coelum doctrine, it would simplify the solution of this case; however, we reject that doctrine. We think it is not the law, and that it never was the law.
This formula ‘from the center of the earth to the sky’ was invented at some remote time in the past when the use of space above land actual or conceivable was confined to narrow limits, and simply meant that the owner of the land could use the overlying space to such an extent as he was able, and that no one could ever interfere with that use.
This formula was never taken literally, but was a figurative phrase to express the full and complete ownership of land and the right to whatever superjacent airspace was necessary or convenient to the enjoyment of the land.
In applying a rule of law, or construing a statute or constitutional provision, we cannot shut our eyes to common knowledge, the progress of civilization, or the experience of mankind. A literal construction of this formula will bring about an absurdity. The sky has no definite location. It is that which presents itself to the eye when looking upward; as we approach it, it recedes. There can be no ownership of infinity, nor can equity prevent a supposed violation of an abstract conception.
The appellants’ case, then, rests upon the assumption that as owners of the soil they have an absolute and present title to all the space above the earth’s surface, owned by them, to such a height as is, or may become, useful to the enjoyment of their land. This height, the appellants assert in the bill, is of indefinite distance, but not less than 150 feet.
If the appellants are correct in this premise, it would seem that they would have such a title to the airspace claimed, as an incident to their ownership of the land, that they could protect such a title as if it were an ordinary interest in real property. Let us then examine the appellants’ premise. They do not seek to maintain that the ownership of the land actually extends by absolute and exclusive title upward to the sky and downward to the center of the earth. They recognize that the space claimed must have some use, either present or contemplated, and connected with the enjoyment of the land itself.
Title to the airspace unconnected with the use of land is inconceivable. Such a right has never been asserted. It is a thing not known to the law.
Since, therefore, appellants must confine their claim to 150 feet of the airspace above the land, to the use of the space as related to the enjoyment of their land, to what extent, then, is this use necessary to perfect their title to the airspace? Must the use be actual, as when the owner claims the space above the earth occupied by a building constructed thereon; or does it suffice if appellants establish merely that they may reasonably expect to use the airspace now or at some indefinite future time?
This, then, is appellants’ premise, and upon this proposition they rest their case. Such an inquiry was never pursued in the history of jurisprudence until the occasion is furnished by the common use of vehicles of the air.
We believe, and hold, that appellants’ premise is unsound. The question presented is applied to a new status and little aid can be found in actual precedent. The solution is found in the application of elementary legal principles. The first and foremost of these principles is that the very essence and origin of the legal right of property is dominion over it. Property must have been reclaimed from the general mass of the earth, and it must be capable by its nature of exclusive possession. Without possession, no right in it can be maintained.
The air, like the sea, is by its nature incapable of private ownership, except in so far as one may actually use it. This principle was announced long ago by Justinian. It is in fact the basis upon which practically all of our so-called water codes are based.
We own so much of the space above the ground as we can occupy or make use of, in connection with the enjoyment of our land. This right is not fixed. It varies with our varying needs and is coextensive with them. The owner of land owns as much of the space above him as he uses, but only so long as he uses it. All that lies beyond belongs to the world.
When it is said that man owns, or may own, to the heavens, that merely means that no one can acquire a right to the space above him that will limit him in whatever use he can make of it as a part of his enjoyment of the land. To this extent his title to the air is paramount. No other person can acquire any title or exclusive right to any space above him.
Any use of such air or space by others which is injurious to his land, or which constitutes an actual interference with his possession or his beneficial use thereof, would be a trespass for which he would have remedy. But any claim of the landowner beyond this cannot find a precedent in law, nor support in reason.
It would be, and is, utterly impracticable and would lead to endless confusion, if the law should uphold attempts of landowners to stake out, or assert claims to definite, unused spaces in the air in order to protect some contemplated future use of it. Such a rule, if adopted, would constitute a departure never before attempted by mankind, and utterly at variance with the reason of the law. If such a rule were conceivable, how will courts protect the various landowners in their varying claims of portions of the sky? How enforce a right of ejectment or restitution? Such a rule is not necessary for the protection of the landowner in any right guaranteed him by the Constitution in the enjoyment of his property. If a right like this were recognized and upheld by the courts, it would cause confusion worse confounded. It is opposed to common sense and to all human experience.
We cannot shut our eyes to the practical result of legal recognition of the asserted claims of appellants herein, for it leads to a legal implication to the effect that any use of airspace above the surface owner of land, without his consent would be a trespass either by the operator of an airplane or a radio operator. We will not foist any such chimerical concept of property rights upon the jurisprudence of this country.
We now consider the allegation of the bill that appellees’ airplanes, in landing, glide through the air, within a distance of less than 100 feet to the surface of appellants’ land, or possibly to a distance within five feet thereof, at one end of his tract. This presents another question for discussion. Whether such close proximity to appellants’ land may constitute an impairment of his full enjoyment of the same is a question of fact. If it does, he may be entitled to relief in a proper case.
Appellants are not entitled to injunctive relief upon the bill filed here, because no facts are alleged with respect to circumstances of appellants’ use of the premises which will enable this court to infer that any actual or substantial damage will accrue from the acts of the appellees complained of.
The case differs from the usual case of enjoining a trespass. Ordinarily, if a trespass is committed upon land, the plaintiff is entitled to at least nominal damages without proving or alleging any actual damage. In the instant case, traversing the airspace above appellants’ land is not, of itself, a trespass at all, but it is a lawful act unless it is done under circumstances which will cause injury to appellants’ possession.
Appellants do not, therefore, in their bill state a case of trespass, unless they allege a case of actual and substantial damage. The bill fails to do this. It merely draws a naked conclusion as to damages without facts or circumstances to support it. It follows that the complaint does not state a case for injunctive relief.
We should note appellants’ contention that appellees’ continuous use of the airspace in question may or will ripen into an easement.
In considering this particular question, it is necessary to consider just what right appellees are attempting to acquire. If the superincumbent airspace were merely space (speaking of space as a nonentity), it would be valueless to the appellees. In other words, if no air were present therein, appellees’ planes could not navigate. The primary thing appellees are using would appear to be the air overlying appellants’ land. It is generally held that an easement of or in the air may not be obtained by prescription.
It is said in 19 C.J. 903, Sec. 85: ‘The English doctrine that an easement for light and air may be acquired by user or prescription has been very generally rejected in the United States.’ See, also, 1 Thompson on Real Property, p. 652, Sec. 542; also, Case v. Minot, 158 Mass. 577, 33 N.E. 700,22 L.R.A. 536, where many cases are cited in support of this rule. We therefore hold that it is not legally possible for appellees to obtain an easement by prescription through the airspace above appellants’ land. Portsmouth Harbor Land & Hotel Co. v. United States, 260 U.S. 327, 43 S.Ct. 135, 67 L.Ed. 287, is not at variance with this holding, for in that case it is apparent that the use or occupancy of the airspace, if it can be so considered, was under such circumstances as amounted to a taking of the surface also. Such is not the case here.
It is necessary to note also appellants’ further point, namely, that the second cause of action in the bill is for damages on account of trespass. No actual injury is alleged, other than the mere utilization of the airspace above appellants’ land.
In Murray v. Pannaci (C.C.A. 3) 130 F. 529, at page 530, it was said: ‘The judge applied to the case the familiar rule, settled by many decisions, that although a legal injury to a plaintiff is proven, yet if the extent of the injury is not shown, nor evidence given from which it can be inferred, nominal damages only can be recovered.’ This rule is supported by many decisions set out in 63 C.J. 1035, Sec. 225. We hold under the allegations of the bill that in no event could appellant be entitled to more than nominal damages, and that being the case, an injunction was properly denied.
Appellants also complain in their third assignment of error as follows:
That the above entitled court erred in making and causing to be entered that portion of said order as follows, to-wit: That ‘in no case shall any amended cause of action be sufficient compliance with this order if same merely restates a case in trespass.’
In Truckee River General Electric Co. v. Benner, 211 F. 79, 81, this court said: ‘It has uniformly been held in those (federal) courts that the allowance or refusal of leave to amend pleadings in actions at law is discretionary with the trial court, and that its action is not reviewable except in case of gross abuse of discretion.’
Equity Rule 28 (28 U.S.C.A.FOLLOWING section 723) provides that: ‘After pleading filed by any defendant, plaintiff may amend only by consent of the defendant or leave of the court or judge.’
In the instant case, leave was granted to appellants twice to amend their bill in one case, and once in the other. They failed in each of the bills to allege an injury by trespass which would be legally sufficient. Under such circumstances we are not prepared to say that the trial court abused its discretion.
The decree of the District Court is affirmed.
Mathews, Circuit Judge, dissents.
Desnick v. American Broadcasting Companies, Inc., 44 F.3d 1345 (7th Cir. 1995).
Dan K. Webb, Julie A. Bauer, Steven F. Molo (argued), Winston & Strawn, Chicago, IL, Rodney F. Page, Arent, Fox, Kintner, Plotkin & Kahn, Washington, DC, for plaintiffs-appellants.
Michael M. Conway (argued), Mary Kay McCalla, James M. Falvey, Hopkins & Sutter, Chicago, IL, for defendants-appellees.
Before POSNER, Chief Judge, and COFFEY and MANION, Circuit Judges.
Posner, Chief Judge.
The plaintiffs–an ophthalmic clinic known as the “Desnick Eye Center” after its owner, Dr. Desnick, and two ophthalmic surgeons employed by the clinic, Glazer and Simon–appeal from the dismissal of their suit against the ABC television network, a producer of the ABC program PrimeTime Live named Entine, and the program’s star reporter, Donaldson. The suit is for trespass, defamation, and other torts arising out of the production and broadcast of a program segment of PrimeTime Live that was highly critical of the Desnick Eye Center. Federal jurisdiction is based primarily on diversity of citizenship (though there is one federal claim), with Illinois law, and to a lesser extent Wisconsin and Indiana law, supplying the substantive rules on which decision is to be based. The suit was dismissed for failure to state a claim. See Desnick v. Capital Cities/ABC, Inc., 851 F.Supp. 303 (N.D.Ill.1994). The record before us is limited to the complaint and to a transcript, admitted to be accurate, of the complained-about segment.
In March of 1993 Entine telephoned Dr. Desnick and told him that PrimeTime Live wanted to do a broadcast segment on large cataract practices. The Desnick Eye Center has 25 offices in four midwestern states and performs more than 10,000 cataract operations a year, mostly on elderly persons whose cataract surgery is paid for by Medicare. The complaint alleges–and in the posture of the case we must take the allegations to be true, though of course they may not be–that Entine told Desnick that the segment would not be about just one cataract practice, that it would not involve “ambush” interviews or “undercover” surveillance, and that it would be “fair and balanced.” Thus reassured, Desnick permitted an ABC crew to videotape the Desnick Eye Center’s main premises in Chicago, to film a cataract operation “live,” and to interview doctors, technicians, and patients. Desnick also gave Entine a videotape explaining the Desnick Eye Center’s services.
Unbeknownst to Desnick, Entine had dispatched persons equipped with concealed cameras to offices of the Desnick Eye Center in Wisconsin and Indiana. Posing as patients, these persons–seven in all–requested eye examinations. Plaintiffs Glazer and Simon are among the employees of the Desnick Eye Center who were secretly videotaped examining these “test patients.”
The program aired on June 10. Donaldson introduces the segment by saying, “We begin tonight with the story of a so-called ‘big cutter,’ Dr. James Desnick…. [I]n our undercover investigation of the big cutter you’ll meet tonight, we turned up evidence that he may also be a big charger, doing unnecessary cataract surgery for the money.” Brief interviews with four patients of the Desnick Eye Center follow. One of the patients is satisfied (“I was blessed”); the other three are not–one of them says, “If you got three eyes, he’ll get three eyes.” Donaldson then reports on the experiences of the seven test patients. The two who were under 65 and thus not eligible for Medicare reimbursement were told they didn’t need cataract surgery. Four of the other five were told they did. Glazer and Simon are shown recommending cataract surgery to them. Donaldson tells the viewer that PrimeTime Live has hired a professor of ophthalmology to examine the test patients who had been told they needed cataract surgery, and the professor tells the viewer that they didn’t need it–with regard to one he says, “I think it would be near malpractice to do surgery on him.” Later in the segment he denies that this could just be an honest difference of opinion between professionals.
An ophthalmic surgeon is interviewed who had turned down a job at the Desnick Eye Center because he would not have been “able to screen who I was going to operate on.” He claims to have been told by one of the doctors at the Center (not Glazer or Simon) that “as soon as I reject them [i.e., turn down a patient for cataract surgery], they’re going in the next room to get surgery.” A former marketing executive for the Center says Desnick took advantage of “people who had Alzheimer’s, people who did not know what planet they were on, people whose quality of life wouldn’t change one iota by having cataract surgery done.” Two patients are interviewed who report miserable experiences with the Center–one claiming that the doctors there had failed to spot an easily visible melanoma, another that as a result of unnecessary cataract surgery her “eye ruptured,” producing “running pus.” A former employee tells the viewer that Dr. Desnick alters patients’ medical records to show they need cataract surgery–for example, changing the record of one patient’s vision test from 20/30 to 20/80–and that he instructs all members of his staff to use pens of the same color in order to facilitate the alteration of patients’ records.
One symptom of cataracts is that lights of normal brightness produce glare. Glazer is shown telling a patient, “You know, you’re getting glare. I would say we could do significantly better [with an operation].” And Simon is shown asking two patients, “Do you ever notice any glare or blurriness when you’re driving, or difficulty with the signs?” Both say no, and immediately Donaldson tells the viewer that “the Desnick Center uses a very interesting machine, called an auto-refractor, to determine whether there are glare problems.” Donaldson demonstrates the machine, then says that “Paddy Kalish is an optometrist who says that when he worked at the Desnick clinic from 1987 to 1990, the machine was regularly rigged. He says he watched a technician tamper with the machine, this way”–and then Kalish gives a demonstration, adding, “This happened routinely for all the older patients that came in for the eye exams.” Donaldson reveals that Dr. Desnick has obtained a judgment against Kalish for defamation, but adds that “Kalish is not the only one to tell us the machine may have been rigged. PrimeTime talked to four other former Desnick employees who say almost everyone failed the glare test.”
There is more, including mention of a proceeding begun by the Illinois Medical Board in which Dr. Desnick is charged with a number of counts of malpractice and deception–and an “ambush” interview. Donaldson accosts Desnick at O’Hare Airport and cries, “Is it true, Doctor, that you changed medical records to show less vision than your patients actually have? We’ve been told, Doctor, that you’ve changed the glare machine so we have a different reading. Is that correct? Doctor, why won’t you respond to the questions?”
The plaintiffs’ claims fall into two distinct classes. The first arises from the broadcast itself, the second from the means by which ABC and Entine obtained the information that they used in the broadcast. The first is a class of one. The broadcast is alleged to have defamed the three plaintiffs by charging that the glare machine is tampered with. No other aspect of the broadcast is claimed to be tortious. The defendants used excerpts from the Desnick videotape in the broadcast, and the plaintiffs say that this was done without Dr. Desnick’s permission. But they do not claim that in showing the videotape without authorization the defendants infringed copyright, cast the plaintiffs in a false light, or otherwise invaded a right, although they do claim that the defendants had obtained the videotape fraudulently (a claim in the second class). And they do not claim that any of the other charges in the broadcast that are critical of them, such as that they perform unnecessary surgery or that Dr. Desnick tampers with patients’ medical records, are false.
We begin with the charge of defamation, which the parties agree is governed by Illinois law. [The court held that this cause of action could not be dismissed at this stage of litigation.]
The second class of claims in this case concerns, as we said, the methods that the defendants used to create the broadcast segment. There are four such claims: that the defendants committed a trespass in insinuating the test patients into the Wisconsin and Indiana offices of the Desnick Eye Center, that they invaded the right of privacy of the Center and its doctors at those offices (specifically Glazer and Simon), that they violated federal and state statutes regulating electronic surveillance, and that they committed fraud by gaining access to the Chicago office by means of a false promise that they would present a “fair and balanced” picture of the Center’s operations and would not use “ambush” interviews or undercover surveillance.
To enter upon another’s land without consent is a trespass. The force of this rule has, it is true, been diluted somewhat by concepts of privilege and of implied consent. But there is no journalists’ privilege to trespass. Prahl v. Brosamle, 98 Wis.2d 130, 295 N.W.2d 768, 780-81 (App.1980); Le Mistral, Inc. v. Columbia Broadcasting System, 61 A.D.2d 491, 402 N.Y.S.2d 815 (1978). And there can be no implied consent in any nonfictitious sense of the term when express consent is procured by a misrepresentation or a misleading omission. The Desnick Eye Center would not have agreed to the entry of the test patients into its offices had it known they wanted eye examinations only in order to gather material for a television expose of the Center and that they were going to make secret videotapes of the examinations. Yet some cases, illustrated by Martin v. Fidelity & Casualty Co., 421 So.2d 109, 111 (Ala.1982), deem consent effective even though it was procured by fraud. There must be something to this surprising result. Without it a restaurant critic could not conceal his identity when he ordered a meal, or a browser pretend to be interested in merchandise that he could not afford to buy. Dinner guests would be trespassers if they were false friends who never would have been invited had the host known their true character, and a consumer who in an effort to bargain down an automobile dealer falsely claimed to be able to buy the same car elsewhere at a lower price would be a trespasser in the dealer’s showroom. Some of these might be classified as privileged trespasses, designed to promote competition. Others might be thought justified by some kind of implied consent–the restaurant critic for example might point by way of analogy to the use of the “fair use” defense by book reviewers charged with copyright infringement and argue that the restaurant industry as a whole would be injured if restaurants could exclude critics. But most such efforts at rationalization would be little better than evasions. The fact is that consent to an entry is often given legal effect even though the entrant has intentions that if known to the owner of the property would cause him for perfectly understandable and generally ethical or at least lawful reasons to revoke his consent.
