The Hobbit: A Tale Of Terrible Torts

In a hole in the ground, there once lived a hobbit…who was the victim of some terrible torts. Sure, everyone is familiar with the epic tale of Mr. Bilbo Baggins and a company of dwarves who reclaimed the Lonely Mountain from Smaug the Dragon—but that is merely one side of the story. The other side is the part that Bilbo never got to tell because the wretched dwarves fled the jurisdiction of the Shire before he could file a lawsuit and provide them with service. This is Bilbo’s story: A Tale of Terrible Torts.

Factual Background

Hobbits are human-like creatures that are about half the size of a fully-grown man and who enjoy an abundance of food, drink, and merriment.[1] By nature, hobbits are creatures of habit that never do anything unexpected,[2] and the Baggins family was particularly well respected because they did not partake in any adventures.[3] One pleasant, albeit fateful morning, Bilbo Baggins was standing in front of his home enjoying a smoke (never mind what he was smoking; this is not about his crimes) when Gandalf the Grey interrupted his enjoyment of his property by inviting Baggins on an adventure.[4] Baggins unequivocally refused the offer,[5] and he retreated inside his home. Spurned, but undeterred, Gandalf approached Baggins’s home and scratched a sign on the door with the spike of his staff before departing.[6]

That evening, twelve unwelcome dwarves sporadically arrived at Baggins’s dwelling and forced themselves inside; Gandalf, who had never received Baggins’s permission, had invited each of them into his home. They proceeded to consume all of Baggins’s food and drink, and they damaged his plumbing.[7] The dwarves sang, threw all of Baggins’s dishes around his home, and they coerced him into joining their adventure far from his home. By the following morning, the dwarves had all departed, and Baggins was left with no alternative but to follow them. Although hobbits prefer tortes to torts, if Baggins had his day in court, he could make the dwarves and Gandalf pay for their wrongful acts.

The Torts (Assuming the Shire Adheres to American Jurisprudence)

  1. A.    Trespass: The Uninvited Guests

“One is subject to liability to another for trespass, irrespective of whether he thereby causes harm to any legally protected interest of the other, if he intentionally

(a) Enters land in the possession of the other, or causes a thing or a third person to do so[.][8]

The elements of this tort are seemingly obvious, but for the sake of clarity, an “intrusion” is understood as the fact that the possessor’s interest in the exclusive possession of his land has been invaded by the presence of a person without the possessor’s consent.[9] So then, who is liable? Gandalf alone is liable,[10] and here is why: Gandalf commanded the dwarves to enter Baggins’s property for a meeting that the dwarves believed Baggins had sanctioned. By causing the dwarves to enter Baggins’s property without his consent, and by then entering the property himself, Gandalf would be liable for trespass.

  1. B.    Trespass to Chattel: Torts Two Through Four

“Chattel” is not a commonly uttered word in our society, or hobbit society for that matter. A chattel is an item of property other than land. For example, doors, dishes, and furniture all qualify as chattels. A trespass to chattel occurs when someone intentionally dispossess the owner of the property, or intermeddles with a chattel that belongs to another.”[11] Dispossession of a chattel occurs by intentionally depriving another of his property by taking physical control over it in a way that strips the owner of all the advantages of possession.[12] Damaging property or deteriorating its quality may also result in liability.[13]

Here, Baggins could state a prima facie case for trespass to chattels against the dwarves because they intentionally dispossessed him of all his mugs, plates, and silverware when they helped themselves to a long and hearty feast. He could also state another claim against them for the use of all his furniture, which left Baggins without anywhere to sit inside his own home. Unfortunately, Baggins would likely be entitled only to nominal damages. However, Baggins could get more out of a trespass to chattels claim against Gandalf because he damaged his front door by scratching it with his staff.[14]

  1. C.   Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress: Soliciting The Adventure

The final tort is the gravest: Gandalf may be liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED). One is liable for IIED if “by extreme and outrageous conduct [he] intentionally or recklessly causes severe emotional distress to another.”[15] The extreme and outrageous character of the conduct can arise from a person’s knowledge that another is particularly susceptible to emotional distress and proceeds in spite of that information.[16] As indicated in the facts, hobbits, and particularly the Baggins family, are vehemently opposed to adventures: they prefer a life of leisure and comfort, and Baggins informed Gandalf that hobbits want no part in any adventures. Despite this knowledge, and after witnessing Baggins flea in panic that very morning at the mention of adventures, Gandalf insisted that Baggins join the company. Baggins was presented with a contract that, if signed, would insulate the dwarves and Gandalf from liability should he be killed or horribly maimed on the adventure, and Baggins immediately passed out from emotional distress. Given the nature of this claim, a sympathetic hobbit judge would likely award serious punitive damages.

Conclusion

Bilbo Baggins will likely never get his day in court because the statute of limitations have probably run on all his claims, and because he is a fictional character who endured fictional wrongful acts. However, it is plain to see that tort law is just as prevalent in Middle Earth as it is here in the United States.


[1] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit 5-6 (75th Anniversary ed. 2012).

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id. at 7.

[5] Id. at 9 “Sorry! I don’t want any adventures, thank you!”

[6] Id.

[7] The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (New Line Cinema 2012).

[8] Restatement (Second) of Torts § 158 (1965).

[9] Id. cmt j.

[10] If, however, the dwarves believed Bilbo had asked them to be there (via Gandolf), once Bilbo told them to leave and they didn’t, the dwarves would become liable as trespassers as well, not just Gandolf alone.

[11] Restatement (Second) of Torts § 217 (1965).

[12] Id. § 221 cmt. b-c.

[13] Id. § 218.

[14] Id. § 218(b).

[15] Id. § 46(1).

[16] Id. cmt. f.

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