Dougherty v. Stepp

Supreme Court of North Carolina, 1835.

18 N.C. 371.

Prosser, p. 63


Facts: The defendant went onto the plaintiff’s land and surveyed it.  The trial court ruled that this was no trespass because the defendant didn’t mark any trees or cut any bushes.


Issue: Can there be trespass if the defendant didn’t apparently damage the land?


Rule: Every unauthorized entry to someone else’s land is a trespass.


Analysis: The court says that any time anyone goes on someone else’s land without their permission, you have to assume there are at least very minimal damages, like stomping on their grass.


Conclusion: The judgment was reversed and the court ordered a new trial.


Notes and Questions


1.     This is trespass with intent.

2.     If the defendant really believes he’s on his own land, you can’t say there is intent, and therefore, I don’t believe trespass to land would lie.

3.     Issues of ownership are distinct from issues of trespass.  Trespass basically is just about being there when you’re not supposed to be.

4.     This note seems to suggest that if a someone keeps intruding on another person’s property, over time the court might recognize it as their property, simply because they’ve been there so long.  The other idea is that we don’t want people beating each other up over trespass, and so we’d rather have them come to court, even if the damages are going to be very small.

5.     But it might affect damages.

6.     It looks like you can have emotional distress damages only in extreme cases.


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