The Law School Authority

Surocco v. Geary Case Brief

Summary of Surocco v. Geary, S. Ct. California, 1853

Facts:   During the great fire of 1949 the City Alcalde, by authority and office, ordered the destruction of homes, by dynamite, to stop the spread of the fire.  Pl’s home was one such home destroyed.  Pl was in the process of removing personal items when ordered to cease and the home was blown up.

Issue: Whether a person who destroys the house of another, in good faith, and under necessity, during the time of conflagration, for the purpose of saving the adjacent building, and stopping the progress of the fire, can be held liable in an action by the owner of the property destroyed?

Holding: No

Procedure: PL filed suit against Df Geary jury returned verdict for PL and Df appeals.  Reversed.

Rule: Necessitas inducit privilegium quod jura privata [necessity provides a privilege for private rights] A house on fire, or those in its immediate vicinity, which serve to communicate flames, in the interests of society must yield to the rights of preserving the whole of society.

Ct. Rationale: The blowing up of the house was necessary, as it would have been consumed by flame had it been left standing.  The Practice Act of 1850 allows the destruction of property to prevent the spread of conflagration.  The trespass onto lands to prevent or escape death by an enemy.

PL A: The immediate necessity to thwart the continued conflagration warranted the destruction of many homes which in fact subsided the flames growth.

Def A: The Alcalde lacked the discretion to issue an order condemning the house.  There wasn’t an actual or apparent necessity.

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