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Michalson v. Nutting

Citation. Michalson v. Nutting, 175 N.E. 490, 275 Mass. 232, 76 A.L.R. 1109 (Mass. 1931)
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Brief Fact Summary.

The plaintiffs filed a case seeking a judicial order on the defendants preventing their tree roots from growing on to and injuring the property belonging to the plaintiffs.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A property owner cannot be held liable for damage caused by the roots of a tree growing on his land which encroaches on the adjoining property of another farmer.


The plaintiffs (P) brought an equity suit complaining of the damage being caused by the roots of a poplar tree growing on the defendants’ property. The roots had caused filled up  sewage and drain pipes, had grown under the cement cellar causing cracks and crumbling of the cement walls and was threatening the foundations of the house. The plaintiffs desired the court to issue a mandatory injunction compelling the defendants to remove the roots, and a permanent injunction preventing the defendants from allowing the roots to encroach on the plaintiff’s land, as well as damages. The trial court ruled that no damages could be awarded as the defendants were not responsible for damage caused by the roots of a tree on their land. The suit was dismissed with costs. The state supreme court reviewed the case.


Is a property owner responsible for the damage caused by the roots of a tree growing on his land?


(Wait, J.) No. A property owner is not responsible for the damage caused by the roots of a tree growing on his land. It is a long-held principle that a property owner has the right to grow trees on his land, without being liable for the shade or branches extending over the boundary of his land. There is no legal distinction between the damage caused by a tree’s roots or by the branches and the shade. The remedy for the annoyance caused by either is not legal but practical self-help. The person injured can remove the offending limbs or roots. The neighbors should work out such problems, instead of bringing them to court which would result in a tremendous multiplication of these cases, which are often simply for the purpose of causing mental and physical vexation rather than to reach a legal remedy.






In this case the harm done is without legal remedy (“damnumabsqueinjuriaâ€) but does not mean the injured neighbor is without recourse. The basis for legal action is absent because of the presence of self-help. The injured party can destroy the tree’s roots, irrespective of whether such an action would destroy the tree itself. This is because the tree’s owner would have no ground for legal complaint in case of such an action by his injured neighbor.

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