Dougherty v. Stepp – Case Brief

Dougherty v. Stepp, 18 N.C. 371 (1835).

Facts: Stepp (D) entered Dougherty’s (P) unenclosed property without Dougherty’s consent. Stepp entered the property with a team to survey the land but there was no physical damage to the property. Dougherty sued for trespass damages. At trial, the court held that there could not be a trespass without some damage to the land. The jury found in favor of D and P appealed on the grounds that the jury instructions were improper.

Issue: Is a defendant liable for trespass even if no physical damage is caused?

Holding and Rule: Yes. Any unprivileged entry onto the land of another is a trespass even if there is no physical damage. The court held that the law implies damages for every unprivileged and unlawful entry onto the land of another even if there is nothing more than the treading down the grass, herbage, or shrubbery.

Disposition: Reversed and remanded for new trial.

Notes: A trespasser is strictly liable regardless of intent or negligence in entering the land of another. All that is required is the intent to enter the land without permission. It is no defense that the trespasser enters the land of another through honest mistake or belief that the land belongs to the trespasser or to another. If there is no actual physical damage, the court may merely award nominal damages (e.g. one cent or one dollar) or an injunction to stop the activity, if applicable.

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