Saturday, December 1, 2012

Edwards v. Sims case brief

Edwards v. Sims
Property Law Case Brief

Subject:  Ownership of Caves.  Ad Coelum Rule.

Case Overview:
Edwards (Defendant) sought to prevent the enforcement of an order to survey caves to which he claimed ownership.

Case Facts:
-Edwards had discovered and named the cave known as the Great Onyx Cave (“the Cave”), whose entrance lay on his land.
-Following its discovery, Edwards spent considerable effort and money to promote the Cave as a tourist attraction.
-His efforts proved fruitful, as the Cave came to attract a great number of visitors every year.
-The government eventually exercised its power to take control of the Cave, in exchange for which it would pay Edwards $396,000.
-Lee (Plaintiff) then sued, claiming that part of the Cave extended under his land and that a surveyor should be employed to determine whether such was indeed the case.


May the owner of a cave that is a tourist attraction be compelled to open that cave to surveyors for purposes of determining whether it constitutes a trespass on the land above?

The owner of a cave may be compelled to open his cave for such purposes.

Although this case is unusual insofar as few caves have sufficient commercial value to provoke legal disputes over ownership, it bears important analogies to mining rights. The ad coelum rule as applied to mining allows a landowner to demand an inspection of any mine that he reasonably suspects to extend beneath his land. There is no reason to refuse to apply that rule to the current case.

Dissenting Opinion:
The current case cannot be properly compared to cases involving mining rights. The crucial difference is that disputes in mining invariably concern resources that may be removed from the ground and profitably used elsewhere. By contrast, the value of the Cave lies in the scenery of the Cave itself. Such scenery cannot be removed or otherwise physically possessed, and the ad coelum should not be applied in the same fashion as to mining rights. Rather, the ad coelum rule should be limited to only those resources the owner of the surface can reasonably be expected to use. Edwards has made the Cave into a tourist attraction at considerable risk and cost, and it would be inequitable to allow Lee to clamor for a portion of the profits simply because part of it might extend under Lee’s land. 

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