Jack Strauss

Leroy and Norton were neighbors who argued from different premises. Their basic dispute concerned a stately old oak tree that, while completely on Norton's property, draped over Leroy's stately old house like a blanket. And, annually for year and years, acorns would drop from Norton's tree and clog Leroy's drain and sewer pipes. What's more, Norton doggedly refused to trim any of the over hanging branches.

Driven nutty by the falling acorns, Leroy finally took matters into his own hands. When Norton went away on vacation, Leroy took his trusty saw and trimmed Norton's undefended screaming tree right down to its roots.

Upon returning from his vacation and seeing his stately old oak tree -- lying in state, on its back -- Norton sued Leroy for destroying his property.

"He had no right to come onto my property and cut down my tree," Norton complained to a judge. "It was like committing murder. I can just hear my tree screaming for help as Leroy wielded his ax."

"It was more like self defense," responded Leroy. "If I had to suffer another season with Norton's tree, I would have ended up nuttier than those that fell from his tree."

If you were the judge, would you require nutty Leroy to pay Norton for cutting down Norton's tree?

This is how the judge ruled: Yes! The judge held that while he sympathized with Leroy's problem, he was not justified in taking the law in his own hands even to accomplish what Norton should have done in the first place. It is well established, noted the judge, that a property owner may cut off overhanging branches of a neighbor's tree, or to sue the neighbor for damages or to make him cut down the branches, but he may not enter upon his neighbor's property and cut down the tree.

-- based upon a 1950 California District Court of Appeals decision

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