The law’s willingness to give effect to consent procured by fraud is not limited to the tort of trespass. The Restatement gives the example of a man who obtains consent to sexual intercourse by promising a woman $100, yet (unbeknownst to her, of course) he pays her with a counterfeit bill and intended to do so from the start. The man is not guilty of battery, even though unconsented-to sexual intercourse is a battery. Restatement (Second) of Torts Sec. 892B, illustration 9, pp. 373-74 (1979). Yet we know that to conceal the fact that one has a venereal disease transforms “consensual” intercourse into battery. Crowell v. Crowell, 180 N.C. 516, 105 S.E. 206 (1920). Seduction, standardly effected by false promises of love, is not rape, Pletnikoff v. State, 719 P.2d 1039, 1043 (Alaska App.1986); intercourse under the pretense of rendering medical or psychiatric treatment is, at least in most states. Compare State v. Tizard, 1994 WL 630498, * 8-10 (Tenn.Crim.App. Nov. 10, 1994), with Boro v. Superior Court, 163 Cal.App.3d 1224, 210 Cal.Rptr. 122 (1985). It certainly is battery. Bowman v. Home Life Ins. Co., 243 F.2d 331 (3d Cir.1957); Commonwealth v. Gregory, 132 Pa.Super. 507, 1 A.2d 501 (1938). Trespass presents close parallels. If a homeowner opens his door to a purported meter reader who is in fact nothing of the sort–just a busybody curious about the interior of the home–the homeowner’s consent to his entry is not a defense to a suit for trespass. See State v. Donahue, 93 Or.App. 341, 762 P.2d 1022, 1025 (1988); Bouillon v. Laclede Gaslight Co., 148 Mo.App. 462, 129 S.W. 401, 402 (1910). And likewise if a competitor gained entry to a business firm’s premises posing as a customer but in fact hoping to steal the firm’s trade secrets. Rockwell Graphic Systems, Inc. v. DEV Industries, Inc., 925 F.2d 174, 178 (7th Cir.1991); E.I. duPont deNemours & Co. v. Christopher, 431 F.2d 1012, 1014 (5th Cir.1970).
How to distinguish the two classes of case–the seducer from the medical impersonator, the restaurant critic from the meter-reader impersonator? The answer can have nothing to do with fraud; there is fraud in all the cases. It has to do with the interest that the torts in question, battery and trespass, protect. The one protects the inviolability of the person, the other the inviolability of the person’s property. The woman who is seduced wants to have sex with her seducer, and the restaurant owner wants to have customers. The woman who is victimized by the medical impersonator has no desire to have sex with her doctor; she wants medical treatment. And the homeowner victimized by the phony meter reader does not want strangers in his house unless they have authorized service functions. The dealer’s objection to the customer who claims falsely to have a lower price from a competing dealer is not to the physical presence of the customer, but to the fraud that he is trying to perpetuate. The lines are not bright–they are not even inevitable. They are the traces of the old forms of action, which have resulted in a multitude of artificial distinctions in modern law. But that is nothing new.
There was no invasion in the present case of any of the specific interests that the tort of trespass seeks to protect. The test patients entered offices that were open to anyone expressing a desire for ophthalmic services and videotaped physicians engaged in professional, not personal, communications with strangers (the testers themselves). The activities of the offices were not disrupted, as in People v. Segal, 78 Misc.2d 944, 358 N.Y.S.2d 866 (Crim.Ct.1974), another case of gaining entry by false pretenses. See also Le Mistral, Inc. v. Columbia Broadcasting System, supra, 402 N.Y.S.2d at 81 n. 1. Nor was there any “inva[sion of] a person’s private space,” Haynes v. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., supra, 8 F.3d at 1229, as in our hypothetical meter-reader case, as in the famous case of De May v. Roberts, 46 Mich. 160, 9 N.W. 146 (1881) (where a doctor, called to the plaintiff’s home to deliver her baby, brought along with him a friend who was curious to see a birth but was not a medical doctor, and represented the friend to be his medical assistant), as in one of its numerous modern counterparts, Miller v. National Broadcasting Co., 187 Cal.App.3d 1463, 232 Cal.Rptr. 668, 679 (1986), and as in Dietemann v. Time, Inc., 449 F.2d 245 (9th Cir.1971), on which the plaintiffs in our case rely. Dietemann involved a home. True, the portion invaded was an office, where the plaintiff performed quack healing of nonexistent ailments. The parallel to this case is plain enough, but there is a difference. Dietemann was not in business, and did not advertise his services or charge for them. His quackery was private.
No embarrassingly intimate details of anybody’s life were publicized in the present case. There was no eavesdropping on a private conversation; the testers recorded their own conversations with the Desnick Eye Center’s physicians. There was no violation of the doctor-patient privilege. There was no theft, or intent to steal, trade secrets; no disruption of decorum, of peace and quiet; no noisy or distracting demonstrations. Had the testers been undercover FBI agents, there would have been no violation of the Fourth Amendment, because there would have been no invasion of a legally protected interest in property or privacy. United States v. White, 401 U.S. 745, 91 S.Ct. 1122, 28 L.Ed.2d 453 (1971); Lewis v. United States, 385 U.S. 206, 211, 87 S.Ct. 424, 427-28, 17 L.Ed.2d 312 (1966); Forster v. County of Santa Barbara, 896 F.2d 1146, 1148-49 (9th Cir.1990); Northside Realty Associates, Inc. v. United States, 605 F.2d 1348, 1355 (5th Cir.1979). “Testers” who pose as prospective home buyers in order to gather evidence of housing discrimination are not trespassers even if they are private persons not acting under color of law. Cf. id. at 1355. The situation of the defendants’ “testers” is analogous. Like testers seeking evidence of violation of anti-discrimination laws, the defendants’ test patients gained entry into the plaintiffs’ premises by misrepresenting their purposes (more precisely by a misleading omission to disclose those purposes). But the entry was not invasive in the sense of infringing the kind of interest of the plaintiffs that the law of trespass protects; it was not an interference with the ownership or possession of land. We need not consider what if any difference it would make if the plaintiffs had festooned the premises with signs forbidding the entry of testers or other snoops. Perhaps none, see United States v. Centennial Builders, Inc., 747 F.2d 678, 683 (11th Cir.1984), but that is an issue for another day.
What we have said largely disposes of two other claims–infringement of the right of privacy, and illegal wiretapping. [These claims were dismissed.]
Last is the charge of fraud in the defendants’ gaining entry to the Chicago office and being permitted while there to interview staff and film a cataract operation, and in their obtaining the Desnick Eye Center’s informational videotape. [This claim was also dismissed.]
AFFIRMED IN PART, REVERSED IN PART, AND REMANDED.
Fountainebleau v. Forty-Five Twenty-Five, 114 So. 2d 357 (Ct. App. Fl., 3d Dist., 1959)
Sibley, Grusmark, Barkdull & King, Miami Beach, for appellants.
Anderson & Nadeau, Miami, for appellee.
This is an interlocutory appeal from an order temporarily enjoining the appellants from continuing with the construction of a fourteen-story addition to the Fontainebleau Hotel, owned and operated by the appellants. Appellee, plaintiff below, owns the Eden Roc Hotel, which was constructed in 1955, about a year after the Fontainebleau, and adjoins the Fontainebleau on the north. Both are luxury hotels, facing the Atlantic Ocean. The proposed addition to the Fontainebleau is being constructed twenty feet from its north property line, 130 feet from the mean high water mark of the Atlantic Ocean, and 76 feet 8 inches from the ocean bulkhead line. The 14-story tower will extend 160 feet above grade in height and is 416 feet long from east to west. During the winter months, from around two o’clock in the afternoon for the remainder of the day, the shadow of the addition will extend over the cabana, swimming pool, and sunbathing areas of the Eden Roc, which are located in the southern portion of its property.
In this action, plaintiff-appellee sought to enjoin the defendants-appellants from proceeding with the construction of the addition to the Fontainebleau (it appears to have been roughly eight stories high at the time suit was filed), alleging that the construction would interfere with the light and air on the beach in front of the Eden Roc and cast a shadow of such size as to render the beach wholly unfitted for the use and enjoyment of its guests, to the irreparable injury of the plaintiff; further, that the construction of such addition on the north side of defendants’ property, rather than the south side, was actuated by malice and ill will on the part of the defendants’ president toward the plaintiff’s president; and that the construction was in violation of a building ordinance requiring a 100-foot setback from the ocean. It was also alleged that the construction would interfere with the easements of light and air enjoyed by plaintiff and its predecessors in title for more than twenty years and “impliedly granted by virtue of the acts of the plaintiff’s predecessors in title, as well as under the common law and the express recognition of such rights by virtue of Chapter 9837, Laws of Florida 1923 * * *.” Some attempt was also made to allege an easement by implication in favor of the plaintiff’s property, as the dominant, and against the defendants’ property, as the servient, tenement.
The defendants’ answer denied the material allegations of the complaint, pleaded laches and estoppel by judgment.
The chancellor heard considerable testimony on the issues made by the complaint and the answer and, as noted, entered a temporary injunction restraining the defendants from continuing with the construction of the addition. His reason for so doing was stated by him, in a memorandum opinion, as follows:
In granting the temporary injunction in this case the Court wishes to make several things very clear. The ruling is not based on any alleged presumptive title nor prescriptive right of the plaintiff to light and air nor is it based on any deed restrictions nor recorded plats in the title of the plaintiff nor of the defendant nor of any plat of record. It is not based on any zoning ordinance nor on any provision of the building code of the City of Miami Beach nor on the decision of any court, nisi prius or appellate. It is based solely on the proposition that no one has a right to use his property to the injury of another. In this case it is clear from the evidence that the proposed use by the Fontainebleau will materially damage the Eden Roc. There is evidence indicating that the construction of the proposed annex by the Fontainebleau is malicious or deliberate for the purpose of injuring the Eden Roc, but it is scarcely sufficient, standing alone, to afford a basis for equitable relief.
This is indeed a novel application of the maxim sic utere tuo ut alienum non laedas. This maxim does not mean that one must never use his own property in such a way as to do any injury to his neighbor. It means only that one must use his property so as not to injure the lawful rights of another. In Reaver v. Martin Theatres, under this maxim, it was stated that “it is well settled that a property owner may put his own property to any reasonable and lawful use, so long as he does not thereby deprive the adjoining landowner of any right of enjoyment of his property which is recognized and protected by law, and so long as his use is not such a one as the law will pronounce a nuisance.” [Emphasis supplied.]
No American decision has been cited, and independent research has revealed none, in which it has been held that - in the absence of some contractual or statutory obligation - a landowner has a legal right to the free flow of light and air across the adjoining land of his neighbor. Even at common law, the landowner had no legal right, in the absence of an easement or uninterrupted use and enjoyment for a period of 20 years, to unobstructed light and air from the adjoining land. And the English doctrine of “ancient lights” has been unanimously repudiated in this country.
There being, then, no legal right to the free flow of light and air from the adjoining land, it is universally held that where a structure serves a useful and beneficial purpose, it does not give rise to a cause of action, either for damages or for an injunction under the maxim sic utere tuo ut alienum non laedas, even though it causes injury to another by cutting off the light and air and interfering with the view that would otherwise be available over adjoining land in its natural state, regardless of the fact that the structure may have been erected partly for spite.
We see no reason for departing from this universal rule. If, as contended on behalf of plaintiff, public policy demands that a landowner in the Miami Beach area refrain from constructing buildings on his premises that will cast a shadow on the adjoining premises, an amendment of its comprehensive planning and zoning ordinance, applicable to the public as a whole, is the means by which such purpose should be achieved. (No opinion is expressed here as to the validity of such an ordinance, if one should be enacted pursuant to the requirements of law.) But to change the universal rule - and the custom followed in this state since its inception - that adjoining landowners have an equal right under the law to build to the line of their respective tracts and to such a height as is desired by them (in in absence, of course, of building restrictions or regulations) amounts, in our opinion, to judicial legislation. As stated in Musumeci v. Leonardo, “So use your own as not to injure another’s property is, indeed, a sound and salutary principle for the promotion of justice, but it may not and should not be applied so as gratuitously to confer upon an adjacent property owner incorporeal rights incidental to his ownership of land which the law does not sanction.”
We have also considered whether the order here reviewed may be sustained upon any other reasoning, conformable to and consistent with the pleadings, regardless of the erroneous reasoning upon which the order was actually based. We have concluded that it cannot.
The record affirmatively shows that no statutory basis for the right sought to be enforced by plaintiff exists. The so-called Shadow Ordinance enacted by the City of Miami Beach at plaintiff’s behest was held invalid in City of Miami Beach v. State ex rel. Fontainebleau Hotel Corp. It also affirmatively appears that there is no possible basis for holding that plaintiff has an easement for light and air, either express or implied, across defendants’ property, nor any prescriptive right thereto - even if it be assumed, arguendo, that the common-law right of prescription as to “ancient lights” is in effect in this state. And from what we have said heretofore in this opinion, it is perhaps superfluous to add that we have no desire to dissent from the unanimous holding in this country repudiating the English doctrine of ancient lights.
Since it affirmatively appears that the plaintiff has not established a cause of action against the defendants by reason of the structure here in question, the order granting a temporary injunction should be and it is hereby reversed with directions to dismiss the complaint.
Reversed with directions.
[Author's Note: Go to: http://www.concurringopinions.com/archives /2005/11/what_next_googl.html for several pictures of the hotels and extension.]
Adams v. Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Co., 602 N.W.2d 215 (Mich. Ct. App. 1999).
Bridges and Bridges (by Caroline Bridges), Negaunee, for the plaintiffs.
Butzel Long (by John H. Dudley, Jr. and Ronald E. Reynolds), Detroit, and Richard M. Graybill, Ishpeming, for the defendants.
Before: WHITBECK, P.J., and MARKMAN and O’CONNELL, JJ.
Defendants appeal as of right from a jury verdict awarding damages in trespass for invasions of plaintiffs’ property by intrusions of dust, noise, and vibrations. The gravamen of this appeal presents the question whether Michigan recognizes a cause of action in trespass stemming from invasions of these intangible agents. No published decision of an appellate court of this state is directly on point. Because of the importance of this issue of first impression, we will expound on it in some detail. Following a recitation of facts, we will examine the origins of the doctrines of trespass to land and nuisance, observe recent developments of those doctrines in this and other jurisdictions, and then reaffirm for this state the traditional requirements for a cause of action in trespass.
We conclude that the law of trespass in Michigan does not cover airborne particulate, noise, or vibrations, and that a complaint alleging damages resulting from these irritants normally sounds instead in nuisance.
Plaintiffs brought suit seeking damages in both trespass and nuisance, complaining of dust, noise, and vibrations emanating from the Empire Mine, which is operated by defendant Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Company and its subsidiary, defendant Empire Iron Mining Partnership.
The Empire Mine is one of the nation’s largest mines, producing eight million tons of iron ore annually. The mine operates twenty-four hours a day, year round. At the time this action was commenced, all but three plaintiffs lived near the mine, in the village of Palmer in Marquette County. Cleveland-Cliffs, which also operates the nearby Tilden Mine, employs approximately 2,200 persons, making it the area’s largest civilian employer.
The Empire Mine was originally dug in the 1870s, then expanded in the 1960s. A second pit was added in 1987, and a third in 1990-91. The mine engages in blasting operations approximately three times a week, year round, and the extraction and processing of the iron ore generates a great deal of airborne dust. Plaintiffs complain that the blasting sends tremors through their property and that defendants’ dust constantly accumulates inside and outside plaintiffs’ homes. Plaintiffs assert that these emanations aggravate their need to clean and repaint their homes, replace carpets and drapes, repair cracks in all masonry, replace windows, and tend to cause plumbing leaks and broken sewer pipes.
According to the testimony, the dust from the mine is fine, gritty, oily, and difficult to clean. Some plaintiffs complained that they seldom opened their windows because of the dust, and virtually every plaintiff complained that the snow in Palmer tended to be gray or black. Evidence presented at trial indicates that the emissions from the mining operations have consistently remained within applicable air-quality standards and that the amount of particulate matter accumulating over Palmer each month amounts to less than the thickness of a sheet of paper, but that this amount is nonetheless four times greater than what normally settles onto surrounding communities.
In addition to concerns about the dust, many plaintiffs testified that the noise and vibrations from the blasts caused them to suffer shock, nervousness, and sleeplessness. Finally, several plaintiffs asserted that these conditions diminished the value of their homes, in some cases to the point of rendering them unmarketable.
At the close of proofs, the trial court instructed the jury concerning both trespass and nuisance. The jury found that three of the plaintiffs were not entitled to recover under either theory. Concerning the remaining fifty-two plaintiffs, however, the jury was unable to agree on a verdict regarding the nuisance claim, but returned a verdict in favor of these plaintiffs with regard to the trespass claim, awarding damages totaling $599,199. The court denied defendants’ posttrial motions for a new trial or judgment notwithstanding the verdict.
The sole issue that defendants raise on appeal is the propriety of the trial court’s jury instruction concerning plaintiffs’ trespass claim:
Every unauthorized intrusion onto the lands of another is a trespass upon those lands, and it gives rise to a right to recover damages for the trespass, if any damages were caused by the trespass. So a landowner who causes emissions, dust, vibration, noise from his property onto another [sic] property assumes the risk of trespass, if the dust, vibration, noise affects the neighbor’s property, or if he causes by his actions, damages or invasion of his neighbor’s land.
So again, to repeat. A trespass is an unauthorized intrusion into the lands of another.
Defendants did not object on the record that the trial court’s instruction improperly recognized a cause of action in trespass where the intrusion complained of consisted of airborne particulate, noise, or vibrations, nor did they initially frame their issue on appeal that way. Nonetheless, in the interests of justice, and because the issue concerns a question of law and all the facts necessary for its resolution have been presented, we will examine the related doctrines of trespass and nuisance and will determine how they bear on the intrusions at issue in this case. See Frericks v. Highland Twp., 228 Mich.App. 575, 586, 579 N.W.2d 441 (1998) (“this Court may go beyond the issues raised on appeal and address issues that, in this Court’s opinion, justice requires be considered and resolved”).
