Unable to leave well enough alone, the Supreme Judicial Court used a series of wooden puns in deciding not to change the longstanding rule that a landowner cannot hold a neighbor responsible for damage caused by that neighbor’s healthy tree. Shiel v. Rowell addressed Shiel’s nuisance and trespass claims that algae on her roof was caused by the Rowells’ overhanging tree.
The traditional Massachusetts rule allows Shiel to protect herself by cutting back encroaching trees, up to the property line. The Court declined to ‘”uproot precedent,” because it is a clear rule that assigns responsibility and thereby minimizes legal costs and legal disputes between neighbors “who merely have an axe to grind,” and it also avoids burdening the courts with additional litigation.
As it did a few years ago in Taylor v. Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank Commission, the Court showed that it was open-minded enough to reconsider longstanding precedent, but ultimately decided against changing a rule that still makes sense.