Heard: March 8, 2018.
action commenced in the Quincy Division of the District Court
Department on July 24, 2015. A motion to dismiss was heard by
Mark S. Coven, J.
Supreme Judicial Court granted an application for direct
William F. Spallina for the plaintiff.
S. Mclnnis for the defendants.
Present: Gants, C.J., Gaziano, Lowy, Budd, Cypher, &
root of this case lies a distinctively neighborly type of
dispute about who should have the responsibility for
monitoring and cutting back an intruding tree. The
defendants, Keli-Jo and John Rowell,  own the property adjacent
to the plaintiff, Mary Shiel. On the Rowells' property
sits a one hundred foot tall sugar oak tree with branches
reaching over Shiel's property. Shiel filed a complaint
with claims of private nuisance and trespass against the
Rowells after the tree allegedly caused algae buildup on the
roof of Shiel's home and the Rowells refused to cut it
down. Shiel sought money damages for the damage to her roof
and an injunction demanding that the overhanging branches be
District Court judge dismissed Shiel's claims as
precluded by Ponte v. DaSilva, 388
Mass. 1008, 1008 (1983) (individual whose property is injured
by neighbor's healthy tree has no cause of action against
landowner of property upon which tree lies). The Appellate
Division of the District Court affirmed, Shiel appealed, and
we granted her application for direct appellate review. Shiel
concedes that Ponte is controlling but asks that we
overrule it and related cases. The Rowells urge us to ground
our decision in stare decisis and not to disturb existing
law. We affirm.
in Massachusetts has long been that a landowner may not hold
a neighbor liable for damage caused by that neighbor's
healthy trees. See Ponte, 388 Mass. at 1008;
Michalson v. Nutting, 275 Mass.
232, 232-233 (1931). See also Kurtigian v.
Worcester, 348 Mass. 284, 290 (1965) (rule does not
apply to unhealthy trees). In Michalson,
supra at 232-233, roots from the defendants'
poplar tree clogged the plaintiffs' sewer and drain pipes
and cracked the plaintiffs' cement cellar, risking
serious damage to the house's foundation. We concluded
that the defendants could not be held liable for that damage
because "an owner of land is at liberty to use his land,
and all of it, to grow trees." Id. at 233,
citing Bliss v. Ball, 99 Mass.
597, 598 (1868). We recognized that the plaintiffs had the
right to cut off intruding boughs and roots and reasoned that
"it is wiser to leave the individual to protect himself,
if harm results to him from this exercise of another's
right to use his property in a reasonable way, than to
subject that other to the annoyance, and the public to the
burden, of actions at law, which would be likely to be
innumerable and, in many instances, purely vexatious."
Michalson, supra at 234.
reaffirmed this rule in Ponte, where the plaintiff
sought damages for personal injuries after slipping in her
driveway, which was covered by debris from her neighbor's
tree. Ponte, 388 Mass. at 1008 ("The failure of
a landowner to prevent the blowing or dropping of leaves,
branches, and sap from a healthy tree onto a neighbor's
property is not unreasonable and cannot be the basis of a
finding of negligence or private nuisance"). Landowners
who are disturbed by their neighbor's trees are not
without recourse. A property owner retains "the right to
remove so much of the tree as overhangs his property."
Id., citing Michalson, ...