II. Trespass and Nuisance
The general concept of “property” comprises various rights-a “bundle of sticks,” as it is often called -which is usually understood to include “[t]he exclusive right of possessing, enjoying, and disposing of a thing.” Black’s Law Dictionary (6th ed., 1990), p. 1216. As this latter characterization suggests, the right to exclude others from one’s land and the right to quiet enjoyment of one’s land have customarily been regarded as separate sticks in the bundle. E.g., Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council, 505 U.S. 1003, 1044, 112 S.Ct. 2886, 120 L.Ed.2d 798 (1992) (Blackmun, J., dissenting) (addressing as separate “attributes of ownership” the rights of exclusion, alienation, and enjoyment); Biggs v. Comm’r of Internal Revenue, 632 F.2d 1171, 1177 (C.A.5, 1980) (” ‘title to real property … is nothing more than a bundle of potential causes of action: for trespass, to quiet title, for interference with quiet enjoyment, and so on,’ ” quoting Starker v. United States, 602 F.2d 1341, 1355 [C.A.9, 1979] ); Livingston, Public Access to Virginia’s Tidelands: A Framework for Analysis of Implied Dedications and Public Prescriptive Rights, 24 Wm & Mary L R 669, 698 (1983) (“The notion of fee simple ownership carries with it the idea that the owner may exclude all others from his property, shall have the quiet enjoyment of it, and shall be free from unrecorded conflicting interests in it.”), citing Cribbet, Principles of the Law of Property (2d ed., 1975), pp. 263-332. Thus, possessory rights to real property include as distinct interests the right to exclude and the right to enjoy, violations of which give rise to the distinct causes of action respectively of trespass and nuisance. Prosser & Keeton, Torts (5 th ed.), s 87, p. 622.
A. Historical Overview
“At common law, trespass was a form of action brought to recover damages for any injury to one’s person or property or relationship with another.” Black’s Law Dictionary (6th ed.), p. 1502. This broad usage of the term “trespass” then gave way to a narrower usage, referring to intrusions upon a person’s “tangible property, real or personal.” Prosser & Keeton, supra at s 13, p. 67. Today, the general concept of “trespass” has been refined into several specific forms of trespass, see Black’s Law Dictionary (6th ed.), pp. 1502-1504, and related doctrines known by various names. Landowners seeking damages or equitable relief in response to violations of their possessory rights to land now generally proceed under the common-law derivatives of strict liability, negligence, nuisance, or trespass to land. It is the latter two products of this evolution from the general concept of trespass that are at issue in the present case.
”‘[T]respass is an invasion of the plaintiff’s interest in the exclusive possession of his land, while nuisance is an interference with his use and enjoyment of it.’ ” Hadfield v. Oakland Co. Drain Comm’r, 430 Mich. 139, 151, 422 N.W.2d 205 (1988) (Brickley, J., joined by Riley, C.J., and Cavanagh, J.), quoting Prosser & Keeton, supra at s 87, p. 622. Historically, “[e]very unauthorized intrusion upon the
private premises of another is a trespass….” Giddings v. Rogalewski, 192 Mich. 319, 326, 158 N.W. 951 (1916). Because a trespass violated a landholder’s right to exclude others from the premises, the landholder could recover at least nominal damages even in the absence of proof of any other injury. Id. Recovery for nuisance, however, traditionally required proof of actual and substantial injury. Further, the doctrine of nuisance customarily called for balancing the disturbance complained of against the social utility of its cause.
Traditionally, trespass required that the invasion of the land be direct or immediate and in the form of a physical, tangible object. See, e.g., Williams v. Oeder, 103 Ohio App.3d 333, 338, n. 2, 659 N.E.2d 379 (1995) (noting then abandoning those traditional requirements); Davis v. Georgia-Pacific Corp., 251 Or. 239, 242, 445 P.2d 481 (1968) (abandoning the traditional requirements); Norwood v. Eastern Oregon Land Co., 139 Or. 25, 37, 5 P.2d 1057 (1931), modified 139 Or. 25, 7 P.2d 996 (1932) (wrongful diversion of water onto another’s land does not constitute trespass to land). Under these principles, recovery in trespass for dust, smoke, noise, and vibrations was generally unavailable because they were not considered tangible or because they came to the land via some intervening force such as wind or water. Instead, claims concerning these irritants were generally pursued under a nuisance theory.
B. Recent Trends
Plaintiffs urge this Court to hold that they are entitled to recover in trespass for invasions of their premises by intangible things without regard for how these annoyances came to their land. Plaintiffs would have us follow the example of certain courts from other jurisdictions, which have eliminated the traditional requirements for trespass of a direct intrusion by a tangible object, directing the inquiry instead toward the nature of the interest harmed. These courts have permitted recovery in trespass for indirect, intangible invasions that nonetheless interfered with exclusive possessory interests in the land. See 75 Am Jur 2d, Trespass, s 33, p. 33 and cases cited. See also Mercer v. Rockwell Int’l Corp., 24 F.Supp.2d 735, 743 (W.D.Ky., 1998) (allowing an action in “negligent trespass” concerning intrusions of invisible polychlorinated biphenyls [PCBs] that actually harm the property); Williams, supra (airborne particulate matter from a sand and gravel processing facility, an asphalt plant, and a concrete plant constituted trespass); Martin v. Reynolds Metals Co., 221 Or. 86, 342 P.2d 790 (1959) (trespass may stem from fluoride compounds in the form of gases and particles). We agree with the characterization of cases of this sort found in Prosser & Keeton as being “in reality, examples of the tort of private nuisance or liability for harm resulting from negligence,” not proper trespass cases. Prosser & Keeton, supra at s 13, pp. 71-72 (concerning “decisions finding a trespass constituted by the entry of invisible gases and microscopic particles, but only if harm results”). Accordingly, we decline plaintiffs’ invitation to strip the tort of trespass to land of its distinctive accouterments and commingle its identity with other causes of action.
As stated above, the traditional view of trespass required a direct entry onto the land by a tangible object. However, recent trends have led to an erosion of these requirements. Some courts have eliminated the requirement of a direct entry onto the land. E.g., Bradley v. American Smelting & Refining Co., 104 Wash.2d 677, 686, 709 P.2d 782 (1985); Borland v. Sanders Lead Co., Inc., 369 So.2d 523, 527 (Ala., 1979); Martin, supra at 101, 342 P.2d 790 (observing the trend without deciding whether to join it), citing Prosser, Torts (2d ed.), p. 56; 1 Restatement, Torts, s 158, comment h. Some courts have likewise eliminated the requirement of a tangible object. E.g., Bradley, supra at 686, 709 P.2d 782; Borland, supra at 529. See also Martin, supra at 100, 342 P.2d 790 (trespass to land may be accomplished by “a ray of light, by an atomic particle, or by a particulate of fluoride”). In some cases the direct-and-tangible inquiry has been supplanted by an inquiry into the force and energy of the intruding agent. E.g., Bradley, supra at 687, 709 P.2d 782; Borland, supra at 527; Martin, supra at 93, 342 P.2d 790.
The courts that have deviated from the traditional requirements of trespass, however, have consequently found troublesome the traditional principle that at least nominal damages are presumed in cases of trespass. Thus, under the so-called modern view of trespass, in order to avoid subjecting manufacturing plants to potential liability to every landowner on whose parcel some incidental residue of industrial activity might come to rest, these courts have grafted onto the law of trespass a requirement of actual and substantial damages. Bradley, supra at 692, 709 P.2d 782; Borland, supra at 529. See also Martin, supra at 96, 342 P.2d 790 (observing that “[t]here are adjudicated cases which have refused to find a trespass where the intrusion is clearly established but where the court has felt that the possessor’s interest should not be protected”). Logically following from a requirement of substantial damages is the weighing of those damages against the social utility of the activity causing them. Martin, supra at 97, 342 P.2d 790 (balancing “the intrusion … against the socially desirable conduct of the defendant”). See also Bradley, supra at 685, 709 P.2d 782 (“While the strict liability origins
of trespass encourage courts to eschew a balancing test in name, there is authority for denying injunctive relief if defendant has exhausted his technological opportunities for control…. Acknowledging technological or economic justifications for trespassory invasions does away with the historically harsh treatment of conduct interfering with another’s possessory interests.”).
We do not welcome this redirection of trespass law toward nuisance law. The requirement that real and substantial damages be proved, and balanced against the usefulness of the offending activity, is appropriate where the issue is interference with one’s use or enjoyment of one’s land; applying it where a landowner has had to endure an unauthorized physical occupation of the landowner’s land, however, offends traditional principles of ownership. The law should not require a property owner to justify exercising the right to exclude. To countenance the erosion of presumed damages in cases of trespass is to endanger the right of exclusion itself.
To summarize, the effects of recent trends in the law of trespass have included eliminating the requirements of a direct invasion by a tangible object, requiring proof of actual and substantial damages, and weighing the plaintiff’s damages against the social utility of the operation causing them. This so-called “modern view of trespass” appears, with all its nuances and add-ons, merely to replicate traditional nuisance doctrine as recognized in Michigan. Indeed, the trends recognized or advanced by Bradley, Borland, Martin, and their kindred spirits have conflated nuisance with trespass to the point of rendering it difficult to delineate the difference between the two theories of recovery.
With all of these modern adjustments to traditional trespass law, it is little wonder that it has become difficult to differentiate between trespass and nuisance. These adjustments have caused some to observe that ” ‘the line between trespass and nuisance has become “wavering and uncertain,” ’ ” Bradley, supra at 684, 709 P.2d 782, quoting Rodgers, Environmental Law, s 2.13, p. 154 (1977). See also Burke v. Briggs, 239 N.J.Super. 269, 272, 571 A.2d 296 (1990) (the blurring of the distinction between the two causes of action “has often led to results that are difficult to explain”), citing Prosser & Keeton, supra at s 87, p. 622. Indeed, “it is apparent that the law of trespass and the law of nuisance come very close to merging.” Martin, supra at 97, 342 P.2d 790. We prefer to preserve the separate identities of trespass and nuisance.
C. Adkins v. Thomas Solvent Co.
As stated above, no Michigan appellate court has squarely confronted the question whether the law of trespass in this state covers intrusions of intangible things or intrusions that are effected by indirect means. However, plaintiffs argue that in Adkins v. Thomas Solvent Co., 440 Mich. 293, 487 N.W.2d 715 (1992), the Michigan Supreme Court impliedly eliminated the requirements that a trespass involve intrusions that are both direct and tangible. We disagree.
In Adkins, the plaintiffs sought damages in nuisance from the defendant chemical company, on the ground that public perceptions to the effect that the defendant’s activities were causing environmental contamination of the groundwater caused depreciation of their property values, id. at 300, 487 N.W.2d 715, even though the plaintiffs acknowledged that the defendant’s activities in fact did not harm their groundwater, id. at 318, 487 N.W.2d 715. Our Supreme Court ruled that summary disposition was proper because unfounded fears of contamination did not constitute a significant interference with plaintiffs’ use and enjoyment of their property and, thus, did not rise to the level of an actionable private nuisance claim. Id. at 318-319, 487 N.W.2d 715.
In discussing the historical development of nuisance law, the Court observed that the doctrine of nuisance evolved from that of trespass, id. at 307-308, 487 N.W.2d 715, and recognized that traditionally in cases of trespass damage was presumed whereas in nuisance substantial damage had to be proved:
Any intentional and unprivileged entry on land is a trespass without a showing of damage, since those who own land have an exclusive right to its use; but an act that interferes with use but is not in itself a use is not actionable without damage. The substantial interference requirement is to satisfy the need for a showing that the land is reduced in value because of the defendant’s conduct.
Id. at 304-305, 487 N.W.2d 715, quoting Prosser & Keeton, supra at s 87, p. 623.
However, in footnote 23, the Court recognized the recent developments in other jurisdictions under which the requirement for nuisance of substantial damage had crept into trespass:
The common-law development of trespass, like nuisance, is … illustrative of a need to limit recovery to a proper case. In Bradley [supra at] 690-691 …, 709 P.2d 782, the court discussed the modern view of trespass, which allowed recovery for indirect invasions of property such as those caused by smoke or air particles. Airborne particles might also give rise to an action in nuisance. To avoid “sanctioning actions in trespass by every landowner within a hundred miles of a manufacturing plant,” the court interposed the actual and substantial damages requirement. Id., at p. 692, 709 P.2d 782. The substantial interference doctrine achieves the same purpose in nuisance law.
Adkins, supra at 310, n. 23, 487 N.W.2d 715.
Plaintiffs admit that Adkins was a nuisance case, but argue that by way of the language quoted immediately above our Supreme Court adopted the “modern view of trespass” allowing recovery for invasions of property such as those of which plaintiffs complain. However, we do not regard dicta from Adkins in which the Supreme Court referred to a sister-state trespass case to illustrate a point of law regarding nuisance as effecting a merger of the two doctrines in this regard. We have in fact found no case in this state in which recovery in trespass was allowed merely for intrusions of particulate matter, noise, or vibrations, and we decline to inflect this state’s jurisprudence in that direction. Instead, we prefer to respect the traditional requirement of a direct invasion and agree with Prosser and Keeton, supra at s 13, p. 72, that “[t]he historical requirement of an intrusion by a person or some tangible thing seems the sounder way to go about protecting the exclusive right to the use of property.”
Recovery for trespass to land in Michigan is available only upon proof of an unauthorized direct or immediate intrusion of a physical, tangible object onto land over which the plaintiff has a right of exclusive possession. Once such an intrusion is proved, the tort has been established, and the plaintiff is presumptively entitled to at least nominal damages. Where the possessor of land is menaced by noise, vibrations, or ambient dust, smoke, soot, or fumes, the possessory interest implicated is that of use and enjoyment, not exclusion, and the vehicle through which a plaintiff normally should seek a remedy is the doctrine of nuisance. To prevail in nuisance, a possessor of land must prove significant harm resulting from the defendant’s unreasonable interference with the use or enjoyment of the property. Cloverleaf Car Co. v. Phillips Petroleum Co., 213 Mich.App. 186, 193, 540 N.W.2d 297 (1995), citing Adkins, supra at 304, 487 N.W.2d 715. Thus, in nuisance, the plaintiff must prove all damages, which may be awarded only to the extent that the defendant’s conduct was “unreasonable” according to a public-policy assessment of its overall value. In the present case, because the intrusions of which plaintiffs complained were intangible things, the trial court erred in allowing the jury to award damages in trespass. Instead, any award of damages would have had to proceed from plaintiffs’ alternative but (as yet) unsuccessful theory of nuisance.
As discussed above, we acknowledge that numerous courts in other jurisdictions have permitted the erosion of the traditional elements of the tort of trespass to land, directing their inquiry instead toward whether the invasion complained of interferes with the exclusive possession of the land generally without regard to whether the intrusion is direct or indirect, tangible or intangible. We prefer to retain the traditional elements, however, because they serve as gatekeepers-safeguarding genuine claims of trespass and keeping the line between the torts of trespass and nuisance from fading into a “wavering and uncertain” ambiguity. Further, retaining the distinction between the two theories of recovery limits the possibilities for dual liability stemming from the same conduct and results. See Reynolds, Distinguishing Trespass and Nuisance: A Journey Through a Shifting Borderland, 44 Okla LR227, 229 (1991).
The trial court’s instruction regarding trespass, as set forth above, recognized a right to recover in trespass “if any damages were caused by the trespass” and that the agents potentially causing the damages included “emissions, dust, vibration, noise.” Thus the trial court seems to have mirrored (and indeed gone beyond) the so-called modern view of trespass according to which intangible irritants could constitute trespass. This instruction thus erroneously conflated trespass with nuisance and produced the anomalous result that the jury failed to reach agreement on the nuisance claim while awarding damages for intrusions of intangible things pursuant to the trespass claim.
Because noise or vibrations are clearly not tangible objects, we hold that they cannot give rise to an action in trespass in this state. We further hold that dust must generally be considered intangible and thus not actionable in trespass.
We realize, of course, that dust particles are tangible objects in a strict sense that they can be touched and are comprised of physical elements. However, we agree with those authorities that have recognized, for practical purposes, that dust, along with other forms of airborne particulate, does not normally present itself as a significant physical intrusion. See anno: Recovery in trespass for injury to land caused by airborne pollutants, 2 A.L.R.4th 1054, 1055 (“[t]raditionally, an invasion of the exclusive possession of land by intangible substances, such as an airborne pollutant, was usually held by the court not to constitute a trespass”); Williams, supra, 103 Ohio App.3d at 338, n. 2, 659 N.E.2d 379 (observing that some courts have held that a ” ‘tangible invasion’ or ‘object’ ” must be “more substantial than dust, gas, or fumes”), citing Bradley, supra at 686, 709 P.2d 782.
Dust particles do not normally occupy the land on which they settle in any meaningful sense; instead they simply become a part of the ambient circumstances of that space. If the quantity and character of the dust are such as to disturb the ambiance in ways that interfere substantially with the plaintiff’s use and enjoyment of the land, then recovery in nuisance is possible.
“[S]ome courts have held that if an intervening force, such as wind or water, carries pollutants onto the plaintiff’s land, then the entry is not ‘direct.’” Williams, supra at 338, n. 2, 659 N.E.2d 379, citing Bradley, supra at 686, 709 P.2d 782. However, in order to avoid harsh results most courts have avoided an overly strict distinction between direct and indirect invasions, see Prosser & Keeton, supra at s 13, pp. 68-69. Still, “[t]he differentiation between direct and indirect results may not be absolutely dead.” Id. at 71.
Plaintiffs cite Littell v. Knorr, 24 Mich.App. 446, 180 N.W.2d 337 (1970), for the proposition that the law of trespass in this state does not concern itself with whether the invading agent comes to the land by foot, vehicle, air, or other means. However, Littell in fact does not stand for that proposition. Although Littell states that “liability can result from pounding, compacting soil, vibrations, etc.,” id. at 450, 180 N.W.2d 337, that amorphous statement does not identify the pertinent theory or theories of recovery. We hold that the direct invasion requirement for an action in trespass to land is still alive in Michigan. The question then becomes, how strong must the connection between cause and effect be in order to satisfy this requirement?
We agree with the Restatement view that “[i]t is enough that an act is done with knowledge that it will to a substantial certainty result in the entry of the foreign matter.” 1 Restatement Torts, 2d, s 158, comment i, p. 279. Thus, a “direct or immediate” invasion for purposes of trespass is one that is accomplished by any means that the offender knew or reasonably should have known would result in the physical invasion of the plaintiff’s land.
