The owner of a home in a local municipality retained the services of a landscaper to clear out his backyard of dead trees, overgrown bushes and vines and to create a park like setting. While the work was being performed, the homeowner directed the landscaper to continue to cut further and further back. Neither the homeowner or the landscaper consulted the deed, the tax map or a survey to determine where the homeowner’s boundary line stopped and the municipality’s forever wild property began. Once the work was performed it was determined that 1.8 acres of municipal forever wild property had been clear cut.
The municipality hired a certified arborist to evaluate the damages and subsequently, an action was commenced against the homeowner and the landscaper for negligence, conversion, trespass and a violation of RPAPL 861.
At the close of discovery, the parties engaged in mediation. Despite facing a number of evidentiary problems (the municipality did not receive notice of the work until after it was performed, the trees had been removed and this required the arborist to evaluate what had been removed based on various assumptions) Stephen Rehfuss was able to obtain a settlement of $400,000 for the municipality.