Court Creates an Equitable Remedy Short of an Injunction for Permanent Trespass to Plaintiffs’ Land.
Defendant bought 677 acres of land in 2012, for the purpose of developing a walnut orchard. Plaintiffs own a 210-acre property adjacent to defendant’s property. Plaintiffs sued in 2014, alleging that defendant, who had proceeded to develop and irrigate a walnut orchard, was trespassing on 3.44 acres of plaintiffs’ property. Plaintiffs further alleged that defendant had excavated a hillside, leveled land, planted walnut trees, and laid irrigation and sprinkler systems on the disputed strip. Plaintiffs sought injunctive relief to end the encroachment and restore the hillside strip to its original condition, among other remedies. After a bench trial, the trial court found defendant was trespassing by encroachment on plaintiffs’ property. However, applying the defense of laches and the “relative hardship” doctrine, the court denied the injunctive relief sought by plaintiffs. The court fashioned an alternative equitable remedy: Defendant had to pay damages to plaintiffs and undertake corrective action to limit erosion of the now-excavated hillside, while plaintiffs were required to deed the strip of land at issue to defendant. In a parallel analysis, the trial court found the trespass by defendant was permanent such that the appropriate measure of damages was “diminution in value” damages, rather than other alternative measures. Affirming, the Court of Appeal held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the claim for injunctive relief regarding the trespass and that the trial court properly fashioned an equitable remedy. (Johnson v. Little Rock Ranch, LLC (Cal. App. 5th Dist., Jan. 3, 2022) 73 Cal.App.5th 576.)
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