Wadsworth v. Middletown

In Wadsworth v. Middletown, 94 Conn. 435, 109 A. 246 (1920), the plaintiff was the owner of a piece of land that abutted two highways, and on the boundaries of his land various trees and shrubs had overgrown to the point that they were obstructing travel. The defendant, who was the town selectman, ordered that this overgrowth be trimmed, an activity that required municipal employees to go on private property for the purpose of trimming the trees. See id. at 437-38. The employees, however, cut more than was necessary to clear the obstruction. Id. at 441. The Court concluded that the defendant was liable to the landowner for the destruction of the trees that were unnecessarily cut, but also noted that "the duty of town and municipality is to keep the streets reasonably safe and reasonably free of obstructions" and that "the town or its agents have the undoubted right to cut down trees in the highway which interfere with public travel." Id. at 439. The Wadsworth court held that "since agents of the municipality are engaged upon a governmental duty in the care and maintenance of the highways, so long as they act in good faith, in the exercise of an honest judgment, and not in abuse of their discretion, or maliciously or wantonly, they cannot be held liable." Id.