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Chance v. BP Chemicals, Inc.

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Plaintiffs contend that Defendants trespassed onto their property by disposing hazardous material underneath their real property. Defendant asserts that their actions are in compliance with applicable regulations. The trial court found for Defendant.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Pursuant to Ohio law, when a trespass is founded on an invasion of subsurface property and there is not any physical damage or actual interference with the reasonable and foreseeable use of the property, a real property owner will not succeed on his or her trespass claim.

    Facts.

    Plaintiffs, Rose M. Chance, Eliza Avery, and Bessie Shadwick, initiated this action against Defendants, BP Chemicals, Inc., on the grounds that Defendant disposed hazardous waste byproducts, causing a violation of Plaintiffs rights as property owners. Plaintiffs assert that hazardous material caused a migration of the byproducts into the subsurface rock beneath Plaintiffs property. Defendants assert that their actions complied with the regulations. Both parties contend the location of the violation and the gravity of the migration. The trial court found for Defendant on the claim of the ultrahazardous activity, fraud, and nuisance on a motion for directed verdict. Additionally, the jury returned a verdict for the Plaintiffs’ trespass claim in favor of Defendant. Plaintiffs appealed the lower court’s ruling on the grounds that they had complete ownership of all the rock and water beneath the surface of their property, thus, Plaintiffs do not need to prove damages for their trespass claim.

    Issue.

    Whether a real property owner may be successful in asserting a trespass claim when the claim is founded on an invasion of the owner’s subsurface property, which does not have any physical damage or actual interference with the reasonable and foreseeable use of the property.

    Held.

    No, a real property owner may be successful in asserting a trespass claim when the claim is founded on an invasion of the owner’s subsurface property, which does not have any physical damage or actual interference with the reasonable and foreseeable use of the property.

    Discussion.

    Pursuant to Ohio law, when a trespass is founded on an invasion of subsurface property and there is not any physical damage or actual interference with the reasonable and foreseeable use of the property, a real property owner will not succeed on his or her trespass claim. Rather, real property owners have the authority to exclude invasions that conflict with the owner’s reasonable and foreseeable use of their subsurface property. Here, Defendant’s disposal complied with the regulations. Further, to the extent the migration of the byproducts existed, it was mere speculative, not established by a fact because Plaintiff did not prove actual damages or actual interference to their property. Therefore, the trial court’s holding is affirmed.


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