Unwonk - Episode 10: Revolve

We learn which circles of hell make the worst neighbors, transferring road rage to revolving doors, and that if you’re from New Jersey, there is such a thing as a stupid question.

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Please enjoy the links to additional information relating to the questions on this episode - for people new to Unwonk, these quotes and links won't make much sense until you actually listen to the episode:

"Scrump (verb): to steal (apples) from an orchard or garden. ... Slang definition: To do the sex act; boff; jazz." - The Dictionary

"Maybe the world was like a revolving door, it occurred to him as his consciousness was fading away. And which section you ended up in was just a matter of where your foot happened to fall...And there was no logical continuity from one section to another. And it was because of this lack of logical continuity that choices really didn't mean very much." - Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

[Episode Keywords: Lemon Party, Lemon Stealing Whore, Dumb Question from New Jersey, Revolving Door History, Medical Confidentiality, Slow Dutch Tourist Families also Wearing Their Backpacks the Wrong Way]

Episode Transcript


Hi, friend. This is a rough transcript of this episode of Unwonk. What's that mean? It means that we're just pasting the original script for the show plus unvetted transcripts of any interviews. So, you're likely to see content that maybe didn't make the final cut, maybe not see some content that was in the episode but not the original script, and run across a few typos. 

As with everything on Unwonk, the transcript below is for general informational purposes only - this is not legal advice - if you need to have a legal question answered, please seek legit legal representation. 

On this episode of Unwonk, we learn:

  • Which circles of hell make the worst neighbors,
  • Transferring road rage to revolving doors, AND
  • If you’re from New Jersey, there is such a thing as a stupid question.

This is Unwonk. We respond to your legal questions with relevant and useful information. If you would like to submit a question, please visit our site at

When you’re there, you can also find where to follow us on twitter, facebook, and all the social things. And make sure to tell your friends about us. Because friends are the best.

Even though the  general information on this podcast is provided by actual attorneys, you’d be an idiot to think it is actual legal advice, and you’d also be the type of person who uses the phrases “just sayin” (because you’re clearly not just sayin’) and “nuff said” (because if you had to say nuff said, you did not say enough).

And now, our first question.

My grandmother has a lemon tree in her yard - some of the branches extend past the fence over the sidewalk. Can she put a sign on the fence telling people not to pick the lemons? Half the fruit is gone every season because people keep stealing her lemons as they walk by, and she gets really upset about it. (California)

Thanks for the question, Annabelle. I’m very sorry to hear about this chronic unauthorized de-bumpering of your grandmother’s lemon crop. 

Much like your grandmother, the roots of this question are ancient. This is because some of the most deeply entrenched areas of law surround real property. Going back to the very beginning of time - real property has been key to establishing security, safety and comfort - I mean, who can forget the great primordial single cell land rush that immediately followed the big bang 13.8 billion years ago? Or, if you don’t believe in science, when cavemen rode velociraptors around, looking for prime oceanfront real estate.

There are two prevailing legal theories about ownership trees and other flora - they both relate to this statement paraphrased from 13th century Roman jurist, Accursius: “Whoever owns the soil, it is theirs all the way to Heaven and all the way to Hell.”

And, in case you didn’t know, Accursius was my MC name in the 90s. MC Accursius. Comin’ at ya. 

What does this ancient Roman saying mean? It means that everything above and below your soil, is yours to do as you please. Keep in mind that people were incredibly stupid in the 13th century, and didn’t take into account the need for air travel, subways, and such, so, in reality, these rights are currently a bit more limited.

It also brings to mind whether people back then wondered which part of hell they lived above, and how far down it was. You didn’t dig to China then. You dug to hell. With my luck, I’d be stuck above the border between the circle of lust and circle of gluttony, constantly stamping on the floor for them to shut up with their late night sex and loud music, and the police unable to enforce noise laws due to hell being too far underground. Hell is not just other people, it’s bad neighbors, too. 

This statement from Accursius also means that while your grandmother - the wonderful lady that bakes you those things you like to eat with a warm cup of your favorite beverage - owns all parts of the tree that are only on or above her property. Once the branches sneak over the edge of the fence onto public property, the relevant lemons become public domain. Same would go if the branches extended onto a neighbor’s property. Further, if this was a neighbor’s property on the other side of the fence, the neighbor might be able to sue for trespass. The neighor could also cut all branches that are enchroaching, subject to possibly not harming the health of the tree.

We’ll call this the open source lemon theory.

Another theory states that if the trunk of a tree is on someone’s property, then everything on that tree belongs to that person. Here, the trunk controls and not the boundaries of the property. So picking fruit from that tree would be stealing. You’d have to wait until the fruit falls, patiently standing there until you have enough lemons for a lemon party - (don’t google that phrase) - lest you be considered a lemon stealing whore (don’t google that phrase either). If this was onto a neighbor’s property, the encroaching branches would be a trespass and the neighbor could cut the branches but not pick fruit. Doesn’t make a lot of sense, but, hey, that’s common law for you.

We’ll call this the private theory.

