Sunday, April 1, 2007

Brown v. Smith (Ct. of Special Appeals)

Filed: March 29, 2007--Opinion by Judge Sally Adkins

In a case arising from disputed use of a right-of-way, the Court of Special Appeals examined the nature of a nominal damages award, and whether there is a maximum limitation on the dollar amount that can be considered nominal damages.

Appellants, the Browns, were determined by the lower court to have been trespassing on property owned by the Smiths, by traveling over a farm lane to access a public road from the Browns’ property. The Browns appealed both the decision that they had no right to use the farm lane and an award of $8,350 in “nominal damages.”

The Court first determined that there was a final appealable judgment, even though no judgment had been entered on a third party complaint against a neighbor of both parties. Next the Court agreed that the common grantor of the original deeds in 1875 had not intended to create mutually reciprocal rights of way appurtenant to the Smith and Brown properties. The Court also held that the trial court did not err in admitting expert testimony or in denying injunctive relief. On the issue of damages, however, the Court concluded that an $8,350 damage award on the trespass count was too high to be a “nominal damages” award. Because the Court could not determine from the record whether there may or may not be justification for compensatory damages, it remanded for reconsideration of that issue.

The opinion is available in PDF.

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