TESTING THE BOUNDARIES
Before I forget to do this, I’d like to report on a case of a conveniently forgetful property owner from the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
Mr. Meixner made an agreement with his neighbor, a sawmill, to replace some boundary fences. The first several fencelines were replaced according to the parties’ agreement, with Meixner and the sawmill sharing the costs. Everything seemed hunky-dory, as they like to say in Minnesota..
Out of nowhere, Mr. Meixner sued, claiming that the sawmill had cut down 73 trees on his land before replacing the second of the three fences.
The sawmill said, “Yup. Sure did.” These Minnesotans are people of few words, when they’re not saying things like “hunky-dory.” But the sawmill employee did say, “Had to cut down the trees to build the new fence. Meixner agreed.” Those words were plenty, and the jury found for the sawmill.
On appeal, the Court agreed with the level-headed jurors. It first adopted the general principle that trees on a boundary line are owned in common by the property owners, and neither may cut down a boundary tree without the consent of the other. But here, the Court said, it’s pretty clear that the sawmill employees had Mr. Meixner’s OK to axe the trees. After all, the Court observed, Mr. Meixner had given the sawmill permission to build the new fence, and he even shared the cost. If permission is given to enter onto the property to build a new fence, that permission implies authority to do all acts necessary to the completion of the task.
The sawmill employee said the trees had to go if the new fence was to be built. That evidence was good enough for the Court. Mr. Meixner wanted a fence, so he necessarily wanted the trees cut in order to build it.
Meixner v. Buecksler, 216 Minn. 586, 13 N.W.2d 754 (Sup.Ct. Minn. 1944). Meixner owned property next to a lumber company. He had an agreement with the company to replace old fences standing on the common boundary line.
Meixner and Buecksler, a tenant and employee of the company, built a new east-west fence in September 1938. Pursuant to the lumber company’s direction, Buecksler then cleared out the brush and cut down some trees in preparation for building a new fence to replace the old one which marked the boundary between Meixner’s south forty and the company’s north forty. A survey was made of this line, and thereafter Meixner and Buecksler constructed the replacement fence. A third fence was later completed, marking the east-west boundary.
Meixner contended that Buecksler and the company unlawfully cut 73 trees on his property prior to building the north-south fence, and that such acts were done without his knowledge or consent, and constituted trespass. The lumber company claimed Meixner had consented to clearing away the brush and cutting the trees, and that such acts were necessary in order to carry out the mutual plans to build the fence. The jury found for the defendants.
Held: The appeals court upheld the verdict. It found that trees on the boundary line are the common property of the adjoining landowners which neither may destroy without consent of the other. However, trespass is not committed if there is permission or consent to do acts complained of, which consent may be implied from circumstances, and the jury was entitled to find that the Defendants had Meixner’s consent.
Generally, the Court said, permission to do a particular act carries with it authority and right, by implication, to do all that is necessary to effect principal objects and to avail licensee of his rights under license. Meixner’s agreement with Buecksler and the company for building a line fence between the adjoining properties carried with it by implication the right to do such things as were reasonably necessary in order properly to build the fence, including the cutting of trees on the boundary line.
Meixner had asked the court to award him treble damages under the Minnesota statute on wrongful cutting. The court declined, pointing out that there had to be damages in order to treble them, and Meixner simply had none.
– Tom Root