Caciopoli v. Lebowitz
Regardless of whether the 1726 version of the tree cutting statute stood as the exclusive measure of damages, the failure of the legislature to insert an exclusivity clause into Connecticut General Statutes §52-560 during any of the numerous amendments to the statute since the 1891 Supreme Court decision in Hoyt v. Southern New England Telephone Company, was presumed to constitute legislative approval of that court's recognition of a common law cause of action. Dominic Caciopoli brought this trespass action against his neighbor, Jeffrey Lebowitz, after the defendant had multiple trees removed mistakenly believing they were on his land. Following a bench trial, the court found that the defendant trespassed on the plaintiff's land and removed multiple trees without the plaintiff's permission. The court awarded damages to the plaintiff, reflecting the diminution in the value of his land from the trees' removal. On appeal, the Appellate Court affirmed the judgment. The defendant appealed claiming that C.G.S. §52-560 provides the exclusive measure of damages in tree cutting cases and, therefore, the Appellate Court improperly determined that C.G.S. §52-560 does not pre-empt the common law. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment. Although the legislature may eliminate a common-law right by statute, the presumption that the legislature does not have such a purpose can be overcome only if the legislative intent is clearly and plainly expressed. C.G.S. §52-560 does not contain an exclusivity provision or other language indicating it is the exclusive remedy. Even assuming, arguendo, that the 1726 version of the tree cutting statute once stood as the exclusive remedy for cutting cases, the subsequent action of the Supreme Court and legislature indicates that common-law remedies exist today. Courts have recognized the common law cause of action since the late 19th century. The legislature has not, in previous amendments, inserted an exclusivity clause into C.G.S. §52-560 or otherwise indicated that it provided the exclusive remedy for cutting cases. The recognition of a common law remedy allowing an injured party to recover the diminution in the value of his land neither conflicts with C.G.S. §52-560 nor frustrates its underlying purpose. C.G.S. §52-560 allows an injured party to recover three times the reasonable value of the tree as timber under certain circumstances and enhances the common-law remedy where the value of the trees as timber is sought.