Which one applies to your grandmother, the nurturing woman who knitted you the thing after that significant religious ceremony you had in your teens. Assuming she’s in the same state as you, California, it’s the open source theory. If it’s hanging over the fence, it’s likely that the public can pick what they want. Keep in mind, this isn’t a statute, it’s common law developed over a long period of time. And based on my research, this is the majority of states. Keep in mind that states and cities vary on this, and a city could easily pass a law stating that people can’t pick fruit. 

There’s even a group call Fallen Fruit, that makes available maps of cities that show where you can walk by and take from from someone’s tree. To their credit, Fallen Fruit will remove a house from their map. One of the founders of Fallen Fruit said in an interview: “We like to think our project ultimately is about sharing, and neighborhoods can be generous, and they can be stingy.” Wow. That’s condescending. While I admire projects like this, I have a hard time with people who have trouble understanding that privacy can indeed exist within the public realm - it’s a matter of respect. Just because something is legal doesn’t make it right. 


Now, there are a few complications, as usual. Again, there may be some city ordinances about this. It may also be different if there is some kind of homeowner’s association, which would mean that the sidewalk is likely private property itself, subject to the homeowner’s association rules and not public domain. In that case. your grandmother is likely only allowed to have a plastic lemon tree that extends no higher than 1 inch below the top of her fence, which itself must meet all of the associations stringent aesthetic guidelines, and subject to prior association approval.

And the much bigger issue: A lot of cities have laws against fruiting trees either on public property or extending onto public property. Why, you ask? 

Why do we not do anything in America? Because, liability.

Fruit trees drop fruit onto sidewalks, people step on the fruit, people go to the hospital, and people sue the city and/or the homeowner. Imagine the comedically disastrous consequences if someone’s banana peel tree extended over a public sidewalk. Can you imagine it? Good, because it’s the lamest visual joke I could think of for this. Absolute lamest. Because, banana peels. And we all know bananas don’t come from trees - they come from grocery stores.

This brings to mind the concept of Freedom to Roam in Europe, particularly in the scandinavian countries, where you’re allowed to hike or temporarily camp on someone else’s land, glean berries, flowers and other things. Of course, there’s the obligation to leave it as you found it. Which is why this would never fly in the US, and if it did, it would be called, Freedom to Roam and leave beer cans and twinkies wrappers in my fat wake. It also doesn’t really work in cities, though tell that to the guy (or lady) who keeps shitting in my driveway.

So, your grandmother seems lovely. Nobody - I mean nobody - makes chicken soup (in the style of your ethnic background) better than her. However, the the lemon thief (again, don’t google that) may be doing her a favor. If she’s not willing to trim the branches back, it’s the takers of lemons that may be protecting her from liability by preventing lemons from falling and becoming tripping hazard. While there’s no honor among thieves, there’s a little bit in those saving your sweet grandmother from a negligence or nusiance lawsuit.

Oh, I didn’t answer your question: yes, she can put up a sign. But it won’t really mean anything, legally, that is.

I was in a rush the other day going to the dentist and might have pushed a little hard on the revolving door entering the building,  I knocked the man in front of me forward, giving him a nosebleed. He seemed OK and I was late. After checking into my appointment, the same man walked in - turned out we share a dentist. Now my dentist is calling me asking if I can give the man my contact information, because he had to get an XRAY and wants me to pay his medical bills. Isn’t owner of the door liable? Can my dentist give our my info?  If it helps, I'm female, 5 foot 2 and 103 pounds - not exactly a force of nature. - Shannon - Seattle, Washington

First, don’t say that, little friend. Forces of nature come from within, you tiny person.

Let’s stop for a minute and appreciate the marvel that is revolving door. Need a brilliant way to provide efficient ingress and egress while minimizing impact on energy needs of a building? Regular doors, it turns out, play fast and loose with letting air out and in. They also can slow down traffic. But revolving doors help to fix that, preserving the building’s precious HVAC ecosystem while allowing very busy people to pass through seamlessly.

Beyond the practical, I can’t think of any other non-motorized gadget in our society that’s basically an old timey public amusement ride for adults - just a few seconds, sure, but just enough to bring a little excitement to your day, a ride through the motorless glass-encased spinning machine. And they also give momentary solitude - they’re one of the few public spaces - very tiny spaces - that provide complete isolation - where conversation has to come to a complete halt until the ride is over. And you’re alone, in your own space, for a brief flash. And - before anyone emails me about it - toilet stalls don’t count. Neither do crowded elevators - because there’s always an asshole ready to break the silence.

You’d think that people would be clamoring for revolving doors everywhere. 

But, sadly, that’s not the case. Revolving doors are often begrudgingly used. 

And you never hear “revolving door” used colloquially in a good way. It’s always “revolving door of girlfriends” or “legislative revolving door” or “that guy’s a revolving door of problems.” You NEVER hear, “You know what, buddy? This year - this is the year - the year that’s gonna be a revolving door of prosperity.” And nobody’s ever going to say “I feel like I just discovered a revolving door of free pizza and pants.”

Neglected, put-down. Nobody understood how something so great became a negative punchline.

