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Dougherty v. Stepp

Melissa A. Hale

ProfessorMelissa A. Hale

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Dougherty v. Stepp

Citation. Dougherty v. Stepp, 18 N.C. 371, 1 Dev. & Bat. Law 371 (N.C. 1835).
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Brief Fact Summary.

Stepp (Defendant) entered onto Dougherty’s (Plaintiff’s) land to claim a portion of it as his own. No actual physical damage was done to Plaintiff’s land.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Every unauthorized entry onto the land of another is a trespass.


Plaintiff brought an action of trespass quarum clausum freigit against Defendant. Trespass to real property was traditionally called trespass quarum clausum freigit.
Defendant entered Plaintiff’s unenclosed land. Defendant entered with a surveyor and chain carriers and surveyed the land and claimed a part of it. However, there was no marking or cutting of bushes. The issue at trial was actual damage done to the land. The trial court held that there cannot be a trespass without some damage done to the land. The jury found for the Defendant. Plaintiff appealed.


Is Defendant liable for an unauthorized and unlawful entry onto Plaintiff’s land even if Defendant’s entry causes no actual physical damage?


Yes. Judgment reversed. New trial granted.
* Any and every unauthorized, and therefore unlawful entry onto the land of another is a trespass even if Defendant causes no physical damage to the land. In an action for trespass, the law infers some damage even if there is nothing more than treading down the grass, herbage, or shrubbery. The fact that Defendant did not mark or cut any bushes only changes the degree and not the nature of the injury. It is the entry itself that constitutes the trespass.


The requisite intent to maintain an action for trespass is merely the intent to enter the land. An honest mistake or belief that the land belongs to the trespasser will not relieve Defendant of liability. In this case, Defendant is strictly liable for the trespass regardless of his intent or negligence. Defendant will compensate Plaintiff for the trespass even if there is no physical damage to Plaintiff’s land. In this case, Plaintiff can possibly recover a small amount in money damages or obtain an injunction.

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