Law School Case Brief
Adams v. Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Co. - 237 Mich. App. 51, 602 N.W.2d 215 (1999)
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.
Plaintiffs David Adams et al. 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. At the close of proofs, the trial court instructed the jury concerning both trespass and nuisance. On the plaintiffs’ trespass claim, the court instructed the jury that “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.” The trial court further instructed the jury that “a landowner who causes emissions, dust, vibration, noise from his property onto another 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.” Acting on the aforementioned instructions of the court, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs for invasions of plaintiffs' property by intrusions of dust, noise, and vibrations that emanated from an iron mine, awarding damages totaling $ 599,199. The court denied defendants' post-trial motions for a new trial or judgment notwithstanding the verdict. Subsequently, the defendants sought a review of the trial court’s judgment, contending 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.
Does Michigan law recognized a cause of action in trespass stemming from invasions of intangible agents like dust, noise, and vibrations?
The Court of Appeals of Michigan held that the law of trespass in Michigan does not cover airborne particulate, noise, or vibrations. According to the Court, the traditional view of trespass required a direct entry onto the land by a tangible object, and complaints alleging damages resulting from dust, noise and vibrations normally sound instead in nuisance. The Court vacated the jury verdict and remanded the case to the trial court.
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