The question of presumed damages hardly seems at issue in this case. There can be little doubt that plaintiffs proved actual damages to the jury’s satisfaction, albeit, for reasons set forth above, damages arguably flowing from nuisance, not trespass. Nonetheless, because the jury instruction at issue did not recognize the principle of presumed damages, we take this opportunity to reiterate this final distinction between trespass and nuisance.
The trial court told the jury that “trespass … gives rise to a right to recover damages for the trespass, if any damages were caused by the trespass.” This instruction would be appropriate for nuisance, or negligence, under which theories the plaintiff must prove all damages, but not for trespass. A jury instruction with respect to the latter should announce that because the violation of the right to exclude causes cognizable injury in and of itself, a plaintiff proving that violation is presumptively entitled to at least nominal damages. The jury should be further instructed that beyond the presumed damages, the plaintiff may recover any additional, actual damages proved.
The distinction between presumed damages in cases of trespass and the need to prove damages in cases of nuisance may well be reconciled with the Supreme Court’s statement in footnote 23 of Adkins that recovery in “trespass, like nuisance” should be limited “to a proper case.” We hold that recovery in trespass is appropriate for any appreciable intrusion onto land in violation of the plaintiff’s right to exclude, while recovery in nuisance is appropriate for only substantial and unreasonable interference with the plaintiff’s right to quiet enjoyment.
There is no need to reformulate the traditional law of trespass to accommodate the problems of airborne pollution, noise, or vibrations, because the doctrines of nuisance and related causes of action have always stood ready to provide remedies. Trespass in Michigan remains a distinct doctrine providing a remedy for violation of a distinct property right. A possessor of land proving a direct or immediate intrusion of a physical, tangible object onto the land is presumptively entitled to recover at least nominal damages even absent any proof of actual injury and may recover additional damages for any injuries actually proved.
Because Michigan does not recognize a cause of action in trespass for airborne particulate, noise, or vibrations, we hereby vacate the jury verdict in this matter and remand this case to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. We do not retain jurisdiction.
Reversed and remanded. We do not retain jurisdiction.
From A. Mitchell Polinsky and Steven Shavell, Economic Analysis of Law, in The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics (2d ed.)
Economic analysis of law seeks to identify the effects of legal rules on the behavior of relevant actors and whether these effects are socially desirable. The approach employed is that of economic analysis generally: the behavior of individuals and firms is described assuming that they are forward looking and rational, and the framework of welfare economics is adopted to assess the social desirability of outcomes. The field may be said to have begun with Bentham (1789), who systematically examined how actors would behave in the face of legal incentives (especially criminal sanctions) and who evaluated outcomes with respect to a clearly stated measure of social welfare (utilitarianism). His work was left essentially undeveloped until four important contributions were made: Coase (1960) on externalities and liability, Becker (1968) on crime and law enforcement, Calabresi (1970) on accident law, and Posner (1972) on economic analysis of law in general.
1. PROPERTY LAW.
Externalities. When individuals use property, they may cause externalities, namely, harm or benefit to others. As a general matter, it is socially desirable for individuals to do more than is in their self-interest to reduce detrimental externalities and to act so as to increase beneficial externalities. The socially optimal resolution of harmful externalities often involves the behavior of victims as well as that of injurers. If victims can do things to reduce the amount of harm more cheaply than injurers (say install air filters to avoid pollution), it is optimal for victims to do so. Moreover, victims can sometimes alter their locations to reduce their exposure to harm.
Legal intervention can ameliorate problems of externalities. A major form of intervention that has been studied is direct regulation, under which the state restricts permissible behavior, such as requiring factories to use smoke arrestors. Closely related is the injunction, whereby a potential victim can enlist the power of the state to force a potential injurer to take steps to prevent harm or to cease his activity. Society can also make use of financial incentives to induce injurers to reduce harmful externalities. Under the corrective tax, a party pays the state an amount equal to the expected harm he causes, for example, the expected harm due to a discharge of a pollutant into a lake. There is also liability, a privately-initiated means of providing financial incentives, under which injurers pay for harm done if sued by victims. These methods differ in the information that the state needs to apply them, in whether they require or harness information that victims have about harm, and in other respects, such that each may be superior to the other in different circumstances (Shavell, 1993).
Parties affected by externalities will sometimes have the opportunity to make mutually beneficial agreements with those who generate the externalities, as Coase (1960) stressed. But bargaining may not occur for many reasons: cost; collective action problems (such as when many victims each face small harms); and lack of knowledge of harm (such as from an invisible carcinogen). If bargaining does occur, it may not be successful, owing to asymmetric information. These difficulties often make bargaining a problematic solution to externality problems and imply that liability rules are needed, as discussed by Calabresi and Melamed (1972).
6. CRITICISM OF ECONOMIC ANALYSIS OF LAW.
Many observers, and particularly noneconomists, view economic analysis of law with skepticism. We consider several such criticisms here.
Description of behavior. It is sometimes claimed that individuals and firms do not respond to legal rules as rational maximizers of their well-being. For example, it is often asserted that decisions to commit crimes are not governed by economists’ usual assumptions. Some skeptics also suggest that, in predicting individuals’ behavior, certain standard assumptions are inapplicable. For example, in predicting compliance with a law, the assumption that preferences be taken as given would be inappropriate if a legal rule would change people’s preferences, as some say was the case with civil rights laws and environmental laws. In addition, laws may frame individuals’ understanding of problems, which could affect their probability assessments or willingness to pay. The emerging field of behavioral economics, as well as work in various disciplines that address social norms, is beginning to examine these sorts of issues (Jolls et al., 1998).
Distribution of income. A frequent criticism of economic analysis of law concerns its focus on efficiency, to the exclusion of the distribution of income. The claim of critics is that legal rules should be selected in a manner that takes into account their effects on the rich and the poor. But achieving sought-after redistribution through income tax and transfer programs tends to be superior to redistribution through the choice of legal rules. This is because redistribution through legal rules and the tax-transfer system both will distort individuals’ labor-leisure decisions in the same manner, but redistribution through legal rules often will require choosing an inefficient rule, which imposes an additional cost (Shavell, 1981; Kaplow and Shavell, 1994b).
Moreover, it is difficult to redistribute income systematically through the choice of legal rules: many individuals are never involved in litigation; and for those who are, there is substantial income heterogeneity among plaintiffs as well as among defendants. Additionally, in contractual contexts, the choice of a legal rule often will not have any distributional effect because contract terms, notably, the price, will adjust so that any agreement into which parties enter will continue to reflect the initial distribution of bargaining power between them.
Concerns for fairness. An additional criticism is that the conventional economic approach slights important concerns about fairness, justice, and rights. Some of these notions refer implicitly to the appropriateness of the distribution of income and, accordingly, are encompassed by our preceding remarks. Also, to some degree, the notions are motivated by instrumental concerns. For example, the attraction of paying fair compensation to victims must derive in part from the beneficial risk reduction effected by such payments, and the appeal of obeying contractual promises must rest in part on the desirable consequences contract performance has on production and exchange. To some extent, therefore, critics’ concerns are already taken into account in standard economic analysis.
However, many who promote fairness, justice, and rights do not regard these notions merely as some sort of proxy for attaining instrumental objectives. Instead, they believe that satisfying these notions is intrinsically valuable. This view also can be partially reconciled with the economic conception of social welfare: if individuals have a preference for a legal rule or institution because they regard it as fair, that should be credited in the determination of social welfare, just as any preference should.
But many commentators take the position that conceptions of fairness are important as ethical principles in themselves, without regard to any possible relationship the principles may have to individuals’ welfare. This opinion is the subject of longstanding debate among moral philosophers. Some readers may be skeptical of normative views that are not grounded in individuals’ well-being because embracing such views entails a willingness to sacrifice individuals’ well-being. Indeed, consistently pursuing any non-welfarist principle must sometimes result in everyone being made worse off; see Kaplow and Shavell (2001, 2002).
Efficiency of judge-made law. Also criticized is the contention of some economically-oriented legal academics, notably Posner (1972), that judge-made law tends to be efficient (in contrast to legislation, which is said to reflect the influence of special interest groups). Some critics believe that judge-made law is guided by notions of fairness, or is influenced by legal culture or judges’ biases, and thus will not necessarily be efficient. Whatever is the merit of the critics’ claims, they are descriptive assertions about the law, and their validity does not bear on the power of economics to predict behavior in response to legal rules or on the value of normative economic analysis of law.
Ronald H. Coase , The Problem of Social Cost, 3 J. of Law and Econ. 1 (1960) (excerpted)
This paper is concerned with those actions of business firms which have harmful effects on others. The standard example is that of a factory the smoke from which has harmful effects on those occupying neighboring properties.
The traditional approach has tended to obscure the nature of the choice that has to be made. The question is commonly thought of as one in which A inflicts harm on B and what has to be decided is: how should we restrain A? But this is wrong. We are dealing with a problem of a reciprocal nature. To avoid the harm to B would inflict harm on A. The real question that has to be decided is: should A be allowed to harm B or should B be allowed to harm A? The problem is to avoid the more serious harm. I instanced in my previous article the case of a confectioner the noise and vibrations from whose machinery disturbed a doctor in his work. To avoid harming the doctor would inflict harm on the confectioner.... ...[Consider] the contamination of a stream. If we assume that the harmful effect of the pollution is that it kills the fish, the question to be decided is: is the value of the fish lost greater or less than the value of the product which the contamination of the stream makes possible. It goes almost without saying that this problem has to be looked at in total and at the margin.
I propose to start my analysis by examining a case in which most economists would presumably agree that the problem would be solved in a completely satisfactory manner: when the damaging business has to pay for all damage caused and the pricing system works smoothly (strictly this means that the operation of a pricing system is without cost).
A good example of the problem under discussion is afforded by the case of straying cattle which destroy crops growing on neighboring land… . . I shall assume … that the price of the crop is $1 per ton. Also, I assume that the relation between the number of cattle in the herd and the annual crop loss is as follows:
Number in Herd
Annual Crop Loss (tons)
Marginal Crop Loss (tons)
Given that the cattle-raiser is liable for the damage caused, the additional annual cost imposed on the cattle-raiser if he increased his herd from, say, two to three steers is $3 and in deciding on the size of the herd, he will take this into account along with his other costs. That is, he will not increase the size of the herd unless the value of the additional meat produced (assuming that the cattle-raiser slaughters the cattle) is greater than the additional costs that this will entail, including the value of the additional crops destroyed…
...Assume initially that the value of the crop obtained from cultivating a given tract of land is $12 and that the cost incurred in cultivating this tract of land is $10, the net gain from cultivating the land being $2. I assume for purposes of simplicity that the farmer owns the land. Now assume that the cattle-raiser starts operations on the neighboring property and that the value of the crops damaged is $l. In this case $11 is obtained by the farmer from sale on the market and $1 is obtained from the cattle-raiser for damage suffered and the net gain remains $2.
Now suppose that the cattle-raiser finds it profitable to increase the size of his herd, even though the amount of damage rises to $3; which means that the value of the additional meat production is greater than the additional costs, including the additional $2 payment for damage. But the total payment for damage is now $3. The net gain to the farmer from cultivating the land is still $2. The cattle-raiser would be better off if the farmer would agree not to cultivate his land for any payment less than $3. The farmer would be agreeable to not cultivating the land for any payment greater than $2. There is clearly room for a mutually satisfactory bargain which would lead to the abandonment of cultivation… . .
...A procedure which merely provided for payment for damage to the crop caused by the cattle but which did not allow for the possibility of cultivation being discontinued would result in too small an employment of factors of production in cattle-raising and too large an employment of factors in cultivation of the crop. But given the possibility of market transactions, a situation in which damage to crops exceeded the rent of the land would not endure. Whether the cattle-raiser pays the farmer to leave the land uncultivated or himself rents the land by paying the land-owner an amount slightly greater than the farmer would pay (if the farmer was him-self renting the land), the final result would be the same and would maximize the value of production… . .
I now turn to the case in which, although the pricing system is assumed to work smoothly (that is, costlessly), the damaging business is not liable for any of the damage which it causes. This business does not have to make a payment to those damaged by its actions… ....I return to the case of the farmer and the cattle-raiser. The farmer would suffer increased damage to his crop as the size of the herd increased. Suppose that the size of the cattle-raiser’s herd is three steers (and that this is the size of the herd that would be maintained if crop damage was not taken into account). Then the farmer would be willing to pay up to $3 if the cattle-raiser would reduce his herd to two steers, up to $5 if the herd were reduced to one steer and would pay up to $6 if cattle-raising was abandoned. The cattle-raiser would therefore receive $3 from the farmer if he kept two steers instead of three. This $3 foregone is therefore part of the cost incurred in keeping the third steer. Whether the $3 is a payment which the cattle-raiser has to make if he adds the third steer to his herd (which it would be if the cattle-raiser was liable to the farmer for damage caused to the crop) or whether it is a sum of money which he would have received if he did not keep a third steer (which it would be if the cattle-raiser was not liable to the farmer for damage caused to the crop) does not affect the final result. In both cases $3 is part of the cost of adding a third steer, to be included along with the other costs. If the increase in the value of production in cattle-raising through increasing the size of the herd from two to three is greater than the additional costs that have to be incurred (including the $3 damage to crops), the size of the herd will be increased. Otherwise, it will not. The size of the herd will be the same whether the cattle raiser is liable for damage caused to the crop or not.
It is necessary to know whether the damaging-business is liable or not for damage caused since without the establishment of this initial delimitation of rights there can be no marked transactions to transfer and recombine them. But the ultimate result (which maximizes the value of production) is independent of the legal position if the pricing system is assumed to work without cost.
...Of course, if market transactions were costless, all that matters (questions of equity apart) is that the rights of the various parties should be well-defined and the results of legal actions easy to forecast. But as we have seen, the situation is quite different when market transactions are so costly as to make it difficult to change the arrangement of rights established by the law. In such cases, the courts directly influence economic activity. It would therefore seem desirable that the courts should understand the economic consequences of their decisions and should, insofar as this is possible without creating too much uncertainty about the legal position itself, take these consequences into account when making their decisions. Even when it is possible to change the legal delimitation of rights through market transactions, it is obviously desirable to reduce the need for such transactions and thus reduce the employment of resources in carrying them out.
1. True or false: To obtain nominal damages, a plaintiff must show at least some form of loss.
2. True or false: Even if consent is obtained by fraud, it may negate trespass.
3. True or false: For the Adams court, vibrations interfering with one’s property would not be considered a nuisance unless they were so intense that they physically damaged or destroyed structures on the plaintiff’s land.
4. The Fountainebleau hotel extension would clearly harm the Eden Roc hotel by casting a shadow over the pool area. The “sic utere” formulation - that one’s right to use one’s property is limited only to the extent a use would harm others - would seem to dictate that Fountainebleau’s harmful use not be allowed. How did the court deal with “sic utere”?
5. What are two externalities that arise from an individual’s decision to drive across town to visit a friend? Are these problematic, and if so, what’s one thing we could do to solve this problem?
1. To obtain nominal damages, a plaintiff must show at least some form of loss.
False: It’s impossible to avoid all ambiguity here, but nominal damages are awarded for some causes of action (like trespass to land) even in the absence of any loss. While it’s possible to construe “loss” so broadly as to include bare violation of a legal right, I don’t think that’s the most reasonable construction.
2. Even if consent is obtained by fraud, it may negate trespass.
True: This is Desnick. Note I used the word “may” here. Desnick does not hold that any entrance to property obtained by lying about one’s purpose is ok, only that dishonestly obtained consent does not amount to trespass where the entry does not cause the injuries against which trespass is designed to protect.
3. For the Adams court, vibrations interfering with one’s property would not be considered a trespass unless they were so intense that they physically damaged or destroyed structures on the plaintiff’s land.
False: See n.12. Such vibrations are obviously harmful, but they aren’t a violation of the landowners right to exclude but rather his or her right to use/enjoy the property, a right protected in nuisance.
4. The Fountainebleau hotel extension would clearly harm the Eden Roc hotel by casting a shadow over the pool area. The “sic utere” formulation - that one’s right to use one’s property is limited only to the extent a use would harm others - would seem to dictate that Fountainebleau’s harmful use not be allowed. How did the court deal with “sic utere”?
The court said that the principle extends only to preventing uses of one’s property that harm the rights of another. The court decided that the plaintiff had no legal right to receive sunlight through the property of a neighbor.
5. What are two externalities that arise from an individual’s decision to drive across town to visit a friend? Are these problematic, and if so, what’s one thing we could do to solve this problem?
You should be looking for any of the aspects of driving that impose costs the driver does not bear. For example pollution and congestion are marginally increased by one’s driving. We generally do not bear, individually, the full cost of either. You might also observe that the risk of injury to others may not be part of the private cost-benefit calculation that goes into driving. It’s true, though, that one’s insurance premiums will increase with an accident. And it is a cost to you that by driving you risk an increase in your premiums. This cost, though, might not reflect the true cost of the risk you impose on others.
How to solve? Well, if we do like Pigou, we’ll look for ways to internalize these externalities. This generally means some kind of tax (whether you call it a toll, tax, surcharge, fee, etc.) or possibly regulation. So we may choose a gas tax meant to charge an individual for the harm caused by pollution. We might use some sort of toll system meant to charge an individual for his or her marginal contribution to road congestion. There are plenty of other ways to answer here, so long as you identify a cost that’s not internalized and make some suggestion for how we should prevent an individual from making a distorted (i.e. selfishly smart but socially dumb) economic decision.
Prah v. Maretti, 108 Wis. 2d 223 (1982)
John F. Maloney, Milwaukee, argued, for plaintiff-appellant; Jonathan A. Mulligan and Mulcahy & Wherry, S. C., Milwaukee, on brief.
Jack C. Horth, Milwaukee, for defendant-respondent.
Craig Gordon Smith, Milwaukee, and Alan S. Miller, Washington, D. C., amicus curiae for Natural Resources Defense Council.
Anthony C. Liotta, Acting Asst. Atty. Gen., Land and Natural Resources Division, Washington, D. C., Joan F. Kessler, U. S. Atty., E. D. Wis., Milwaukee, Kathryn A. Oberly, Chief Energy Section, J. Vance Hughes, Chief, Sp. Litigation Section, Jacques B. Gelin and James P. Leape, Attys., U. S. Dept. of Justice, Washington, D. C., for amicus curiae.
