Keeble v. Hickeringill

Following is the case brief for Keeble v. Hickeringill, 11 East 570 (1707)

Case Summary of Keeble v. Hickeringill:

  • Keeble ran a decoy pond on his land for his livelihood.  Hickeringill fired a gun in order to scare the ducks away from Keeble’s pond.
  • Keeble sued Hickeringill for interfering in his business.  A verdict was entered in favor of Keeble, awarding him 20 pounds in damages.
  • On appeal, the verdict was affirmed.  The King’s Bench held that Keeble had the right to use his property for profit, including the use of the wild animals on his property.  Hickeringill was liable for maliciously disrupting Keeble’s use of his property for profit.

Keeble v. Hickeringill Case Brief

Statement of the Facts:

Plaintiff Keeble owned land with a pond that he used as a decoy pond.  Keeble made his livelihood by using the ducks that he lured to the pond.  Significantly, Keeble used decoy-ducks, nets, and other machinery to lure the ducks to his pond.  Keeble’s neighbor, defendant Hickeringill, fired his gun close to the decoy pond, scaring away the ducks in the pond.  Hickeringill’s intention was to injure Keeble’s business.  At trial, Hickeringill argued that the ducks in the pond were not Keeble’s property.

Procedural History:

The matter was put before a tribunal where a verdict was handed down in favor of Keeble.  Keeble was awarded 20 pounds in damages.  Hickeringill moved for an arrest of judgment in King’s Bench.

Issue and Holding:

Does a person have a possessory property right to wild animals on his or her land?  Yes.

Judgment:

The verdict for Keeble was upheld.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

A landowner has a property right to the wild animals found on his or her land.

Reasoning:

A person has the right to use his property for his own pleasure and profit.  Keeble was doing just that by using his skill and labor to lure the ducks to his pond and use those ducks for profit.  That was his trade and livelihood.  So, if someone intentionally hinders a person’s trade and livelihood, that person will be liable for the damages caused to the other’s business.

In this case, Hickeringill was purposefully disrupting Keeble’s business by scaring away the ducks on Keeble’s pond.  Therefore, he was properly held liable for damage to Keeble’s profit.

Notably, if Hickeringill set up his own decoy pond on his own neighboring property, Keeble would not have a legal claim against him for any impact on Keeble’s business.  That is because Hickeringill also has the right to use his own property for profit.  That, however, was not the case here.

Significance:

This case stands for the propositions that (i) a landowner can use his property for profit, (ii) the landowner has constructive possession of wild animals that are on his property, and (iii) a person who maliciously interferes with a landowner’s use of his property can be held liable in court.  This case is often distinguished from Pierson v. Post (NY, 1805), which holds that mere pursuit of a wild animal does not give the pursuer possession of the animal.

Student Resources:

http://www.law.harvard.edu/faculty/cdonahue/courses/prop/mat/Mats_c02.pdf

http://www.nycourts.gov/history/legal-history-new-york/legal-history-eras-02/history-new-york-legal-eras-pierson-post.html

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