If A Tree Falls In The City, Is It Serving A Public Purpose?


Today’s posting has nothing to do with corporate law and everything to do with trees.  On November 30 and December 1, 2011, the City of Pasadena experienced an unusually violent windstorm.  Wind speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour were recorded within the city, toppling over 5,000 municipally owned trees.  See Pasadena Tree Failure Analysis (July 2012).  One of these trees fell on the home of James O’Halloran. Fortunately, the homeowner was insured and he received $293,000 in compensation for his loss.  His insurance company then sued the city for inverse condemnation and nuisance.

But why would the insurer sue for inverse condemnation if the city didn’t take Mr. O’Halloran’s house?  It turns out that Article I, Section 19 of the California Constitution provides that private property “may be taken or damaged for a public use and only when just compensation . . . has first been paid to the . . . owner”. In City of Pasadena v. Superior Court, 2014 Cal. App. LEXIS 733 (Aug. 14, 2014), the Court of Appeal found that an inverse condemnation claim requires (1) a deliberate action by the state; and (2) a furtherance of a public purpose.

The Court of Appeal found evidence demonstrating that both of these elements were met.  First, the Court found that the tree was a “street tree” that was part of the city’s program to enhance residents’ and visitors’ quality of life.  I don’t think that the Court was casting any aspersions not the tree just because it was living on the streets.  In fact, homelessness in the case of trees may be a positive virtue.  Second, the Court found that trees served the public purpose of improving public roads.   Thus, the Court found that the trial court properly denied summary adjudication for the city.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Allen Matkins | Attorney Advertising

Written by:


Allen Matkins on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:

Sign up to create your digest using LinkedIn*

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.

Already signed up? Log in here

*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.