… . This case … involves a conflict between one landowner (Glenn Prah, the plaintiff) interested in unobstructed access to sunlight across adjoining property as a natural source of energy and an adjoining landowner (Richard D. Maretti, the defendant) interested in the development of his land.
The circuit court concluded that the plaintiff presented no claim upon which relief could be granted and granted summary judgment for the defendant. We reverse the judgment of the circuit court and remand the cause to the circuit court for further proceedings.
According to the complaint, the plaintiff is the owner of a residence which was constructed during the years 1978-1979. The complaint alleges that the residence has a solar system which includes collectors on the roof to supply energy for heat and hot water and that after the plaintiff built his solar-heated house, the defendant purchased the lot adjacent to and immediately to the south of the plaintiff’s lot and commenced planning construction of a home. The complaint further states that when the plaintiff learned of defendant’s plans to build the house he advised the defendant that if the house were built at the proposed location, defendant’s house would substantially and adversely affect the integrity of plaintiff’s solar system and could cause plaintiff other damage. Nevertheless, the defendant began construction. The complaint further alleges that the plaintiff is entitled to “unrestricted use of the sun and its solar power” and demands judgment for injunctive relief and damages.
After filing his complaint, the plaintiff moved for a temporary injunction to restrain and enjoin construction by the defendant. In ruling on that motion the circuit court heard testimony, received affidavits and viewed the site.
The record made on the motion reveals the following additional facts: Plaintiff’s home was the first residence built in the subdivision, and although plaintiff did not build his house in the center of the lot it was built in accordance with applicable restrictions. Plaintiff advised defendant that if the defendant’s home were built at the proposed site it would cause a shadowing effect on the solar collectors which would reduce the efficiency of the system and possibly damage the system. To avoid these adverse effects, plaintiff requested defendant to locate his home an additional several feet away from the plaintiff’s lot line, the exact number being disputed. Plaintiff and defendant failed
to reach an agreement on the location of defendant’s home before defendant started construction. The Architectural Control Committee and the Planning Commission of the City of Muskego approved the defendant’s plans for his home, including its location on the lot. After such approval, the defendant apparently changed the grade of the property without prior notice to the Architectural Control Committee. The problem with defendant’s proposed construction, as far as the plaintiff’s interests are concerned, arises from a combination of the grade and the distance of defendant’s home from the defendant’s lot line.
The circuit court denied plaintiff’s motion for injunctive relief, declared it would entertain a motion for summary judgment and thereafter entered judgment in favor of the defendant.
In this case there is some ambiguity whether the judgment was based on the complaint or on factual matters outside the pleadings which were presented to the circuit court in connection with the motion for a temporary injunction. Consequently, we shall first test the sufficiency of the complaint and then determine whether the matters outside the pleadings present disputed material facts sufficient to justify a trial.
In testing the sufficiency of the complaint the facts pleaded by the plaintiff, and all reasonable inferences therefrom, are accepted as true. The pleadings are to be liberally construed with a view to substantial justice to the parties, and the complaint should be dismissed as legally insufficient only if “it is quite clear that under no circumstances can the plaintiff recover.”
We consider first whether the complaint states a claim for relief based on common law private nuisance. This state has long recognized that an owner of land does not have an absolute or unlimited right to use the land in a way which injures the rights of others. The rights of neighboring landowners are relative; the uses by one must not unreasonably impair the uses or enjoyment of the other. When one landowner’s use of his or her property unreasonably interferes with another’s enjoyment of his or her property, that use is said to be a private nuisance. Hoene v. Milwaukee, 17 Wis. 2d 209, 214 (1962); Metzger v. Hochrein, 107 Wis. 267, 269 (1900). See also Prosser, Law of Torts sec. 89, p. 591 (2d ed. 1971).
The private nuisance doctrine has traditionally been employed in this state to balance the rights of landowners, and this court has recently adopted the analysis of private nuisance set forth in the Restatement (Second) of Torts. The Restatement defines private nuisance as “a nontrespassory invasion of another’s interest in the private use and enjoyment of land.” Restatement (Second) of Torts sec. 821D (1977). The phrase “interest in the private use and enjoyment of land” as used in sec. 821D is broadly defined to include any disturbance of the enjoyment of property. The comment in the Restatement describes the landowner’s interest protected by private nuisance law as follows:
The phrase “interest in the use and enjoyment of land” is used in this Restatement in a broad sense. It comprehends not only the interests that a person may have in the actual present use of land for residential, agricultural, commercial, industrial and other purposes, but also his interests in having the present use value of the land unimpaired by changes in its physical condition. Thus the destruction of trees on vacant land is as much an invasion of the owner’s interest in its use and enjoyment as is the destruction of crops or flowers that he is growing on the land for his present use. ‘Interest in use and enjoyment’ also comprehends the pleasure, comfort and enjoyment that a person normally derives from the occupancy of land. Freedom from discomfort and annoyance while using land is often as important to a person as freedom from physical interruption with his use or freedom from detrimental change in the physical condition of the land itself.
Restatement (Second) of Torts, Sec. 821D, Comment b, p. 101 (1977)
Although the defendant’s obstruction of the plaintiff’s access to sunlight appears to fall within the Restatement’s broad concept of a private nuisance as a nontrespassory invasion of another’s interest in the private use and enjoyment of land, the defendant asserts that he has a right to develop his property in compliance with statutes, ordinances and private covenants without regard to the effect of such development upon the plaintiff’s access to sunlight. In essence, the defendant is asking this court to hold that the private nuisance doctrine is not applicable in the instant case and that his right to develop his land is a right which is per se superior to his neighbor’s interest in access to sunlight. This position is expressed in the maxim “cujus est solum, ejus est usque ad coelum et ad infernos,” that is, the owner of land owns up to the sky and down to the center of the earth. The rights of the surface owner are, however, not unlimited. U. S. v. Causby, 328 U.S. 256, 260-1 (1946).
The defendant is not completely correct in asserting that the common law did not protect a landowner’s access to sunlight across adjoining property. At English common law a landowner could acquire a right to receive sunlight across adjoining land by both express agreement and under the judge-made doctrine of “ancient lights.” Under the doctrine of ancient lights if the landowner had received sunlight across adjoining property for a specified period of time, the landowner was entitled to continue to receive unobstructed access to sunlight across the adjoining property. Under the doctrine the landowner acquired a negative prescriptive easement and could prevent the adjoining landowner from obstructing access to light.
Although American courts have not been as receptive to protecting a landowner’s access to sunlight as the English courts, American courts have afforded some protection to a landowner’s interest in access to sunlight. American courts honor express easements to sunlight. American courts initially enforced the English common law doctrine of ancient lights, but later every state which considered the doctrine repudiated it as inconsistent with the needs of a developing country. Indeed, for just that reason this court concluded that an easement to light and air over adjacent property could not be created or acquired by prescription and has been unwilling to recognize such an easement by implication. Depner v. United States National Bank, 202 Wis. 405, 408 (1930); Miller v. Hoeschler, 126 Wis. 263, 268-69 (1905).
Many jurisdictions in this country have protected a landowner from malicious obstruction of access to light (the spite fence cases) under the common law private nuisance doctrine. If an activity is motivated by malice it lacks utility and the harm it causes others outweighs any social values. This court was reluctant to protect a landowner’s interest in sunlight even against a spite fence, only to be overruled by the legislature. Shortly after this court upheld a landowner’s right to erect a useless and unsightly sixteen-foot spite fence four feet from his neighbor’s windows, Metzger v. Hochrein, 107 Wis. 267 (1900), the legislature enacted a law specifically defining a spite fence as an actionable private nuisance. Thus a landowner’s interest in sunlight has been protected in this country by common law private nuisance law at least in the narrow context of the modern American rule invalidating spite fences.
This court’s reluctance in the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth century to provide broader protection for a landowner’s access to sunlight was premised on three policy considerations. First, the right of landowners to use their property as they wished, as long as they did not cause physical damage to a neighbor, was jealously guarded. Metzger v. Hochrein, 107 Wis. 267, 272 (1900).
Second, sunlight was valued only for aesthetic enjoyment or as illumination. Since artificial light could be used for illumination, loss of sunlight was at most a personal annoyance which was given little, if any, weight by society.
Third, society had a significant interest in not restricting or impeding land development. Dillman v. Hoffman, 38 Wis. 559, 574 (1875). This court repeatedly emphasized that in the growth period of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries change is to be expected and is essential to property and that recognition of a right to sunlight would hinder property development. The court expressed this concept as follows:
As the city grows, large grounds appurtenant to residences must be cut up to supply more residences…. The cistern, the outhouse, the cesspool, and the private drain must disappear in deference to the public waterworks and sewer; the terrace and the garden, to the need for more complete occupancy…. Strict limitation [on the recognition of easements of light and air over adjacent premises is] in accord with the popular conception upon which real estate has been and is daily being conveyed in Wisconsin and to be essential to easy and rapid development at least of our municipalities.
Miller v. Hoeschler, supra, 126 Wis. at 268, 270; quoted with approval in Depner, supra, 202 Wis. at 409.
Considering these three policies, this court concluded that in the absence of an express agreement granting access to sunlight, a landowner’s obstruction of another’s access to sunlight was not actionable. Miller v. Hoeschler, supra, 126 Wis. at 271; Depner v. United States National Bank, supra, 202 Wis. at 410. These three policies are no longer fully accepted or applicable. They reflect factual circumstances and social priorities that are now obsolete.
First, society has increasingly regulated the use of land by the landowner for the general welfare. Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co., 272 U.S. 365 (1926); Just v. Marinette, 56 Wis. 2d 7 (1972).
Second, access to sunlight has taken on a new significance in recent years. In this case the plaintiff seeks to protect access to sunlight, not for aesthetic reasons or as a source of illumination but as a source of energy. Access to sunlight as an energy source is of significance both to the landowner who invests in solar collectors and to a society which has an interest in developing alternative sources of energy.
Third, the policy of favoring unhindered private development in an expanding economy is no longer in harmony with the realities of our society. State v. Deetz, 66 Wis. 2d 1 (1974). The need for easy and rapid development is not as great today as it once was, while our perception of the value of sunlight as a source of energy has increased significantly.
Courts should not implement obsolete policies that have lost their vigor over the course of the years. The law of private nuisance is better suited to resolve landowners’ disputes about property development in the 1980’s than is a rigid rule which does not recognize a landowner’s interest in access to sunlight. As we said in Ballstadt v. Pagel, 202 Wis. 484, 489 (1930), “What is regarded in law as constituting a nuisance in modern times would no doubt have been tolerated without question in former times.” We read State v. Deetz, 66 Wis. 2d 1 (1974), as an endorsement of the application of common law nuisance to situations involving the conflicting interests of landowners and as rejecting per se exclusions to the nuisance law reasonable use doctrine.
In Deetz the court abandoned the rigid common law common enemy rule with respect to surface water and adopted the private nuisance reasonable use rule, namely that the landowner is subject to liability if his or her interference with the flow of surface waters unreasonably invades a neighbor’s interest in the use and enjoyment of land. Restatement (Second) of Torts, sec. 822, 826, 829 (1977) This court concluded that the common enemy rule which served society “well in the days of burgeoning national expansion of the mid-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries” should be abandoned because it was no longer “in harmony with the realities of our society.” Deetz, supra, 66 Wis. 2d at 14-15. We recognized in Deetz that common law rules adapt to changing social values and conditions.
Yet the defendant would have us ignore the flexible private nuisance law as a means of resolving the dispute between the landowners in this case and would have us adopt an approach, already abandoned in Deetz, of favoring the unrestricted development of land and of applying a rigid and inflexible rule protecting his right to build on his land and disregarding any interest of the plaintiff in the use and enjoyment of his land. This we refuse to do.
Private nuisance law, the law traditionally used to adjudicate conflicts between private landowners, has the flexibility to protect both a landowner’s right of access to sunlight and another landowner’s right to develop land. Private nuisance law is better suited to regulate access to sunlight in modern society and is more in harmony with legislative policy and the prior decisions of this court than is an inflexible doctrine of non-recognition of any interest in access to sunlight across adjoining land.
We therefore hold that private nuisance law, that is, the reasonable use doctrine as set forth in the Restatement, is applicable to the instant case. Recognition of a nuisance claim for unreasonable obstruction of access to sunlight will not prevent land development or unduly hinder the use of adjoining land. It will promote the reasonable use and enjoyment of land in a manner suitable to the 1980’s. That obstruction of access to light might be found to constitute a nuisance in certain circumstances does not mean that it will be or must be found to constitute a nuisance under all circumstances. The result in each case depends on whether the conduct complained of is unreasonable.
Accordingly we hold that the plaintiff in this case has stated a claim under which relief can be granted. Nonetheless we do not determine whether the plaintiff in this case is entitled to relief. In order to be entitled to relief the plaintiff must prove the elements required to establish actionable nuisance, and the conduct of the defendant herein must be judged by the reasonable use doctrine.
The defendant asserts that even if we hold that the private nuisance doctrine applies to obstruction of access to sunlight across adjoining land, the circuit court’s granting of summary judgment should be affirmed.
Although the memorandum decision of the circuit court in the instant case is unclear, it appears that the circuit court recognized that the common law private nuisance doctrine was applicable but concluded that defendant’s conduct was not unreasonable. The circuit court apparently attempted to balance the utility of the defendant’s conduct with the gravity of the harm. Sec. 826, Restatement (Second) of Torts (1977). The defendant urges us to accept the circuit court’s balance as adequate. We decline to do so.
The circuit court concluded that because the defendant’s proposed house was in conformity with zoning regulations, building codes and deed restrictions, the defendant’s use of the land was reasonable. This court has concluded that a landowner’s compliance with zoning laws does not automatically bar a nuisance claim. Compliance with the law “is not the controlling factor, though it is, of course, entitled to some weight.” Bie v. Ingersoll, 27 Wis. 2d 490, 495 (1965). The circuit court also concluded that the plaintiff could have avoided any harm by locating his own house in a better place. Again, plaintiff’s ability to avoid the harm is a relevant but not a conclusive factor. See secs. 826, 827, 828, Restatement (Second) of Torts (1977).
Furthermore, our examination of the record leads us to conclude that the record does not furnish an adequate basis for the circuit court to apply the proper legal principles on summary judgment. The application of the reasonable use standard in nuisance cases normally requires a full exposition of all underlying facts and circumstances. Too little is known in this case of such matters as the extent of the harm to the plaintiff, the suitability of solar heat in that neighborhood, the availability of remedies to the plaintiff, and the costs to the defendant of avoiding the harm. Summary judgment is not an appropriate procedural vehicle in this case when the circuit court must weigh evidence which has not been presented at trial.
For the reasons set forth, we reverse the judgment of the circuit court dismissing the complaint and remand the matter to circuit court for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.
Callow, Justice (dissenting).
The majority has adopted the Restatement’s reasonable use doctrine to grant an owner of a solar heated home a cause of action against his neighbor who, in acting entirely within the applicable ordinances and statutes, seeks to design and build his home in such a location that it may, at various times during the day, shade the plaintiff’s solar collector, thereby impeding the efficiency of his heating system during several months of the year. Because I believe the facts of this case clearly reveal that a cause of action for private nuisance will not lie, I dissent.
The majority arrives at its conclusion that the common law private nuisance doctrine is applicable by analogizing this situation with the spite fence cases which protect a landowner from malicious obstruction of access to light. See Piccirilli v. Groccia, 114 R.I. 36, 39 (1974) (plaintiff must prove allegedly objectionable fence was erected solely for the avowed purpose of damaging the abutting neighbor and not for the advantage of the person who constructed the fence); Schorck v. Epperson, 74 Wyo. 286, 287-88 (1955) (doctrine of private nuisance founded on maxim that no one should have a legal right to make a malicious use of his property for no benefit to himself but merely to injure another). [citations omitted] Courts have likewise refused to limit interference with television reception and other broadcast signals. The People ex rel. Hoogasian v. Sears, Roebuck and Co., 52 Ill. 2d 301, 305 (1972). Clearly, the spite fence cases, as their name implies, require malice which is not claimed in this case.
The majority then concludes that this court’s past reluctance to extend protection to a landowner’s access to sunlight beyond the spite fence cases is based on obsolete policies which have lost their vigor over the course of the years. The three obsolete policies cited by the majority are: (1) Right of landowners to use their property as they desire as long as no physical damage is done to a neighbor; (2) In the past, sunlight was valued only for aesthetic value, not a source of energy; and (3) Society has a significant interest in not impeding land development. The majority has failed to convince me that these policies are obsolete.
It is a fundamental principle of law that a “landowner owns at least as much of the space above the ground as he can occupy or use in connection with the land.” As stated in the frequently cited and followed case of Fontainebleau Hotel Corp. v. Forty-Five Twenty-Five, Inc., 114 So.2d 357 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1959):
There being, then, no legal right to the free flow of light and air from the adjoining land, it is universally held that where a structure serves a useful and beneficial purpose, it does not give rise to a cause of action, either for damages or for an injunction under the maxim sic utere tuo ut alienum non laedas, even though it causes injury to another by cutting off the light and air and interfering with the view that would otherwise be available over adjoining land in its natural state, regardless of the fact that the structure may have been erected partly for spite.
Id. at 359 (emphasis in original). I firmly believe that a landowner’s right to use his property within the limits of ordinances, statutes, and restrictions of record where such use is necessary to serve his legitimate needs is a fundamental precept of a free society which this court should strive to uphold.
As one commentator has suggested:
It is fashionable to dismiss such values as deriving from a bygone era in which people valued development as a ‘goal in itself,’ but current market prices for real estate, and more particularly the premiums paid for land whose zoning permits intensive use, suggest that people still place very high values on such rights.
Williams, Solar Access and Property Rights: A Maverick Analysis, 11 Conn. L. Rev. 430, 443 (1979) (footnote omitted). Cf. Goble, Solar Access and Property Rights: Reply to a “Maverick” Analysis, 12 Conn. L. Rev. 270 (1980).