But they do have a dark history. Possibly starting when a revolving door was partially responsible for the largest nightclub fatality count in American history. You may not have heard of it, but for countless law students it’s a case that introduced them to the concept of criminal negligence. 

Coconut Grove - or just “the Grove” to locals - was a multistory nightclub in Boston with a tropical theme, decked out in south seas decor, right down to fake palm trees - really just a warehouse that was decked out over time. On November 28, 1942, the Grove was packed with people that by some accounts added up to almost 1000. The approved capacity for the club was 460 people. Nobody really knows how the fire started - the official account is that a busboy lit a match to aid in replacing a lightbulb - but it started in the basement and spread quickly thanks to the paper trees and other flammable decorations. The windows in many places that could have aided in escape were covered over, and other doors were bolted shut. The front door was a revolving door. And most upstairs tried to get out that way. But it clogged quickly, adding in large part to the death of almost 500 people that night. It’s a tragedy that’s still commemorated in Boston to this day. Years later, it was determined that a highly flammable refrigerant gas likley caused the rapid spread of the fire in addition to the paper decorations.

And many credit the safety issues around Grove fire to creating a law that requires a revolving door that’s an entrance or exit to be flanked by swinging doors or to have an easily collapsible door. This apparently wasn’t the first time a revolving door had be responsible for death or injury, but certainly the most tragic   . 

And that was dark, even for this show. But you’re the one who asked a lawyer about a revolving door issue. In fairness, most people don’t like using revolving doors because they’re too slow, too heavy, or just weird.

Now, there are a few questions in our queue about road rage. It’s a convenient term - popularized by online videos and local new stories about heated moments between drivers. But road rage isn’t about driving. It’s about a perceived snub on interrupting your routine - your intimate personal flow. Point A and Point B are clear, and whether it’s the car in front of you that just took a couple seconds too long at a green light, or the person boarding the plane taking too long to cram the overstuffed suitcase into the overhead bin, or, in your case, the guy enjoying his leisurely walk to the dentist, unburdened by the knowledge of your very busy busy schedule. 

You had a little bit of road rage. 

I’ve been there. A place I worked was right above one of the busiest train terminals in the country - it was very touristy spot, but also a very practically utilized place. This always presented issues. I recall one day, when I had to spend 10 hours in the office on a Saturday, I had just ordered delivery to my apartment and left the office to rendez vous with some chicken tikka masala (don’t judge me - I know it’s not real indian food but it’s delicious… creamy…  tomatoey … and delicious) - but I was met in the lobby by a family of Dutch tourists who were thrilling at a bank of revolving doors… And they were doing it … very… slow…  Being the weekend, only one revolving door was unlocked. So I entered the door and pushed. Hard. And, as they spilled out of the door, on the other side, I respected the fact that they blurted out in english “how rude!” I’m still embarrassed by that intentional revolving door shove. And I could have walked around to the one unlocked swinging door. But, seriously, if you’re a tourist, unless you’re paying for a ticket at an amusement park - get out of the way - the people of New York have to eat. Immediately after that incident, I encountered a grave breach of the golden stand-on-the-right-walk-on-the-left rule. And if you don’t understand what that means, then you’re part of the problem.

In your case, there are two issues (i) were you negligent in operating the door and (ii) can your dentist give out your information?

There is a surprisingly large amount of case law out there about revolving doors. Huge. There are chapters in treatises on negligence just about revolving doors. They get flooded, they malfunction, people put weird things in them, like snakes sometimes - that’s a whole other story. The basic conclusion is that if the door wasn’t malfunctioning, it’s on you, not the owner of the door. There are even cases devoted to how fast a door spins. And even that’s not an issue about 99% of the time. The general rule is that a building owner is not liable for revolving door injuries if the door is in good condition and is capable of being used with reasonable safety by persons exercising due care. And you mentioned nothing about a flaw with the door, just that you are a very little person. But, as we mentioned above, forces of nature come from within. And note the words in that sentence “reasonable safety” and “due care.” In your haste, you failed to use both. 

Now, your dentist. He’s the one you need to be worried about. No, your dentist can’t just give your info away. Which is probably why he was asking. That’s protected information. But, he was likely just trying to make an effort for another patient. Let the guys who’s face you jacked up get a subpoena for the information. 

My thoughts? Time for a new dentist. Way across town. 

And if you can’t handle the shared experience of an amazing revolving private space, just go through the swinging door next to it - at least it won’t contain the main risk of revolving doors: encapsulated stealth farts from travelers of the immediate past.

Hey. I have a question. A friend of mine told me that if you cover up your license plates when going through an automated toll plaza, they have no way to track you and you won’t get charged the toll. I know it isn’t really practical, but is this legal? Thanks in advance. Brian, New Jersey

Brian.  First, you could do a little better in representing your state. No, it’s not legal. Just, no.

Thanks for listening to this episode of Unwonk. 

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On the next episode, we learn:

  • How a statute in florida called “chachi’s law” has effectively erased the existence of all happy days spinoffs.
  • Why the fda allows olive garden to keep its name even though all of its food is made entirely of artificially flavored sawdust paste; and
  • Funny names for pants in 8 different languages.