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Spittler v. Charbonneau

Intermediate Court of Appeals of Hawaii

September 4, 2019

SCOTT SPITTLER, Plaintiff/Counterclaim Defendant-Appellant,
v.
PAUL R. CHARBONNEAU, JANICE CHARBONNEAU, Defendants/Counterclaim Plaintiffs-Appellees, and ELIZABETH THERESA SCHMIDT, Defendant/Cross-Claim Defendant/Cross-Claimant, and DOE 2 Through DOES 20, Defendants

          APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE THIRD CIRCUIT (CIVIL NO. 3CC09-1-0007)

         On the briefs:

          Brooks L. Bancroft for Plaintiff/Counterclaim Defendant-Appellant.

          Robert J. Crudele for Defendants/Counterclaim Plaintiffs-Appellees.

          FUJISE, PRESIDING JUDGE, CHAN AND HIRAOKA, JJ.

          OPINION

          HIRAOKA, J.

         This case arose from a dispute between neighbors over plants. Plaintiff-Appellant Scott Spittler (Spittler) appeals from the First Amended Final Judgment (Judgment) entered by the Circuit Court of the Third Circuit (Circuit Court)[1] on January 8, 2016, and the order partially granting and partially denying a motion for partial summary judgment filed by Defendants-Appellees Paul R. Charbonneau and Janice Charbonneau (collectively, the Charbonneaus) entered by the Circuit Court on August 2, 2013 (PSJ Order) .[2] For the reasons explained below, we affirm the Judgment.

         I.

         Spittler and the Charbonneaus own adjoining property in Kapoho on Hawai'i island. They disputed the location of their common boundary. On January 8, 2009, Spittler filed a "Complaint for Trespass and Damages" against the Charbonneaus. The complaint alleged that between 1984 and 2006 the Charbonneaus planted a number of ironwood, [3] loulu palm, [4] and coconut palm trees, some of which were planted on Spittler's property. Spittler claimed that the Charbonneaus agreed to remove their trees from Spittler's property and to be bound by a neutral survey of the boundary between the parties' properties, but have not done so. On July 23, 2007, a branch from one of the Charbonneaus' trees allegedly fell, struck Spittler, and damaged Spittler's greenhouse covering. Spittler's complaint alleged that the Charbonneaus' trees have "an extensive root system, have created a poor growing environment, and continue to present danger to person, real property, and agricultural products of [Spittler]." Spittler also claimed that Paul Charbonneau screamed profanities and called the police after Spittler pruned coconut fronds that were hanging into Spittler's property. The complaint listed the following causes of action: (1) trespass to property; (2) breach of contract; (3) breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; (4) negligence; (5) misrepresentation; (6) unfair and deceptive trade practices; (7) punitive damages;[5] (8) nuisance; (9) detrimental reliance; (10) intentional infliction of emotional distress; and (11) quiet title.

         On January 29, 2009, the Charbonneaus filed an answer and a counterclaim. They alleged that they acquired their property in 1980; their ironwood trees were planted in 1983 "as a windbreak under a program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service"; Spittler acquired his property in 1999; in 2006 Spittler claimed to own the land on which the Charbonneaus' ironwood trees were planted and demanded that the trees be removed; and since 2007 Spittler has trespassed on the Charbonneaus' property, cut down and killed numerous ironwood and palm trees, and directed loud music and noise toward the Charbonneaus' property to interfere with the Charbonneaus' use and enjoyment of their property. The counterclaim also alleges that in November 2008 Spittler fired a rifle from his property at Paul Charbonneau, who was standing on his own property. The counterclaim listed the following causes of action: (1) quiet title; (2) injunctive relief; (3) intentional, reckless, or negligent destruction of property; and (4) punitive damages[6].

         On June 13, 2013, the Charbonneaus filed a motion for partial summary judgment on the first (trespass) and eighth (nuisance) counts of Spittler's complaint. Spittler's opposition was filed on July 3, 2013, and an errata was filed on July 10, 2013. The Charbonneaus' reply was filed on July 9, 2013. The motion was heard on July 11, 2013.[7] The PSJ Order was entered on August 2, 2013; the order contained the following provisions relevant to this appeal:

The Court finds as follows:
2. With respect to the issue regarding branches, leaves and roots, the uncontroverted material facts are that trees are located on the Charbonneau property but the branches [and] leaves from those trees overhang onto the [Spittler] property, and the leaves from the trees may fall from those trees onto the [Spittler] property and the roots from those trees might intrude into the [Spittler] property. These intrusions only interfere with plant life on the
[Spittler] property. Under Whitesell v. Houlton, 2 Haw.App. 365, 632 P.2d 1077 (1981), [Spittler]'s claims for relief based on trespass are not appropriate. Further the intrusion by way of overhanging branches, leaves and roots into the [Spittler] property that results in damage to plant life is not a nuisance and not compensable.
Based upon the above findings

         IT IS HEREBY ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED as follows:

2. [The Charbonneaus'] motion for partial summary judgment seeking to dismiss that portion of the First Cause of Action of Spittler's Complaint . . . alleging trespass caused by the intruding roots, branches and leaves onto the [Spittler] property from trees and plants on [the Charbonneaus'] property[] is hereby granted, and that portion of the First Cause of Action of Spittler's Complaint . . . [is] hereby dismissed.
3. [The Charbonneaus'] motion for partial summary judgment seeking to dismiss the Eighth Cause of Action [of] Spittler's Complaint . . . alleging nuisance caused by the intruding roots, branches and leaves onto the [Spittler] property from trees and plants on [the Charbonneaus'] property[] is hereby granted, and the Eighth Cause of Action of Spittler's Complaint . . . [is] hereby dismissed.

         The parties eventually agreed to a partial settlement of all claims except counts one (trespass) and eight (nuisance) - which were the subjects of the PSJ Order - and eleven (quiet title) of Spittler's complaint. The terms of the settlement were placed on the record on July 30, 2013. A stipulation for entry of a judgment was filed on February 4, 2014; the stipulation recited a resolution of the quiet title claim based on a land survey and an existing boundary pin. A judgment was filed on February 26, 2014. Spittler filed a notice of appeal but we dismissed the appeal for lack of appellate jurisdiction. The First Amended Final Judgment was entered on January 8, 2016. This appeal followed.

         II.

         Standard ...


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