The majority cites two zoning cases, Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Company, 272 U.S. 365 (1926), and Just v. Marinette County, 56 Wis. 2d 7 (1972), to support the conclusion that society has increasingly regulated private land use in the name of public welfare. The cases involving the use of police power and eminent domain are clearly distinguishable from the present situation as they relate to interference with a private right solely for the public health, safety, morals, or welfare. In the instant case, we are dealing with an action which seeks to restrict the defendant’s private right to use his property, notwithstanding a complete lack of notice of restriction to the defendant and the defendant’s compliance with applicable ordinances and statutes. The plaintiff who knew of the potential problem before the defendant acquired the land seeks to impose such use restriction to accommodate his personal, private benefit-a benefit which could have been accommodated by the plaintiff locating his home in a different place on his property or by acquiring the land in question when it was for sale prior to its acquisition by the defendant.
I know of no cases repudiating policies favoring the right of a landowner to use his property as he lawfully desires or which declare such policies are “no longer fully accepted or applicable” in this context. The right of a property owner to lawful enjoyment of his property should be vigorously protected, particularly in those cases where the adjacent property owner could have insulated himself from the alleged problem by acquiring the land as a defense to the potential problem or by provident use of his own property.
The majority concludes that sunlight has not heretofore been accorded the status of a source of energy, and consequently it has taken on a new significance in recent years. Solar energy for home heating is at this time sparingly used and of questionable economic value because solar collectors are not mass produced, and consequently, they are very costly. Their limited efficiency may explain the lack of production.
Regarding the third policy the majority apparently believes is obsolete (that society has a significant interest in not restricting land development), it cites State v. Deetz, 66 Wis. 2d 1 (1974). I concede the law may be tending to recognize the value of aesthetics over increased volume development and that an individual may not use his land in such a way as to harm the public. The instant case, however, deals with a private benefit. I note that this court in Deetz stated: “The reasonable use rule retains … a policy of favoring land improvement and development.” Id. at 20. See also id. at 15. I find it significant that community planners are dealing with this country’s continued population growth and building revitalization where “[t]he number of households is expected to reach almost 100 million by the end of the decade; that would be 34 percent higher than the number in 1970.” F. Strom, 1981 Zoning and Planning Law Handbook, sec. 22.02, 396 (1981). It is clear that community planners are acutely aware of the present housing shortages, particularly among those two groups with limited financial resources, the young and the elderly. Id. While the majority’s policy arguments may be directed to a cause of action for public nuisance, we are presented with a private nuisance case which I believe is distinguishable in this regard.
I would submit that any policy decisions in this area are best left for the legislature. “What is ‘desirable’ or ‘advisable’ or ‘ought to be’ is a question of policy, not a question of fact. What is ‘necessary’ or what is ‘in the best interest’ is not a fact and its determination by the judiciary is an exercise of legislative power when each involves political considerations.” In re City of Beloit, 37 Wis. 2d 637, 644 (1968). I would concur with these observations of the trial judge: “While temptation lingers for the court to declare by judicial fiat what is right and what should be done, under the facts in this case, such action under our form of constitutional government where the three branches each have their defined jurisdiction and power, would be an intrusion of judicial egoism over legislative passivity.”
The legislature has recently acted in this area. Chapter 354, Laws of 1981 (effective May 7, 1982), was enacted to provide the underlying legislation enabling local governments to enact ordinances establishing procedures for guaranteeing access to sunlight. This court’s intrusion into an area where legislative action is being taken is unwarranted, and it may undermine a legislative scheme for orderly development not yet fully operational.
[Judge Callow excerpts statutory provisions prohibiting certain light blockage but only according to a permit scheme and with notice to neighboring owners.] This legislative scheme would deal with the type of problem presented in the present case and precludes the need for judicial activism in this area.
I examine with interest the definition of nuisance as set out in the Restatement (Second) of Torts and adopted in the majority opinion: “A private nuisance is a nontrespassory invasion of another’s interest in the private use and enjoyment of land.” Restatement (Second) of Torts sec. 821D (1977) (emphasis added). The majority believes that the defendant’s obstruction of the plaintiff’s access to sunlight falls within the broad definition of “use and enjoyment of land.” Supra, at 187-188. I do not believe the defendant’s “obstruction” of the plaintiff’s access to sunlight falls within the definition of “invasion,” as it applies to the private use and enjoyment of land. Invasion is typically synonymous with “entry,” “attack,” “penetration,” “hostile entrance,” “the incoming or spread of something unusually hurtful.” Webster’s Third International Dictionary, 1188 (1966). Most of the nuisance cases arising under this definition involve noxious odors, smoke, blasting, flooding, or excessive light invading the plaintiff’s right to the use of enjoyment of his property. See Prosser, Law of Torts, sec. 89, 591-92 (4th ed. 1971). See Williams, Solar Access and Property Rights: A Maverick Analysis, 11 Conn. L. Rev. at 441 (there are significant practical differences between dust and noise, on the one hand, and solar access blockage on the other). Clearly, an owner who merely builds his home in compliance with all building code and municipal regulations is not “invading” another’s right to the use and enjoyment of his property. To say so is to acknowledge that all construction may be an “invasion” because all construction has some restrictive impact on adjacent land. A “view,” for example, is modified by any construction simply because it is there.
In order for a nuisance to be actionable in the instant case, the defendant’s conduct must be “intentional and unreasonable.” It is impossible for me to accept the majority’s conclusion that Mr. Maretti, in lawfully seeking to construct his home, may be intentionally and unreasonably interfering with the plaintiff’s access to sunlight. In addressing the “unreasonableness” component of the actor’s conduct, it is important to note that “[t]here is liability for a nuisance only to those to whom it causes significant harm, of a kind that would be suffered by a normal person in the community or by property in normal condition and used for a normal purpose.” Restatement (Second) of Torts sec. 821F (1979). The comments to the Restatement further reveal that “[if] normal persons in that locality would not be substantially annoyed or disturbed by the situation, then the invasion is not a significant one, even though the idiosyncrasies of the particular plaintiff may make it unendurable to him.” Id. Comment d.
I conclude that plaintiff’s solar heating system is an unusually sensitive use. In other words, the defendant’s proposed construction of his home, under ordinary circumstances, would not interfere with the use and enjoyment of the usual person’s property. See W. Prosser, supra, sec. 87 at 578-79. “The plaintiff cannot, by devoting his own land to an unusually sensitive use, such as a drive-in motion picture theater easily affected by light, make a nuisance out of conduct of the adjoining defendant which would otherwise be harmless.” Id. at 579 (footnote omitted).
Looking solely at the defendant’s conduct, the circuit court concluded that the defendant’s construction of a house did not create a cause of action for nuisance because the defendant’s proposed home was in conformity with zoning regulations, building codes, deed restrictions, as well as the fact that the defendant’s use of the land to build his home was reasonable. The majority, however, cites Bie v. Ingersoll, supra, for the proposition that compliance with the law is not the controlling factor in evaluating a nuisance claim. I note that Bie involved the operation of an asphalt plant from which dust and odors permeated the plaintiff’s adjoining residence. The defendants asserted that, because the property occupied by the asphalt plant was zoned for industrial use, the plant could not constitute a nuisance. This court concluded that the zoning classification was not the controlling factor. “It is rather ‘the peculiar nature and the location of the business, not the fact that it is a business, that constitutes the private nuisance.’” 27 Wis. 2d at 495. The Bie case is clearly distinguishable from the case at bar. Here, the defendant seeks to build his home in compliance with all existing laws, and it will have no “peculiar nature.” As I read the Bie case, the negative implication from its facts is that a business which does not emit dust or odors (i.e., which has no peculiar nature) and which is in conformity with zoning regulations is not a private nuisance. I would hold under the facts of the instant case that the defendant’s conduct is not unreasonable per se, and consequently, a nuisance cause of action cannot stand.
I further believe that the majority’s conclusion that a cause of action exists in this case thwarts the very foundation of property law. Property law encompasses a system of filing and notice in a place for public records to provide prospective purchasers with any limitations on their use of the property. Such a notice is not alleged by the plaintiff. Only as a result of the majority’s decision did Mr. Maretti discover that a legitimate action exists which would require him to defend the design and location of his home against a nuisance suit, notwithstanding the fact that he located and began to build his house within the applicable building, municipal, and deed restrictions.
Obviously, the legislature was cognizant of the importance of notice. In Chapter 354, Laws of 1981, secs. 66.032(5) and (6) deal with notice to an adjoining landowner. [statutory excerpt omitted]
In recognizing this common law cause of action, this court’s decision is in direct conflict with the 1981 legislative provisions for the granting of solar access permits. In a municipality which enacts the ordinance in conformity with the statute, neighbors know their respective rights. Under the majority decision, in a municipality which does not enact the ordinance, a common law cause of action for nuisance exists without any defined rights.
I believe the facts of the instant controversy present the classic case of the owner of a solar collector who fails to take any action to protect his investment. There is nothing in the record to indicate that Mr. Prah disclosed his situation to Mr. Maretti prior to Maretti’s purchase of the lot or attempted to secure protection for his solar collector prior to Maretti’s submission of his building plans to the architectural committee. Such inaction should be considered a significant factor in determining whether a cause of action exists.
The majority’s failure to recognize the need for notice may perpetuate a vicious cycle. Maretti may feel compelled to sell his lot because of Prah’s solar collector’s interference with his plans to build his family home. If so, Maretti will not be obliged to inform prospective purchasers of the problem. Certainly, such information will reduce the value of his land. If the presence of collectors is sufficient notice, it cannot be said that the seller of the lot has a duty to disclose information peculiarly within his knowledge. I do not believe that an adjacent lot owner should be obliged to experience the substantial economic loss resulting from the lot being rendered unbuildable by the contour of the land as it relates to the location and design of the adjoining home using solar collectors.
I am troubled by the majority’s apparent retrospective application of its decision. I note that the court in Deetz saw the wisdom and fairness in rendering a prospective decision. Surely, a decision such as this should be accorded prospective status. Creating the cause of action after the fact results in such unfair surprise and hardship to property owners such as Maretti.
Because I do not believe that the facts of the present case give rise to a cause of action for private nuisance, I dissent.
Calabresi and Melamed’s Cathedral
Coase’s article demonstrates that legal rules are immaterial in private litigation so long as bargaining after a judgment is both permitted and costless. Were there no transaction costs, all factors of production would be put to their highest and best uses. Private parties would bargain around court judgments that inefficiently entitled A to grow crops or B to raise cattle.
But as Coase acknowledges, transaction costs are omnipresent and often immense in the real world. It costs resources in order to strike a deal. And yet, deals can indeed be struck. How should courts impose legal obligations now that we wish to take into account not just what should happen in the end but the much more complex question of what role courts should play knowing that their judgments will be only part of the social forces that determine what does happen.
Property Rules and Liability Rules
It is to this question that Guido Calabresi and A. Douglas Melamed attempted a partial answer in their famous article, Property Rules, Liability Rules, and Inalienability: One View of the Cathedral, 85 Harv. L. Rev. 1089 (1972). Calabresi and Melamed’s central insight was that judicial resolution involved a two-fold decision: whom to entitle and how to protect the entitlement. Either A or B will be adjudged the “winner,” in the sense that they are granted the disputed entitlement (the right to pollute or the right to clean air, for example), but there is more to decide. How is the entitlement they have been granted protected by a court? Calabresi and Melamed:
An entitlement is protected by a property rule to the extent that someone who wishes to remove the entitlement from its holder must buy it from him in a voluntary transaction in which the value of the entitlement is agreed upon by the seller. It is the form of entitlement which gives rise to the least amount of state intervention: once the original entitlement is decided upon, the state does not try to decide its value. It lets each of the parties say how much the entitlement is worth to him, and gives the seller a veto if the buyer does not offer enough. Property rules involve a collective decision as to who is to be given an initial entitlement but not as to the value of the entitlement.
Whenever someone may destroy the initial entitlement if he is willing to pay an objectively determined value for it, an entitlement is protected by a liability rule. This value may be what it is thought the original holder of the entitlement would have sold it for. But the holder’s complaint that he would have demanded more will not avail him once the objectively determined value is set. Obviously, liability rules involve an additional stage of state intervention: not only are entitlements protected, but their transfer or destruction is allowed on the basis of a value determined by some organ of the state rather than by the parties themselves.
An entitlement is inalienable to the extent that its transfer is not permitted between a willing buyer and a willing seller… . .
When a court awards damages, it is applying a liability rule, since the court, rather than the winner of the lawsuit, determines the value of what was lost to the winner. When a court awards an injunction, it gives to the winner an absolute right to refuse the loser’s request that he or she part with the subject of the injunction. If the loser wants it, he or she must meet the price that the winner sets to take the entitlement, even if that price is sky high.
Note, too, that what we call our property is protected in different ways in different situations. A home may be protected by a property rule against those who would trespass and take it. A court will order the trespassers thrown out and give to the record owner the right to insist on a price of his or her choosing to sell the house. But that same house may be protected only by a liability rule against the city in which it is located. The city, using its power of eminent domain, may take the house from the owner so long as it pays what a court determines is fair market value, irrespective of the price the owner would want to charge.
We have now enlarged the apparent set of options a court has in resolving a dispute. It may award the disputed entitlement (the right to pollute or to be free from pollution, the right to enter property or the right to refuse entry, etc.) to A or to B, and it may protect the entitlement it awards with a property, liability rule, or inalienability rule.
Choosing a Rule
How and why might a court choose a winner of the entitlement and choose whether to protect the entitlement with a property or liability rule? (Let’s exclude, for the moment, the inalienability rule.) Assume we have a plaintiff (P) suing a defendant (D) over an alleged nuisance. D wants to continue the nuisance, and P wants to stop it. The options confronting a court can be placed in a two by two chart, leading to four possible rules.
Property Rule Protection
Liability Rule Protection
1: D must get P’s consent to continue
2: D must pay damages to continue
3: D must consent to stop
4: P can force D to stop by paying damages
How is a judge to choose among these rules? Calabresi and Melamed explain that courts base these decisions on various grounds: economic efficiency (attempting to ensure that the entitlement is awarded so that it winds up, perhaps after market transactions, so that no further transactions could be had without making someone worse off to a greater degree than others are made better off) , distributional goals (the preferences a society has for the distribution of wealth and specific goods, like food and health care), and, perhaps, other justice goals.
Restricting our attention to economic efficiency, we might at first wish to apply what we learned from Coase and assume that we should always use property rules and that it does not matter whether P or D wins the lawsuit. If we choose wrongly, for example if we decide P wins even though the entitlement to pollute is worth more to D than the entitlement to be free of pollution is worth to P, the parties can always transact after the fact to correct our mistake. That was the essence of (the second part of) the so-called Coase Theorem. But, as Coase himself indicated, this does not work if transaction costs are large. If the parties cannot easily correct our mistakes through post-judgment bargaining, then it matters very much where we place the entitlement.
For example, transactions will be difficult if there are many individuals on one side, as in the case of a polluting factory and a town. For example, members of the town may act selfishly and refuse to pay their share (believing others will pick up the slack) in the event the entitlement was wrongly awarded to the factory. This is called free riding. If we erred the other way, wrongly awarding the entitlement to the town when in fact the factory values production more than the town values clean air, then some town members may selfishly demand too much to permit the factory to pollute. In other words, they may be hold-outs. If 10,000 people each have an individual right to stop a factory, so that the factory must strike a deal with each person in order to go into production, then it should be obvious that the factory faces a very expensive contracting problem and is subject to hold-outs.
Liability rules solve such problems. Replacing 10,000 individual negotiations with a court-determined damages award solves the problem of hold-outs and free riders. A court could, for example, following Rule 2 from the boxes above, allow the factory pollute, on the condition that it pay damages to the town members.
But the very thing that makes the liability rule so attractive, that it eliminates potentially expensive, individualized negotiation with a court’s determination of fair market values, also makes it potentially unattractive from an efficiency standpoint. It relies on the court’s ability to estimate the true values of the entitlement to the parties. The court may not be good at this. The very foundation of free markets is the belief that, in general, individuals know better than others how much things are worth to them. In setting damages, courts may not arrive at amounts that reflect what parties would pay or accept in the absence of transaction costs. That error represents an economic inefficiency and may lead to a shuttered factory that would in fact be efficient or a polluting factory that is inefficient.
Acting in realm of uncertainty, perhaps courts should do as best they can to put liability on (the opposite of grant the entitlement to) the party best positioned both to determine whether what that party wants is worth the damages award or negotiation. The court should also consider whether placing liability on one party or the other makes transactions more likely. And, finally, if bargaining looks particularly expensive and the court is reasonably well positioned to determine the value of the entitlement to each side, then the court should consider a liability rule. Calabresi and Melamed summarize the efficiency concerns thusly:
(1) that economic efficiency standing alone would dictate that set of entitlements which favors knowledgeable choices between social benefits and the social costs of obtaining them, and between social costs and the social costs of avoiding them; (2) that this implies, in the absence of certainty as to whether a benefit is worth its costs to society, that the cost should be put on the party or activity best located to make such a cost-benefit analysis; (3) that in particular contexts like accidents or pollution this suggests putting costs on the party or activity which can most cheaply avoid them; (4) that in the absence of certainty as to who that party or activity is, the costs should be put on the party or activity which can with the lowest transaction costs act in the market to correct an error in entitlements by inducing the party who can avoid social costs most cheaply to do so; and (5) that since we are in an area where by hypothesis markets do not work perfectly – there are transaction costs – a decision will often have to be made on whether market transactions [property rule protection] or collective fiat [liability rule protection] is most likely to bring us closer to the [efficient] result the “perfect” market would reach.
Suppose a plaintiff, P, sues a defendant, D, for committing what P believes is a nuisance. How should a court decide whether P should prevail and whether it should enjoin D’s conduct or permit D’s conduct with the payment of damages to P? Consider the example of the plaintiff Fontainebleau Hotel (building the shadow-casting addition) and the defendant Eden Roc Hotel (whose pool would cast in shade by the addition). The court must decide among the four options in our grid.
Property Rule Protection
Liability Rule Protection
1: Nuisance enjoined
2: Damages for nuisance but D can continue
3: No nuisance
4: P can force D to stop by paying damages
Which of the parties is the cheapest cost avoider, the one best able to calculate the total social costs and benefits from the proposed addition? Arguably, it would be Fountainebleau, which probably has better information about the costs of the addition and the revenue benefits it would bring. Although, Eden Roc might be better positioned to understand how the shadowed pool area would impact its business, that is the sort of damage that might not be difficult to calculate for anyone in the hotel business in the area. So perhaps we would be justified placing liability on the defendant, Fountainebleau.
