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Jacque v. SteenBerg Homes Inc.

    Brief Fact Summary. of the Facts: In order to deliver a mobile home, SteenBerg Homes went across the Jacque’s property without permission

     

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.  When nominal damages are awarded for an intentional trespass to land punitive damages may also be awarded.

     

    Facts. Plaintiffs Lois and Harvey Jacques, an elderly couple, are very sensitive about people being on their land. The Jacque’s neighbors purchased a mobile home from the defendant SteenBerg Homes. SteenBerg tried on several occasions to get permission from the Jacques to cross their land because this was the easiest way to deliver the mobile home and they refused. On the day of delivery SteenBerg employees made an attempt to cross the land and were stopped by the Jacques. The SteenBerg assistant manager attempting bargaining for the right to cross and they again refused. The assistant manager subsequently told his employees “I don’t give a—— what Mr. Jacque said just get the home in there any way you can.” The employees followed that order and delivered the home across the Jacque’s property.

     

    Issue. Whether punitive damages may be awarded in an intentional trespass case when the Plaintiff are only entitled to nominal damages because there is no actual harm to their property.

     

    Held. Yes. Punitive damages are appropriate in intentional trespass cases even if there are no actual damages. The purpose of the punitive damage in this case is deterrence. Landowners have an interest in protecting his or her land from trespass and the United States Supreme Court has held that the right to exclude others from his or her land is one of the most essential […] property rights. If landowners are only allowed compensation for trespass actions that have compensatory damages it makes that right a hollow one.  It does not take actual harm to a person’s property for actual harm to occur when someone intentional trespasses upon that land. An award will not be considered excessive in violation of the Due Process clause when the acts are egregious. Here, SteenBerg was unequivocally told no, and still continued on the land. That disregard for the Jacque’s rights amounts to that egregious conduct.

     

    Discussion. Yes. Punitive damages are appropriate in intentional trespass cases even if there are no actual damages. The purpose of the punitive damage in this case is deterrence. Landowners have an interest in protecting his or her land from trespass and the United States Supreme Court has held that the right to exclude others from his or her land is one of the most essential […] property rights. If landowners are only allowed compensation for trespass actions that have compensatory damages it makes that right a hollow one.  It does not take actual harm to a person’s property for actual harm to occur when someone intentional trespasses upon that land. An award will not be considered excessive in violation of the Due Process clause when the acts are egregious. Here, SteenBerg was unequivocally told no, and still continued on the land. That disregard for the Jacque’s rights amounts to that egregious conduct.

     


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