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Law School Case Brief

Armstrong v. Francis Corp - 20 N.J. 320, 120 A.2d 4 (1956)


The "reasonable use" rule lays down the test that each possessor is legally privileged to make a reasonable use of his land, even though the flow of surface waters is altered thereby and causes some harm to others, but incurs liability when his harmful interference with the flow of surface waters is unreasonable.


Plaintiff property owner filed an action when defendant development company built a subdivision on a tract of land on which a natural stream existed. Defendant constructed a drainage system that increased flow to the stream that intersected plaintiff's properties. Plaintiff alleged that the increased flow caused substantial erosion and threatened the septic system on plaintiff's land. The lower court ordered defendant to build a pipeline to remedy the harmful effects of the overflow. Defendant appealed.


Did the building of subdivision cause substantial damage to plaintiff’s properties under the reasonable use rule?




The court determined that the reasonable use rule applied to resolve whether defendant incurred liability for harmful interference with the flow of surface waters. The factual findings amply supported determination that defendant should pay the costs for harmful effect of interference with flow of stream. The court further indicated weighing utility of the possessor's land use with gravity of resulting harm is a proper consideration.

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