Should we protect Eden Roc’s entitlement with a property or liability rule? There are only two parties, and so we do not have much concern about free riders or hold-outs. Are we concerned about strategic bargaining, the possibility that in negotiating Eden Roc would attempt to garner too much of the surplus for itself, mistaken about Fountainebleau’s willingness to pay – the kind of negotiating difficulty that could derail a deal that would be better for both sides if reached? Perhaps, and perhaps there’s some animosity on both sides – not to mention the fact that Eden Roc, as a competitor might have an unusual incentive to reduce the profitability of Fountainebleau. While property rule protection is ordinarily justified when there are a small number of commercial parties, liability rule protection does not seem like a bad option here. The damage caused to Eden Roc by the shadowing of its property seems like the sort of discrete harm that could be estimated reasonably through manageable expert testimony. Moreover, sentimental attachment or other idiosyncratic valuation that might not be captured by fair market value estimates is not relevant here, in the case of a commercial property.
Thus, resort to Rule 1, as the court in fact chose on purely formalistic grounds, or Rule 2 appear to be reasonable choices. The next two cases are ones in which the courts chose liability rules. As you read them, ask yourself why they did.
Boomer v. Atlantic Cement Co., 26 N.Y.2d 219 (1970)
Defendant operates a large cement plant near Albany. These are actions for injunction and damages by neighboring land owners alleging injury to property from dirt, smoke and vibration emanating from the plant. A nuisance has been found after trial, temporary damages have been allowed; but an injunction has been denied.
The public concern with air pollution arising from many sources in industry and in transportation is currently accorded ever wider recognition accompanied by a growing sense of responsibility in State and Federal Governments to control it. Cement plants are obvious sources of air pollution in the neighborhoods where they operate.
But there is now before the court private litigation in which individual property owners have sought specific relief from a single plant operation. The threshold question raised by the division of view on this appeal is whether the court should resolve the litigation between the parties now before it as equitably as seems possible; or whether, seeking promotion of the general public welfare, it should channel private litigation into broad public objectives.
A court performs its essential function when it decides the rights of parties before it. Its decision of private controversies may sometimes greatly affect public issues. Large questions of law are often resolved by the manner in which private litigation is decided. But this is normally an incident to the court’s main function to settle controversy. It is a rare exercise of judicial power to use a decision in private litigation as a purposeful mechanism to achieve direct public objectives greatly beyond the rights and interests before the court.
Effective control of air pollution is a problem presently far from solution even with the full public and financial powers of government. In large measure adequate technical procedures are yet to be developed and some that appear possible may be economically impracticable.
It seems apparent that the amelioration of air pollution will depend on technical research in great depth; on a carefully balanced consideration of the economic impact of close regulation; and of the actual effect on public health. It is likely to require massive public expenditure and to demand more than any local community can accomplish and to depend on regional and interstate controls.
A court should not try to do this on its own as a by-product of private litigation and it seems manifest that the judicial establishment is neither equipped in the limited nature of any judgment it can pronounce nor prepared to lay down and implement an effective policy for the elimination of air pollution. This is an area beyond the circumference of one private lawsuit. It is a direct responsibility for government and should not thus be undertaken as an incident to solving a dispute between property owners and a single cement plant – one of many – in the Hudson River valley.
The cement making operations of defendant have been found by the court at Special Term to have damaged the nearby properties of plaintiffs in these two actions. That court, as it has been noted, accordingly found defendant maintained a nuisance and this has been affirmed at the Appellate Division. The total damage to plaintiffs’ properties is, however, relatively small in comparison with the value of defendant’s operation and with the consequences of the injunction which plaintiffs seek.
The ground for the denial of injunction, notwithstanding the finding both that there is a nuisance and that plaintiffs have been damaged substantially, is the large disparity in economic consequences of the nuisance and of the injunction. This theory cannot, however, be sustained without overruling a doctrine which has been consistently reaffirmed in several leading cases in this court and which has never been disavowed here, namely that where a nuisance has been found and where there has been any substantial damage shown by the party complaining an injunction will be granted.
The rule in New York has been that such a nuisance will be enjoined although marked disparity be shown in economic consequence between the effect of the injunction and the effect of the nuisance.
The problem of disparity in economic consequence was sharply in focus in Whalen v. Union Bag & Paper Co. (208 N. Y. 1). A pulp mill entailing an investment of more than a million dollars polluted a stream in which plaintiff, who owned a farm, was “a lower riparian owner”. The economic loss to plaintiff from this pollution was small. This court, reversing the Appellate Division, reinstated the injunction granted by the Special Term against the argument of the mill owner that in view of “the slight advantage to plaintiff and the great loss that will be inflicted on defendant” an injunction should not be granted (p. 2). “Such a balancing of injuries cannot be justified by the circumstances of this case”, Judge Werner noted (p. 4). He continued: “Although the damage to the plaintiff may be slight as compared with the defendant’s expense of abating the condition, that is not a good reason for refusing an injunction” (p. 5).
Thus the unconditional injunction granted at Special Term was reinstated. The rule laid down in that case, then, is that whenever the damage resulting from a nuisance is found not “unsubstantial”, viz., $100 a year, injunction would follow. This states a rule that had been followed in this court with marked consistency (McCarty v. Natural Carbonic Gas Co., 189 N. Y. 40; Strobel v. Kerr Salt Co., 164 N. Y. 303; Campbell v. Seaman, 63 N. Y. 568).
There are cases where injunction has been denied. McCann v. Chasm Power Co. (211 N. Y. 301) is one of them. There, however, the damage shown by plaintiffs was not only unsubstantial, it was non-existent. Plaintiffs owned a rocky bank of the stream in which defendant had raised the level of the water. This had no economic or other adverse consequence to plaintiffs, and thus injunctive relief was denied. Similar is the basis for denial of injunction in Forstmann v. Joray Holding Co. (244 N. Y. 22) where no benefit to plaintiffs could be seen from the injunction sought (p. 32). Thus if, within Whalen v. Union Bag & Paper Co. (supra.;) which authoritatively states the rule in New York, the damage to plaintiffs in these present cases from defendant’s cement plant is “not unsubstantial”, an injunction should follow.
Although the court at Special Term and the Appellate Division held that injunction should be denied, it was found that plaintiffs had been damaged in various specific amounts up to the time of the trial and damages to the respective plaintiffs were awarded for those amounts. The effect of this was, injunction having been denied, plaintiffs could maintain successive actions at law for damages thereafter as further damage was incurred.
The court at Special Term also found the amount of permanent damage attributable to each plaintiff, for the guidance of the parties in the event both sides stipulated to the payment and acceptance of such permanent damage as a settlement of all the controversies among the parties. The total of permanent damages to all plaintiffs thus found was $185,000. This basis of adjustment has not resulted in any stipulation by the parties.
This result at Special Term and at the Appellate Division is a departure from a rule that has become settled; but to follow the rule literally in these cases would be to close down the plant at once. This court is fully agreed to avoid that immediately drastic remedy; the difference in view is how best to avoid it.
One alternative is to grant the injunction but postpone its effect to a specified future date to give opportunity for technical advances to permit defendant to eliminate the nuisance; another is to grant the injunction conditioned on the payment of permanent damages to plaintiffs which would compensate them for the total economic loss to their property present and future caused by defendant’s operations. For reasons which will be developed the court chooses the latter alternative.
If the injunction were to be granted unless within a short period – e.g., 18 months – the nuisance be abated by improved methods, there would be no assurance that any significant technical improvement would occur.
The parties could settle this private litigation at any time if defendant paid enough money and the imminent threat of closing the plant would build up the pressure on defendant. If there were no improved techniques found, there would inevitably be applications to the court at Special Term for extensions of time to perform on showing of good faith efforts to find such techniques.
Moreover, techniques to eliminate dust and other annoying by-products of cement making are unlikely to be developed by any research the defendant can undertake within any short period, but will depend on the total resources of the cement industry Nationwide and throughout the world. The problem is universal wherever cement is made.
For obvious reasons the rate of the research is beyond control of defendant. If at the end of 18 months the whole industry has not found a technical solution a court would be hard put to close down this one cement plant if due regard be given to equitable principles.
On the other hand, to grant the injunction unless defendant pays plaintiffs such permanent damages as may be fixed by the court seems to do justice between the contending parties. All of the attributions of economic loss to the properties on which plaintiffs’ complaints are based will have been redressed.
The nuisance complained of by these plaintiffs may have other public or private consequences, but these particular parties are the only ones who have sought remedies and the judgment proposed will fully redress them. The limitation of relief granted is a limitation only within the four corners of these actions and does not foreclose public health or other public agencies from seeking proper relief in a proper court.
It seems reasonable to think that the risk of being required to pay permanent damages to injured property owners by cement plant owners would itself be a reasonable effective spur to research for improved techniques to minimize nuisance.
The power of the court to condition on equitable grounds the continuance of an injunction on the payment of permanent damages seems undoubted. (See, e.g., the alternatives considered in McCarty v. Natural Carbonic Gas Co., supra.;, as well as Strobel v. Kerr Salt Co., supra.;.)
The damage base here suggested is consistent with the general rule in those nuisance cases where damages are allowed. “Where a nuisance is of such a permanent and unabatable character that a single recovery can be had, including the whole damage past and future resulting therefrom, there can be but one recovery” (66 C. J. S., Nuisances, s 140, p. 947). It has been said that permanent damages are allowed where the loss recoverable would obviously be small as compared with the cost of removal of the nuisance (Kentucky-Ohio Gas Co. v. Bowling, 264 Ky. 470, 477).
The present cases and the remedy here proposed are in a number of other respects rather similar to Northern Indiana Public Serv. Co. v. Vesey (210 Ind. 338) decided by the Supreme Court of Indiana. The gases, odors, ammonia and smoke from the Northern Indiana company’s gas plant damaged the nearby Vesey greenhouse operation. An injunction and damages were sought, but an injunction was denied and the relief granted was limited to permanent damages “present, past, and future” (p. 371).
Denial of injunction was grounded on a public interest in the operation of the gas plant and on the court’s conclusion “that less injury would be occasioned by requiring the appellant [Public Service] to pay the appellee [Vesey] all damages suffered by it * * * than by enjoining the operation of the gas plant; and that the maintenance and operation of the gas plant should not be enjoined” (p. 349).
The Indiana Supreme Court opinion continued: “When the trial court refused injunctive relief to the appellee upon the ground of public interest in the continuance of the gas plant, it properly retained jurisdiction of the case and awarded full compensation to the appellee. This is upon the general equitable principle that equity will give full relief in one action and prevent a multiplicity of suits” (pp. 353-354).
It was held that in this type of continuing and recurrent nuisance permanent damages were appropriate. See, also, City of Amarillo v. Ware (120 Tex. 456) where recurring overflows from a system of storm sewers were treated as the kind of nuisance for which permanent depreciation of value of affected property would be recoverable.
There is some parallel to the conditioning of an injunction on the payment of permanent damages in the noted “elevated railway cases” (Pappenheim v. Metropolitan El. Ry. Co., 128 N. Y. 436, and others which followed). Decisions in these cases were based on the finding that the railways created a nuisance as to adjacent property owners, but in lieu of enjoining their operation, the court allowed permanent damages.
Judge Finch, reviewing these cases in Ferguson v. Village of Hamburg (272 N. Y. 234, 239-240), said: “The courts decided that the plaintiffs had a valuable right which was being impaired, but did not grant an absolute injunction or require the railway companies to resort to separate condemnation proceedings. Instead they held that a court of equity could ascertain the damages and grant an injunction which was not to be effective unless the defendant failed to pay the amount fixed as damages for the past and permanent injury inflicted.” (See, also, Lynch v. Metropolitan El. Ry. Co., 129 N. Y. 274; Van Allen v. New York El. R. R. Co., 144 N. Y. 174; Cox v. City of New York, 265 N. Y. 411, and similarly, Westphal v. City of New York, 177 N. Y. 140.)
Thus it seems fair to both sides to grant permanent damages to plaintiffs which will terminate this private litigation. The theory of damage is the “servitude on land” of plaintiffs imposed by defendant’s nuisance. (See United States v. Causby, 328 U. S. 256, 261, 262, 267, where the term “servitude” addressed to the land was used by Justice Douglas relating to the effect of airplane noise on property near an airport.)
The judgment, by allowance of permanent damages imposing a servitude on land, which is the basis of the actions, would preclude future recovery by plaintiffs or their grantees (see Northern Indiana Public Serv. Co. v. Vesey, supra.;, p. 351).
This should be placed beyond debate by a provision of the judgment that the payment by defendant and the acceptance by plaintiffs of permanent damages found by the court shall be in compensation for a servitude on the land.
Although the Trial Term has found permanent damages as a possible basis of settlement of the litigation, on remission the court should be entirely free to re-examine this subject. It may again find the permanent damage already found; or make new findings.
The orders should be reversed, without costs, and the cases remitted to Supreme Court, Albany County to grant an injunction which shall be vacated upon payment by defendant of such amounts of permanent damage to the respective plaintiffs as shall for this purpose be determined by the court.
Jasen, J., Dissenting.
I agree with the majority that a reversal is required here, but I do not subscribe to the newly enunciated doctrine of assessment of permanent damages, in lieu of an injunction, where substantial property rights have been impaired by the creation of a nuisance.
It has long been the rule in this State, as the majority acknowledges, that a nuisance which results in substantial continuing damage to neighbors must be enjoined. (Whalen v. Union Bag & Paper Co., 208 N. Y. 1; Campbell v. Seaman, 63 N. Y. 568; see, also, Kennedy v. Moog Servocontrols, 21 N Y 2d 966.) To now change the rule to permit the cement company to continue polluting the air indefinitely upon the payment of permanent damages is, in my opinion, compounding the magnitude of a very serious problem in our State and Nation today.
In recognition of this problem, the Legislature of this State has enacted the Air Pollution Control Act (Public Health Law, ss1264–1299-m) declaring that it is the State policy to require the use of all available and reasonable methods to prevent and control air pollution (Public Health Law, s1265).
The harmful nature and widespread occurrence of air pollution have been extensively documented. Congressional hearings have revealed that air pollution causes substantial property damage, as well as being a contributing factor to a rising incidence of lung cancer, emphysema, bronchitis and asthma.
The specific problem faced here is known as particulate contamination because of the fine dust particles emanating from defendant’s cement plant. The particular type of nuisance is not new, having appeared in many cases for at least the past 60 years. (See Hulbert v. California Portland Cement Co., 161 Cal. 239 .) It is interesting to note that cement production has recently been identified as a significant source of particulate contamination in the Hudson Valley. This type of pollution, wherein very small particles escape and stay in the atmosphere, has been denominated as the type of air pollution which produces the greatest hazard to human health. We have thus a nuisance which not only is damaging to the plaintiffs, but also is decidedly harmful to the general public.
I see grave dangers in overruling our long-established rule of granting an injunction where a nuisance results in substantial continuing damage. In permitting the injunction to become inoperative upon the payment of permanent damages, the majority is, in effect, licensing a continuing wrong. It is the same as saying to the cement company, you may continue to do harm to your neighbors so long as you pay a fee for it. Furthermore, once such permanent damages are assessed and paid, the incentive to alleviate the wrong would be eliminated, thereby continuing air pollution of an area without abatement.
It is true that some courts have sanctioned the remedy here proposed by the majority in a number of cases, but none of the authorities relied upon by the majority are analogous to the situation before us. In those cases, the courts, in denying an injunction and awarding money damages, grounded their decision on a showing that the use to which the property was intended to be put was primarily for the public benefit. Here, on the other hand, it is clearly established that the cement company is creating a continuing air pollution nuisance primarily for its own private interest with no public benefit.
This kind of inverse condemnation (Ferguson v. Village of Hamburg, 272 N. Y. 234 may not be invoked by a private person or corporation for private gain or advantage. Inverse condemnation should only be permitted when the public is primarily served in the taking or impairment of property. (Matter of New York City Housing Auth. v. Muller, 270 N. Y. 333, 343; Pocantico Water Works Co. v. Bird, 130 N. Y. 249, 258.) The promotion of the interests of the polluting cement company has, in my opinion, no public use or benefit.
Nor is it constitutionally permissible to impose servitude on land, without consent of the owner, by payment of permanent damages where the continuing impairment of the land is for a private use. (See Fifth Ave. Coach Lines v. City of New York, 11 N Y 2d 342, 347; Walker v. City of Hutchinson, 352 U. S. 112.) This is made clear by the State Constitution (art. I, s 7, subd. [a]) which provides that “[p]rivate property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation” (emphasis added). It is, of course, significant that the section makes no mention of taking for a private use.
In sum, then, by constitutional mandate as well as by judicial pronouncement, the permanent impairment of private property for private purposes is not authorized in the absence of clearly demonstrated public benefit and use.
I would enjoin the defendant cement company from continuing the discharge of dust particles upon its neighbors’ properties unless, within 18 months, the cement company abated this nuisance.
It is not my intention to cause the removal of the cement plant from the Albany area, but to recognize the urgency of the problem stemming from this stationary source of air pollution, and to allow the company a specified period of time to develop a means to alleviate this nuisance.
I am aware that the trial court found that the most modern dust control devices available have been installed in defendant’s plant, but, I submit, this does not mean that better and more effective dust control devices could not be developed within the time allowed to abate the pollution.
Moreover, I believe it is incumbent upon the defendant to develop such devices, since the cement company, at the time the plant commenced production (1962), was well aware of the plaintiffs’ presence in the area, as well as the probable consequences of its contemplated operation. Yet, it still chose to build and operate the plant at this site.
In a day when there is a growing concern for clean air, highly developed industry should not expect acquiescence by the courts, but should, instead, plan its operations to eliminate contamination of our air and damage to its neighbors.
Accordingly, the orders of the Appellate Division, insofar as they denied the injunction, should be reversed, and the actions remitted to Supreme Court, Albany County to grant an injunction to take effect 18 months hence, unless the nuisance is abated by improved techniques prior to said date.
Spur Industries, Inc. v. Del E. Webb Development Co., 494 P.2d 700 (Ariz. 1972)
Snell & Wilmer, by Mark Wilmer, and John Lundin, Phoenix, for appellant and cross-appellee.
