Appellate Court Upholds Award of More than $200,000 for Damage to Trees
In Salazar v. Matejcek, a California Appellate Court upheld a substantial award for a neighbor’s trespass to trees. In Salazar, plaintiffs own a 10-acre parcel of rural property. The parcel was undeveloped except for a small cabin. Plaintiffs and their children vacationed at the property. They used the property in its natural state and never cut down trees, cleared vegetation nor put in roads. Plaintiffs subsequently discovered that a neighboring property owner, defendant, had installed a road, fence and gates on the Salazar property. He also installed plastic water tanks and a pool. He further installed water pipes connecting to a natural spring on their property. He destroyed approximately 225 trees in building the road and clearing the area. Defendant was using the spring water to irrigate a marijuana farm on his property. Plaintiffs sued defendant alleging causes of action for: quiet title; encroachment; trespass; wrongful removal of lumber; and injunctive relief.
After a court trial, the court found in favor of the plaintiffs. The court awarded damages including $67,500 for trespass, which the court tripled for a finding that defendant’s conduct was willful and malicious. The court also granted plaintiffs’ request for injunctive relief ordering the removal of the gate, fencing and irrigation lines and restoring the roadway to its natural condition. Defendant appealed and the court of appeals affirmed.
Defendant argued that the award was unwarranted absent evidence of diminution in value to the Salazar’s property. The appellate court found that argument to be unpersuasive. The court found that the restoration costs were properly based on the aesthetic value of the trees to the defendants. The court further found there was substantial evidence that the Salazars valued the property in its natural condition. They spent a significant amount of time at the property and enjoyed the land, including the trees.
Shannon B. Jones, Partner, firstname.lastname@example.org