Thomas v. Harrah's Vicksburg Corp.

734 So. 2d 312 (Miss. App. 1999)

 

RULE:

Rule 1: If the actor intends to be upon the particular piece of land, it is not necessary that he intends to invade the other's interest in the exclusive possession of his land. The intention that is required to make the actor liable for trespass is an intention to enter upon the particular piece of land in question, irrespective of whether the actor knows or should know that he is not entitled to enter. It is, therefore, immaterial whether or not he honestly and reasonably believes that the land is his own, or that he has the consent of the possessor or of a third person having power to give consent on his behalf, or that he has a mistaken belief that he has some other privilege to enter. The intent required as a basis for liability as a trespasser is simply an intent to be at the place on the land where the trespass occurred.

Rule 2: Mississippi precedent views nominal damages as being small or trivial in nature, awarded for a technical injury due to a violation of some legal right, a consequence of which requires an award of some damage to determine that right. Actual damages, otherwise termed compensatory damages, referred to substantial damages suffered as opposed to nominal harm.

FACTS:

Construction for the development of defendant corporation’s gambling facility was being carried out in a lot adjoining the property of plaintiffs, landowner and lessee. Plaintiffs repeatedly asked both defendants, corporation and contractor, to refrain from trespassing on the property. However, those requests were ignored. Plaintiffs brought an action for trespass against defendants. Testimony was given and evidence was shown that there were trespasses on the property. Evidence was also shown as to the business losses suffered by plaintiff lessee as a result of the trespass. Plaintiffs moved for a directed verdict at the close of defendants' case on the issue of trespass. They contended that the intent of the common law trespasser was irrelevant. The motion was denied. The jury found against plaintiffs and awarded plaintiff lessee nominal damages. Plaintiffs appealed. The appellate court affirmed defendant contractor’s liability for trespass, but it reversed the award of merely nominal damages. The trial court was directed on remand to award actual damages against both defendants, and to consider punitive damages.

ISSUE:

Issue 1: To commit trespass, was it necessary that defendants intended to invade plaintiffs’ interest in the exclusive possession of the property?

Issue 2: Was plaintiff lessee entitled to more than the nominal damages awarded by the jury?

ANSWER:

Answer 1: No. Answer 2: Yes.

CONCLUSION:

Conclusion 1: Plaintiffs’ position was correct in asserting that negligence was not necessary for common law trespass liability. Common law trespass was an intrusion upon the land of another without a license or other right for one's own purpose. The testimony established that that was exactly the case here. Therefore, the trial court should have directed a verdict for plaintiff lessee on the issue of the intentional tort of trespass against defendants. The only issue the jury should have had to determine with regard to the trespass against plaintiff lessee was the amount of damages.

Conclusion 2: The case represented an occasion where the jury's assessment of nominal damages must be overruled because an unconscionable injustice would result otherwise. However, plaintiff lessor was entitled to no damages, as he was a lessor out of possession. He could not sue for a mere trespass to land in the occupation of his tenant. As to plaintiff lessee, the evidence clearly demonstrated that it suffered more than mere nominal harm as a result of defendants’ intentional and continuous acts of trespass on the business property

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