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Adams v. Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Co.

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Plaintiff homeowners live near Empire Mine (one of the largest iron ore mines) operated by Defendants Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Company and Empire Iron Mining Partnership. Plaintiffs alleged Empire Mine’s blasting created dust that caused damage to their homes thus harming the homes’ market value, and created noise and vibrations that caused homeowners to suffer from lack sleep, shock, and feelings of nervousness.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    The owner/possessor of real property has the right to exclude others from his or her property (a “right of exclusive possessionâ€) and the right to quiet enjoyment of his or her property (a “possessory interestâ€). Trespass occurs when there is a “direct or immediate intrusion of a physical, tangible object†on an owner’s land without the owner’s permission. In Michigan, once the trespass has been proved there is a presumption of nominal damages that the owner can recover. Additional damages may be recovered for injury and harm proved by the owner. The doctrine of nuisance applies when the land owner’s enjoyment and use of his or her property has been interfered with by “noise, vibrations, or ambient dust, smoke, soot, or fumes.†There is no presumption of damages for a claim of nuisance and the land owner bears the burden of proving that the tortfeasor’s “unreasonable interference with the use or enjoyment of the property†resulted in “significant harm†and must also prove damages.

    Facts.

    Plaintiffs are 55 homeowners, 52 of whom live near Empire Mine (an iron ore mine) in Marquette County. Defendants are Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Company and subsidiary Empire Iron Mining Partnership. Empire Mine’s blasting occurs three times every week throughout each year. Plaintiff homeowners sued Defendants for trespass and nuisance due to the dust, noise and vibrations caused by Empire Mine’s blasting and sought damages. Plaintiffs alleged that the dust caused damage to the interior and exterior of their homes and reduced the market value of some of the homes. Plaintiffs also alleged the noise/vibrations caused them to suffer from lack sleep, shock, and feelings of nervousness. The trial court instructed the jury on trespass as “an unauthorized intrusion into the lands of another,†including an intrusion by certain intangible objects, such as dust, noise, and vibrations. The trial court awarded damages in trespass to 52 of 55 Plaintiffs. Defendants appealed.

    Issue.

    Whether a cause of action for trespass by intangible objects is recognized in Michigan.

    Held.

    In Michigan, there is no cause of action for trespass by intangible objects such as dust, noise and vibrations – that would instead be covered under the law of nuisance. The trial court erroneously permitted the jury to give an award of damages for trespass. The Court of Appeals of Michigan reversed and remanded.

    Discussion.

    Plaintiffs argued that they should succeed in their cause of action for trespass by intangible objects under the “modern view†of trespass. The Court of Appeals referenced cases following recent trends where the direct entry element has not been required, such as Bradley v. American Smelting & Refining Co., Borland v. Sanders Lead Co., Inc., and Martin v. Reynolds Metals Co. This court does not agree with a trend away from the traditional view of trespass law and upholds the distinction between trespass and nuisance. The court finds dust and other “airborne particulates†as well as noise/vibrations to be intangible objects and can therefore not give rise to a cause of action for trespass in Michigan.


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