The Tennessee Supreme Court says your “No Trespassing” sign isn’t good enough

In a recent opinion, the Tennessee Supreme Court held that “No Trespassing” signs weren’t enough to revoke an implied license allowing others to enter your property.  State v. Christensen, 517 S.W.3d 60 (Tenn. 2017).  In reaching its decision, the Court stated, “The term “No Trespassing” is not so clear and unambiguous as . . . the dissent claim[s].”  Rather, according to the Majority, a “No Trespassing” sign merely makes explicit what the law already recognizes: “that persons entering onto another person’s land must have a legitimate reason for doing so or risk being held civilly, or perhaps even criminally, liable for trespass.”

In a blistering dissent, Justice Sharon Lee wrote that citizens should not have to barricade themselves inside their homes with fences and closed gates to protect their constitutional rights against warrantless searches.  Property rights give an owner the right to exclude others.  If the owner does not exercise the right to exclude, visitors have an implied license to enter the property for legitimate purposes.  However, if the owner exercises the right to exclude, visitors no longer have an implied license to enter the property.  In determining whether an owner has exercised his right to exclude, a “person need not have a law degree . . . to know that [a “No Trespassing”] sign meant that visitors were not welcome.”

Despite Justice Lee’s dissent, the current law of the land in Tennessee is a “No Trespassing” sign is rarely sufficient to revoke others’ implied license to come on your property for legitimate reasons.

State of Tennessee v. James Robert Christensen, Jr., No. W2014-00931-SC-R11-CD (Tenn. Crim. App. June 2, 2016)

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