There is an interesting case out of Canada where a relationship between neighbors literally turned into a pile of . . . well . . . litigation. When David Gallant bought his property from Lee and Shirley Murray, he was not aware that they had a cattle farm next door but still maintained a good relationship. However, soon the relationship soured and a pile of manure appeared along their property line — even spilling into their yard. With the addition of other debris tossed on their land and as many as 50 stray cows, the Gallants sued and have now won before the Court of Queen’s Bench in a nuisance action.
The pile of manure that appears in 2013 was “fresh” and resulted in the Gallants stopping their use of their garage and otherwise gagging every time that they went outside.
There is a division among the states on how to handle claims based on aesthetics. As recognized by the Vermont Supreme Court, some states allow for aesthetic claims when combined with traditional nuisance elements while a few allow for such claims to be made with proper showings of injury. Most states simply bar such claims. There are cases involving “spite fences” which have been successful where there is a something of “malice” and no other cognizable purpose behind the structure or addition. Vermont itself recognized in Coty v. Ramsey Assocs., Inc. “the great majority of jurisdictions have held that where a defendant has acted solely out of malice or spite, such conduct is indefensible on social utility grounds, and nuisance liability attaches.” 149 Vt. at 458, 546 A.2d at 196. That is clearly not the case here.
Giant piles of manure are a bit more than simply aesthetics. Judge George Rideout found “the manure was placed where it was for only one purpose, to make Mr. and Mrs. Gallant’s lives miserable . . . I have little doubt these activities were initiated by the Murrays and designed to inflict fear, nuisance and harassment against the Gallants.”
A pile of manure must qualify as the ultimate spite act. There is an analogy in the case of Spur Industries, Inc. v. Del E. Webb Dev. Co., where Del Webb built a housing development next to one of the largest feed lots. Owned by Spur Industries in a long-standing cattle area of Arizona, the lot obviously produced odors and other unpleasant byproducts. Del Webb sued the lot as a public nuisance. The court had to conclude that the long-standing business did meet the definition of a nuisance. Yet, the Court noted that “in addition to protecting the public interest, however, courts of equity are concerned with protecting the operator of a lawfully, albeit noxious, business from the result of a knowing and willful encroachment by others near his business.” The Court noted that it did “not equitably or legally follow … that Webb, being entitled to the injunction, is then free of any liability to Spur if Webb has in fact been the cause of the damage Spur has sustained.” Thus, “it does not seem harsh to require a developer, who has taken advantage of the lesser land values in a rural area as well as the availability of large tracts of land on which to build and develop … to indemnify those who are forced to leave as a result.” As a result, the lot was forced to move but Del Webb would have to indemnify Spur Industries for the damages sustained in relocating the feedlot.
In this case, it was easier to just move the manure.
Kudos: Professor Roger E. Schechter