When you think "LA" or Southern California, what comes to mind? Things like "the hills of Beverly Hills, the Hollywood Hills, and the Los Angeles basin, including the Hollywood sign, the Griffith Observatory, downtown Los Angeles, and ... Mount Baldy," perhaps?
Or maybe, like us, you think of prehistoric elephants stuck in tar.
But no matter, because our point is that each of us recognizes what we call "cliche litigation." You know, the cases that involve just the thing you think about when you imagine a certain place. We have our beach cases in Hawaii; the south has alligator cases, for example.
Well, here's the LA version, Boxer v. City of Beverly Hills, No. B258459 (Apr. 26, 2016).
The City of Beverly Hills planted redwood trees in a public park. These trees apparently blocked the views from the plaintiffs' backyards of some very So Cal-ish things like those we first mentioned above (minus the stuck-in-the-tar-mammoths).
Although the City said it would keep the trees trimmed, it allegedly didn't, and the plaintiffs sued for inverse condemnation. The City demurred, another very California thing. That's a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim to the rest of us. It argued "as a matter of law, inverse condemnation provides no remedy for alleged impairment of view from private property." Slip op. at 3. The trial court sustained the demurrer without leave to amend. Case dismissed.
The Court of Appeal agreed. There was no physical invasion, so the focus of the inquiry was on the "intangible intrusion" (actually, somewhat of a reverse intrusion, since the plaintiffs claimed they lost their previous views). The court concluded that intangible intrusions were things like odors, flood waters, noise, dust, debris, and the like. But not the loss of views. Besides, "[u]nder California law, a landowner has no right to an unobstructed view over adjoining property." Slip op. at 6.
The court acknowledged that loss of views might be an element of just compensation and damages in an eminent domain case under California law, but held that these allegations alone will not support a claim for inverse condemnation. In other cases it might be an element of damage only because there was proof of an independent intrusion into the plaintiffs' property. Not so here, because the trees were planted on city land, and the only thing the plaintiffs alleged was that they lost their views.
Moreover, the California Supreme Court had earlier ruled that the owners of billboards were not entitled to damages when city-planted palm trees (again, how LA) blocked views of the structures from the road. And there's no real difference between a view to property than a view from property.