ALL YOUR TREE ARE BELONG TO US
If you were not following Internet culture (as oxymoronic as that phrase may be) back in 2001, you might not recognize the badly-mangled taunt “All your base are belong to us,” derived from the poorly-translated Japanese video game, Zero Wing. It became a cult classic in 2001 (and still endures). The minor-key melodious strains of the techno dance hit Invasion of the Gabber Robots can be heard in some of the goofier corners of the ‘Net – and there are plenty of those – to this very day.
In today’s case, an elm tree stood on the boundary line between the Ridges and the Blahas. One can almost imagine Mr. Blaha — who was tired of the mess the elm made every fall — announcing to the tree “you are on the way to destruction!” But the problem was that, contrary to Mr. Blaha’s belief, all the tree’s base did not belong to him, at least not just to him. Rather, the base of the tree straddled the property line between the Blaha homestead and the Ridges’ house.
Unlike the Colorado decision of Rhodig v. Keck, the Illinois court did not require that the plaintiff show who had planted or cared for the tree. Instead, its analysis was simple: the tree grew in both yards and thus, the Ridges had an interest in the tree, as did the Blahas. This made the landowners “tenants in common,” and prohibited either from damaging the tree without permission of the other.
The Illinois view, which is the more common approach than Colorado’s “husbandry” test, is the prevailing view in the United States. In this case, the Court issued an injunction against Mr. Blaha prohibiting him from cutting down the tree. For great justice.
Ridge v. Blaha, 166 Ill.App.3d 662, 520 N.E.2d 980 (Ct.App. Ill. 1988). The Ridges sought an injunction against the Blahas to prevent them from damaging an elm tree growing on the boundary line between their respective properties. After living with the elm for many years, the Blahas tired of the tree’s unwanted effects and decided to remove it with the help of an arborist. The Ridges were not consulted, however, and when arborist Berquist came to remove the tree, plaintiffs objected that the tree belonged to them and that they did not want it destroyed.
The evidence showed that the base of the tree extended about 5 inches onto the Ridges’ property, but that the tree trunk narrows as it rises so that at a height of 1.25 feet, the trunk is entirely on Blahas’ side of the line. Photographs were also introduced which showed the tree interrupting the boundary line fence. The trial court found that no substantial portion of the elm’s trunk extended onto the Ridges’ property and that, as such, they did not have a protectable ownership interest in the tree. The Ridges appealed.
Held: The Ridges had a protectable interest. The Court held that the fact that a tree’s roots across the boundary line, acting alone, is insufficient to create common ownership, even though a tree thereby drives part of its nourishment from both parcels. However, where a portion of the trunk extends over the boundary line, a landowner into whose land the tree trunk extends had a protectable interest even though the greater portion of the trunk lay on the adjoining landowners’ side of the boundary. That interest makes the two landowners tenants in common and is sufficient to permit the grant of an injunction against the adjoining landowner from removing the tree.
– Tom Root