University of Chicago Law Review

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In many parts of the rural western United States, the land is divided into rectangular parcels that alternate between private and public ownership, so as to resemble a checkerboard. Some of those public parcels are “corner-locked,” meaning that they meet other public parcels only at a corner. It is technically not possible to access corner-locked parcels without at least briefly hovering over a private parcel, which constitutes trespass on the private parcel under the ad coelum doctrine.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand for outdoor tourism, more people have been endeavoring to reach the public parcels by “corner-crossing” from one public parcel to the other. Private landowners have taken issue with the intrusions over their land that result. The corner-crossing is a trespass by the letter of state trespass law, but corner-crossers argue that the Unlawful Inclosures Act of 1885 immunizes them from trespass liability.

This Comment explores the extent to which the Unlawful Inclosures Act does so. It examines the relevant case law and concludes, based on the text and historical backdrop of the Act, that landowners may not sue cornercrossers for the momentary trespasses they effect. It argues that this reading follows from the open-range doctrine in effect in the rural West when the Act was passed.

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