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Is Magnum P.I. Stealing Water in California?

Wow… so this is a weird one.  We all have heard of the massive drought plaguing California.  Residents are tasked with cutting water use by as much as 25%, farms are suffering, lakes are at an all time low… all we need now is a massive wildfire to tear through the driest areas.

But not for Tom Selleck… the famous actor who portrayed Magnum P.I. in the 1980’s.  As a side-note, I always wondered why they never did a remake of this one… Hollywood has been remaking everything… even Schwarzenegger is coming back as the Terminator.

Anyway, here’s the scoop:  According to news sources, Selleck owns a large ranch and avocado farm in California’s Hidden Valley.  Due to their geographic location, the ranch and farm are part of the Hidden Valley Municipal Water District.  However, according to real private investigators hired by the Calleguas Municipal Water District, a white truck took water from a hydrant located in Calleguas and delivered the water to Selleck’s ranch in Hidden Valley.  According to Calleguas Municipal Water District, this happened more than a dozen times since 2013.

The Real Issue

The real issue in this case concerns knowledge.  You need to realize that uber-wealthy people who live on 60 acre ranches do not manage the day to day operations of their properties.  They have staff for this.  In a sense, sprawling estates like the one owned by Selleck are like a corporation.  Selleck may be the CEO, but that does not mean he has personal knowledge of every single thing that goes on at the property.

However, this is where Selleck may have trouble – according to news reports, Calleguas Municipal Water District tried to get Selleck to stop.  They even sent cease and desist letters to his home and another address linked to the property.

Even if he could have initially claimed ignorance, the law will “impute” knowledge to him based on the cease and desist letters.  Meaning, once the water district sent him formal written notice that this was going on and that it needed to stop, the law will hold him accountable, regardless of whether he actually knew or not.  At that point, the law presumes he knew or should have known and will hold him accountable.

At the end of the day, I expect this matter to settle out of court on two points.  First, Selleck will likely agree to pay the water district for the value of the water taken and for attorneys fees.  Second, Selleck will agree to immediately and permanently refrain from taking water again in the future.

The Alternate Real Issue

All of the above sounds right, except for one thing: a third party may be to blame.  Selleck may have hired a management company to maintain his home, including its water needs.  Alternatively, he may have hired a third party to supply his home with water.  Unbeknownst to him, this third party may have acted unlawfully without Selleck’s knowledge or consent.

In other words, a third party may have acted unilaterally.

That said, we still are left with the “notice issue” – meaning all those pesty cease and desist letters Selleck had been getting.  The only way he could realistically blame a third party would be if he in fact gave those notices to the third party, told them to stop, did everything you would expect a reasonable person in his position to do – yet they persisted without him knowing.

Admittedly, this is probably the most unlikely possibility, but it is a possibility nonetheless.

If this is the case, Selleck may have a claim against that third party.  When a person is sued but another party is to blame, that person can then turn around and sue that party.  If Selleck is not responsible, but a third party that he contracted with is the culprit, he may need to sue them.

Conclusion

In the end, this case is more embarrassing for Selleck than anything else.  In light of California’ drought, it makes him look like a privileged rich guy who doesn’t have to follow the rules.  Whether he knew or didn’t know, was involved or not involved, the bottom line is that he will likely be writing a check to make this disappear soon.