Restatement (Second) of Torts§217 (PDF)
A trespass to a chattel may be committed by intentionally
(a) dispossessing another of the chattel, or
(b) using or intermeddling with a chattel in the possession of another.
One who uses a chattel with the consent of another is subject to liability in trespass for any harm to the chattel
which is caused by or occurs in the course of any use exceeding the consent, even though such use is not a
IntroductionWilson v. Interlake Steel Co., 32 Cal.3d 229 (Cal. 1982)(HTML) *Optional*
A group of retirees who resided in homes adjacent to a steel fabricating plant brought a trespass suit against the plant owners, seeking damages for noise that disturbed them while causing no physical injury to their property. Concluding that noise alone, without some physical damage, did not support a trespass recovery, the trial court denied the relief sought and entered judgment for defendants.
Thrifty-Tel established the notion that electrons and electronic signals are sufficiently physical and
tangible to constitute intermeddling, and a trespass to chattels.
The court in Thrifty cited several cases holding that dust or sound waves can constitute trespass if they cause damage, rather than simply interfering with the use or enjoyment of property (which is typically dealt with as a nuisance tort). Does the dinstinction (from Wilson) based on damage seem rational here?
How would you argue for/against conversion as the cause of action in Thrifty? Does the court appropriately dismiss the conversion cause of action? Hint, look at degree of interference and tangibility.
Laura Quilter, Regulating Conduct on the Internet: The Continuing Expansion of Cyberspace Trespass to Chattels (Pages 1-8) (PDF)
Pamela Samuelson, Unsolicited Communications as Trespass (PDF)
The Aftermath of Thrifty-TelFrom Thrifty-Tel, we now know that there must be damage for there to be a trespass to chattels cause of action. The next case is the first to apply trespass to chattels to the Internet in a spam case. Focus on the damage requirement.
CompuServe v. Cyber Promotions, 962 F.Supp. 1015 (S.D.Ohio 1997) (HTML)
Is there implied consent for transmitting e-mail when a computer network connects to the greater
internet? Should the computer network be allowed to withdraw consent for particular e-mails being
transmitted on its network?
Why was the First Amendment defense to Trespass to Chattels dismissed?
Compuserv loosens the requirement for damage; harm to actual chattel is no longer required. Indirect harms to the CompuServe's business interest, reputation, customer goodwill, and employee time are allowed to count as harms to the chattel (the server). From the framework set up in Thrifty, does this now seem more like a nuisance cause of action, and is this good?
By a 4-3 margin, the California Supreme Court holds that the transmission of six e-mails criticizing Intel's employment practices to approximately 35,000 Intel employees over Intel's Intranet, despite Intel's objection, does not constitute an actionable trespass to chattels because the transmission did not cause any injury to Intel's computer systems. The transmission of these e-mails neither slowed nor otherwise disrupted the functioning of Intel's computer system. As a result, the California Supreme Court rejected Intel's application for an injunction, enjoining defendant, a former Intel employee, from continuing to send e-mails to Intel employees. In reaching this result, the Court held that neither the time Intel's employees spent reviewing these unwanted communications, nor the funds Intel expended in attempting to block their continued transmission, constituted the type of injury necessary to sustain a trespass to chattels claim.
This result constituted a reversal of prior decisions by both the California Superior Court and the California Court of Appeals, each of which had enjoined future transmissions by the defendant. Three justices dissented in two extensive dissents. Each of the dissenters would have continued the injunction issued by the lower courts on the grounds, inter alia, that a trespass to chattels claim does not require injury to the chattel in question -- rather, such a claim can be established solely by showing an unpermitted and objected to use of the chattel.
One way to distinguish Hamidi from CompuServe, is that Hamidi was primarily about damage caused by the contents of emails, where CompuServe is about damage caused by interference with the functioning of a computer system. Does this approach make sense?
The movement of trespass to chattels into regulating spiders is a somewhat more complex picture. There are greater
benefits to the public from the activity of spiders, and
fewer detrimental effects to the public or to the property-owner. How might trespass to chattels be more difficult in regulating "spider" programs? Hint, think about policy; do we
want to encourage or discourage spiders?
Optional CasesEBay v. Bidders Edge, (ND Cal 2000) (PDF)
- Court issued a preliminary injunction, enjoining Bidder's Edge Inc. ("BE") from using a software robot
other automated query program to access without permission eBay's computer systems for the purpose of obtaining information concerning ongoing auctions at eBay, on the grounds that such activity is likely to constitute a prohibited trespass to chattels.
Plaintiff, an Internet service provider, alleged that certain individuals and corporations were unlawfully
sending unsolicited bulk e-mail advertisements, commonly known as spam, to plaintiff's members. Compensatory and punitive damages were awarded to plaintiff.
- The computer user claimed that the provider deceptively installed spyware on thousands of computers.
The spyware allegedly allowed defendants to deliver targeted advertisements to the computers.
The user stated a claim for trespass to personal property based on alleged damage to computers and interference with
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