L. Dennis Marlowe, Tempe, for appellee and cross-appellant.
Cameron, Vice Chief Justice.
From a judgment permanently enjoining the defendant, Spur Industries, Inc., from operating a cattle feedlot near the plaintiff Del E. Webb Development Company’s Sun City, Spur appeals. Webb cross-appeals. Although numerous issues are raised, we feel that it is necessary to answer only two questions. They are:
- Where the operation of a business, such as a cattle feedlot is lawful in the first instance, but becomes a nuisance by reason of a nearby residential area, may the feedlot operation be enjoined in an action brought by the developer of the residential area?
- Assuming that the nuisance may be enjoined, may the developer of a completely new town or urban area in a previously agricultural area be required to indemnify the operator of the feedlot who must move or cease operation because of the presence of the residential area created by the developer?
The facts necessary for a determination of this matter on appeal are as follows. The area in question is located in Maricopa County, Arizona, some 14 to 15 miles west of the urban area of Phoenix, on the Phoenix-Wickenburg Highway, also known as Grand Avenue. About two miles south of Grand Avenue is Olive Avenue which runs east and west. 111th Avenue runs north and south as does the Agua Fria River immediately to the west. See Exhibits A and B below.
Farming started in this area about 1911. In 1929, with the completion of the Carl Pleasant Dam, gravity flow water became available to the property located to the west of the Agua Fria River, though land to the east remained dependent upon well water for irrigation. By 1950, the only urban areas in the vicinity were the agriculturally related communities of Peoria, El Mirage, and Surprise located along Grand Avenue. Along 111th Avenue, approximately one mile south of Grand Avenue and 1 1/2 miles north of Olive Avenue, the community of Youngtown was commenced in 1954. Youngtown is a retirement community appealing primarily to senior citizens.
In 1956, Spur’s predecessors in interest, H. Marion Welborn and the Northside Hay Mill and Trading Company, developed feed-lots, about 1/2 mile south of Olive Avenue, in an area between the confluence of the usually dry Agua Fria and New Rivers. The area is well suited for cattle feeding and in 1959, there were 25 cattle feeding pens or dairy operations within a 7 mile radius of the location developed by Spur’s predecessors. In April and May of 1959, the Northside Hay Mill was feeding between 6,000 and 7,000 head of cattle and Welborn approximately 1,500 head on a combined area of 35 acres.
In May of 1959, Del Webb began to plan the development of an urban area to be known as Sun City. For this purpose, the Marinette and the Santa Fe Ranches, some 20,000 acres of farmland, were purchased for $15,000,000 or $750.00 per acre. This price was considerably less than the price of land located near the urban area of Phoenix, and along with the success of Youngtown was a factor influencing the decision to purchase the property in question.
By September 1959, Del Webb had started construction of a golf course south of Grand Avenue and Spur’s predecessors had started to level ground for more feedlot area. In 1960, Spur purchased the property in question and began a rebuilding and expansion program extending both to the north and south of the original facilities. By 1962, Spur’s expansion program was completed and had expanded from approximately 35 acres to 114 acres. See Exhibit A above.
Accompanied by an extensive advertising campaign, homes were first offered by Del Webb in January 1960 and the first unit to be completed was south of Grand Avenue and approximately 2 1/2 miles north of Spur. By 2 May 1960, there were 450 to 500 houses completed or under construction. At this time, Del Webb did not consider odors from the Spur feed pens a problem and Del Webb continued to develop in a southerly direction, until sales resistance became so great that the parcels were difficult if not impossible to sell. Thomas E. Breen, Vice President and General Manager of the housing division of Del Webb, testified at deposition as follows:
Q Did you ever have any discussions with Tony Cole at or about the time the sales office was opened south of Peoria concerning the problem in sales as the development came closer towards the feed lots?
A Not at the time that that facility was opened. That was subsequent to that.
Q All right, what is it that you recall about conversations with Cole on that subject?
A Well, when the feed lot problem became a bigger problem, which, really, to the best of my recollection, commenced to become a serious problem in 1963, and there was some talk about not developing that area because of sales resistance, and to my recollection we shifted-we had planned at that time to the eastern portion of the property, and it was a consideration.
Q Was any specific suggestion made by Mr. Cole as to the line of demarcation that should be drawn or anything of that type exactly where the development should cease?
A I don’t recall anything specific as far as the definite line would be, other than, you know, that it would be advisable to stay out of the southwestern portion there because of sales resistance.
Q And to the best of your recollection, this was in about 1963?
A That would be my recollection, yes.
Q As you recall it, what was the reason that the suggestion was not adopted to stop developing towards the southwest of the development?
A Well, as far as I know, that decision was made subsequent to that time.
Q Right. But I mean at that time?
A Well, at that time what I am really referring to is more of a long-range planning than immediate planning, and I think it was the case of just trying to figure out how far you could go with it before you really ran into a lot of sales resistance and found a necessity to shift the direction.
Q So that plan was to go as far as you could until the resistance got to the point where you couldn’t go any further?
A I would say that is reasonable, yes.
By December 1967, Del Webb’s property had extended south to Olive Avenue and Spur was within 500 feet of Olive Avenue to the north. See Exhibit B above. Del Webb filed its original complaint alleging that in excess of 1,300 lots in the southwest portion were unfit for development for sale as residential lots because of the operation of the Spur feedlot.
Del Webb’s suit complained that the Spur feeding operation was a public nuisance because of the flies and the odor which were drifting or being blown by the prevailing south to north wind over the southern portion of Sun City. At the time of the suit, Spur was feeding between 20,000 and 30,000 head of cattle, and the facts amply support the finding of the trial court that the feed pens had become a nuisance to the people who resided in the southern part of Del Webb’s development. The testimony indicated that cattle in a commercial feedlot will produce 35 to 40 pounds of wet manure per day, per head, or over a million pounds of wet manure per day for 30,000 head of cattle, and that despite the admittedly good feedlot management and good housekeeping practices by Spur, the resulting odor and flies produced an annoying if not unhealthy situation as far as the senior citizens of southern Sun City were concerned. There is no doubt that some of the citizens of Sun City were unable to enjoy the outdoor living which Del Webb had advertised and that Del Webb was faced with sales resistance from prospective purchasers as well as strong and persistent complaints from the people who had purchased homes in that area.
Trial was commenced before the court with an advisory jury. The advisory jury was later discharged and the trial was continued before the court alone. Findings of fact and conclusions of law were requested and given. The case was vigorously contested, including special actions in this court on some of the matters. In one of the special actions before this court, Spur agreed to, and did, shut down its operation without prejudice to a determination of the matter on appeal. On appeal the many questions raised were extensively briefed.
It is noted, however, that neither the citizens of Sun City nor Youngtown are represented in this lawsuit and the suit is solely between Del E. Webb Development Company and Spur Industries, Inc.
MAY SPUR BE ENJOINED?
The difference between a private nuisance and a public nuisance is generally one of degree. A private nuisance is one affecting a single individual or a definite small number of persons in the enjoyment of private rights not common to the public, while a public nuisance is one affecting the rights enjoyed by citizens as a part of the public. To constitute a public nuisance, the nuisance must affect a considerable number of people or an entire community or neighborhood. City of Phoenix v. Johnson, 51 Ariz. 115, 75 P.2d 30 (1938).
Where the injury is slight, the remedy for minor inconveniences lies in an action for damages rather than in one for an injunction. Kubby v. Hammond, 68 Ariz. 17, 198 P.2d 134 (1948). Moreover, some courts have held, in the ‘balancing of conveniences’ cases, that damages may be the sole remedy. See Boomer v. Atlantic Cement Co., 26 N.Y.2d 219, 309 N.Y.S.2d 312, 257 N.E.2d 870, 40 A.L.R.3d 590 (1970), and annotation comments, 40 A.L.R.3d 601.
Thus, it would appear from the admittedly incomplete record as developed in the trial court, that, at most, residents of Youngtown would be entitled to damages rather than injunctive relief.
We have no difficulty, however, in agreeing with the conclusion of the trial court that Spur’s operation was an enjoinable public nuisance as far as the people in the southern portion of Del Webb’s Sun City were concerned.
s 36-601, subsec. A reads as follows:
s 36-601. Public nuisances dangerous to public health
A. The following conditions are specifically declared public nuisances dangerous to the public health:
Any condition or place in populous areas which constitutes a breeding place for flies, rodents, mosquitoes and other insects which are capable of carrying and transmitting disease-causing organisms to any person or persons.
By this statute, before an otherwise lawful (and necessary) business may be declared a public nuisance, there must be a ‘populous’ area in which people are injured:
* * * (I)t hardly admits a doubt that, in determining the question as to whether a lawful occupation is so conducted as to constitute a nuisance as a matter of fact, the locality and surroundings are of the first importance. (citations omitted) A business which is not per se a public nuisance may become such by being carried on at a place where the health, comfort, or convenience of a populous neighborhood is affected. * * * What might amount to a serious nuisance in one locality by reason of the density of the population, or character of the neighborhood affected, may in another place and under different surroundings be deemed proper and unobjectionable. * * *.
MacDonald v. Perry, 32 Ariz. 39, 49-50, 255 P. 494, 497 (1927).
It is clear that as to the citizens of Sun City, the operation of Spur’s feedlot was both a public and a private nuisance. They could have successfully maintained an action to abate the nuisance. Del Webb, having shown a special injury in the loss of sales, had a standing to bring suit to enjoin the nuisance. Engle v. Clark, 53 Ariz. 472, 90 P.2d 994 (1939); City of Phoenix v. Johnson, supra. The judgment of the trial court permanently enjoining the operation of the feedlot is affirmed.
MUST DEL WEBB INDEMNIFY SPUR?
A suit to enjoin a nuisance sounds in equity and the courts have long recognized a special responsibility to the public when acting as a court of equity:
s 104. Where public interest is involved.
Courts of equity may, and frequently do, go much further both to give and withhold relief in furtherance of the public interest than they are accustomed to go when only private interests are involved. Accordingly, the granting or withholding of relief may properly be dependent upon considerations of public interest. * * *.
27 Am.Jur.2d, Equity, page 626.
In addition to protecting the public interest, however, courts of equity are concerned with protecting the operator of a lawfully, albeit noxious, business from the result of a knowing and willful encroachment by others near his business.
In the so-called ‘coming to the nuisance’ cases, the courts have held that the residential landowner may not have relief if he knowingly came into a neighborhood reserved for industrial or agricultural endeavors and has been damaged thereby:
Plaintiffs chose to live in an area uncontrolled by zoning laws or restrictive covenants and remote from urban development. In such an area plaintiffs cannot complain that legitimate agricultural pursuits are being carried on in the vicinity, nor can plaintiffs, having chosen to build in an agricultural area, complain that the agricultural pursuits carried on in the area depreciate the value of their homes. The area being Primarily agricultural, and opinion reflecting the value of such property must take this factor into account. The standards affecting the value of residence property in an urban setting, subject to zoning controls and controlled planning techniques, cannot be the standards by which agricultural properties are judged.
People employed in a city who build their homes in suburban areas of the county beyond the limits of a city and zoning regulations do so for a reason. Some do so to avoid the high taxation rate imposed by cities, or to avoid special assessments for street, sewer and water projects. They usually build on improved or hard surface highways, which have been built either at state or county expense and thereby avoid special assessments for these improvements. It may be that they desire to get away from the congestion of traffic, smoke, noise, foul air and the many other annoyances of city life. But with all these advantages in going beyond the area which is zoned and restricted to protect them in their homes, they must be prepared to take the disadvantages.
Dill v. Excel Packing Company, 183 Kan. 513, 525, 526, 331 P.2d 539, 548, 549 (1958). See also East St. Johns Shingle Co. v. City of Portland, 195 Or. 505, 246 P.2d 554, 560-562 (1952).
* * * a party cannot justly call upon the law to make that place suitable for his residence which was not so when he selected it. * * *.
Gilbert v. Showerman, 23 Mich. 448, 455, 2 Brown 158 (1871).
Were Webb the only party injured, we would feel justified in holding that the doctrine of ‘coming to the nuisance’ would have been a bar to the relief asked by Webb, and, on the other hand, had Spur located the feedlot near the outskirts of a city and had the city grown toward the
feedlot, Spur would have to suffer the cost of abating the nuisance as to those people locating within the growth pattern of the expanding city:
The case affords, perhaps, an example where a business established at a place remote from population is gradually surrounded and becomes part of a populous center, so that a business which formerly was not an interference with the rights of others has become so by the encroachment of the population * * *.
City of Ft. Smith v. Western Hide & Fur Co., 153 Ark. 99, 103, 239 S.W. 724, 726 (1922).
We agree, however, with the Massachusetts court that:
The law of nuisance affords no rigid rule to be applied in all instances. It is elastic. It undertakes to require only that which is fair and reasonable under all the circumstances. In a commonwealth like this, which depends for its material prosperity so largely on the continued growth and enlargement of manufacturing of diverse varieties, ‘extreme rights’ cannot be enforced. * * *.
Stevens v. Rockport Granite Co., 216 Mass. 486, 488, 104 N.E. 371, 373 (1914).
There was no indication in the instant case at the time Spur and its predecessors located in western Maricopa County that a new city would spring up, full-blown, alongside the feeding operation and that the developer of that city would ask the court to order Spur to move because of the new city. Spur is required to move not because of any wrongdoing on the part of Spur, but because of a proper and legitimate regard of the courts for the rights and interests of the public.
Del Webb, on the other hand, is entitled to the relief prayed for (a permanent injunction), not because Webb is blameless, but because of the damage to the people who have been encouraged to purchase homes in Sun City. It does not equitable or legally follow, however, that Webb, being entitled to the injunction, is then free of any liability to Spur if Webb has in fact been the cause of the damage Spur has sustained. It does not seem harsh to require a developer, who has taken advantage of the lesser land values in a rural area as well as the availability of large tracts of land on which to build and develop a new town or city in the area, to indemnify those who are forced to leave as a result.
Having brought people to the nuisance to the foreseeable detriment of Spur, Webb must indemnify Spur for a reasonable amount of the cost of moving or shutting down. It should be noted that this relief to Spur is limited to a case wherein a developer has, with foreseeability, brought into a previously agricultural or industrial area the population which makes necessary the granting of an injunction against a lawful business and for which the business has no adequate relief.
It is therefore the decision of this court that the matter be remanded to the trial court for a hearing upon the damages sustained by the defendant Spur as a reasonable and direct result of the granting of the permanent injunction. Since the result of the appeal may appear novel and both sides have obtained a measure of relief, it is ordered that each side will bear its own costs.
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
1. Why might the Prah court have found no nuisance in the Boomer case? Make the argument.
2. Does the court invoke a property rule or liability rule in Boomer?
(a) What additional or different facts could you add to that case that might help you argue that the court should have used the other rule? Explain.
(b) What additional or different facts would lead you to conclude the court should have used Rule 4 (as in Spur)? Explain.
1. Why might the Prah court have found no nuisance in the Boomer case? Make the argument.
Only a substantial and unreasonable interference with the plaintiff’s use of his or her property will constitute a nuisance. The Prah court held the Restatement’s reasonable use doctrine should be applied in nuisance cases. That doctrine requires the court to balance the utility of the defendant’s conduct against the harm to the plaintiff. In Boomer, the lower court determined that the value of the cement plant far exceeded the costs to the plaintiffs. Thus, under the reasonable use doctrine, there is (arguably) no nuisance.
2. Does the court invoke a property rule or liability rule in Boomer?
Liability rule. The Court awards permanent damages, meaning damages that will compensate for all the harms complained of now and in the future without further liability, allowing the plant to continue in operation.
(a) What additional or different facts could you add to that case that might help you argue that the court should have used the other rule? Explain.
There are a number of possible answers here. Two main kinds of examples would be: (1) those in which we’re certain who can most cheaply avoid the costs (and so don’t worry that a transaction between the parties will be necessary after the litigation) or (2) those in which we, for some reason, aren’t worried that transactions will be expensive (and so if we award the wrong party with the entitlement, we’re pretty sure the parties will be able to bargain around it, a la Coase).
An example of (1): There exists a scrubber that would clean the plant’s emissions sufficiently to avoid almost all of the harm to the plaintiffs. And the cost of the scrubber is obviously less than the value of the harm to the plaintiffs. There’s no uncertainty or guesswork for the court. In this case, we’d just give an injunction to the plaintiffs (property rule protection of plaintiffs). Defendant plant would then install the scrubber.
An example of (2): Perhaps instead of a bunch of neighbors, we have only one neighbor that is harmed, and it’s a business. Though that business still might strategically attempt to hold out for a lot of cash, there is less danger of irrational hold-outs than there is with 300 residents. In this case, we’re more confident a transaction between the parties will fix any error we make in the initial entitlement. (To be clear, I mean that if, for example, we say it’s a nuisance and that plaintiff wins but in fact the use is more valuable to defendant than the injuries are costly to the plaintiffs, the parties will be able to work out a deal afterwards that will allow defendant to continue.)
(b) What additional or different facts would lead you to conclude the court should have used Rule 4 (as in Spur)? Explain.
One possibility is that the neighbors could be posited to have moved in after the cement company had begun operations. This would be a “coming to the nuisance” case like Spur. Coming to the nuisance is usually a defense to nuisance, meaning that it will give the court a reason to decide there wasn’t a nuisance at all. It didn’t do that in Spur because of the many people who now lived around the cattle operations. It had become obvious that this land was more valuable as residential area than cattle farming land. You could make up these same facts here.
Another possibility, suggested by the Calabresi article, is that the costs to the plaintiffs of the pollution are extremely difficult to value. Suppose the pollution is some kind of annoying dust, and there is a great diversity of uses in a neighboring residential/office/strip mall area. It will be costly to determine the amount of damages for each of these differently situated users. It may be cheap, though, to figure out how much the plant would be injured if it were shut down (or forced to install pollution control equipment). And so, on economic efficiency grounds, we might force the factory to shut down (or install the equipment) but only if the neighbors collectively paid the (easily calculated) cost. This would be a more realistic possibility if we further posited some sort of homeowner association or private governance mechanism that could eliminate holdouts among the neighbors.