Johnson v. Little Rock Ranch, LLCAnnotate this Case
Plaintiffs filed suit in 2014, alleging that Little Rock Ranch, which had proceeded to develop and plant an irrigated walnut orchard, was trespassing on 3.44 acres of plaintiffs' property. Although the trial court found that Little Rock Ranch was trespassing by encroachment on plaintiffs' property, the trial court applied the defense of laches and the "relative hardship" doctrine, denying injunctive relief to plaintiffs. The trial court fashioned an alternative equitable remedy: Little Rock Ranch was required 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 Little Rock Ranch. The trial court also found the trespass by Little Rock Ranch was permanent such that the appropriate measure of damages was "diminution in value" damages, rather than other alternative measures.
The Court of Appeal affirmed, concluding that case law supports the trial court's conclusion that Little Rock Ranch's excavation of plaintiffs' hillside and encroachment amounted to a permanent trespass. Furthermore, the court found no error in the trial court's determination that the trespass was permanent and, in turn, to award damages based on the diminution in value of plaintiffs' property absent the 3.44 acres. Finally, there is no merit in plaintiffs' claim that the trial court erred in not awarding additional damages for conversion of dirt excavated from their property.