Dougherty v. Stepp

Supreme Court of North Carolina, 1835.

18 N.C. 371.

Facts

Defendant entered onto land he thought was his with the intention of surveying it, and did so, thinking it was his own. Defendant did not mark any trees or cut any bushes and in other words nothing was harmed by the act.

Procedural History

Lower court ruled for defendant stating that there was no trespass since no harm was done.

Issue

At what point does entering on another’s private property become trespass?

Arguments for Both Parties

Plaintiff states that it was trespass because he entered onto his own private land. Defendant states that there was no harm and he thought the land was his own.

Holding

Court reverses lower court’s decision, stating that it was trespass.

Reasoning behind Holding

The amount of damages may depend on the acts done on the land, but it is principle that every unauthorized and thus unlawful entry into the closed property of another constitutes the tortious action of trespass.

Rule

Every unauthorized and thus unlawful entry into the closed property of another constitutes the tortious action of trespass.

Policy Arguments

From every such entry against the will of the possessor the law infers some damage.

Trespass is used for describing intentional invasions. Negligence is used for negligent acts of trespass. Trespass is intentional even if you think that the land is your own.

Even if there are no compensatory damages found, a court may find exemplary damages on the part of one of the parties.

An actionable offense needs a tangible mass to intentionally invade to be trespass. Lights from a stadium will not be considered trespass.

Just like the actor that kills the dog thinking it was a wolf, he is still liable for the tort.

Plaintiff does not have to prove intent to trespass.

An action of trespass quare clausum fregit. An action of breaking the close.

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