There is an interesting case out of the Vermont Supreme Court on aesthetic nuisance, a subject that I cover in my torts course. At issue in Myrick v. Peck Elec. Co., 2017 VT 4 was a consolidated challenge to a solar power development on the basis that the solar power structures would be unsightly and reduce property value. In line with other courts, the Vermont Supreme Court roundly rejected the notion that ugliness or unattractiveness is a viable basis for a nuisance action under common law torts.
Finally, a case that joins my two legal loves: constitutional law and torts. This week, the White House was the scene of one of the most common torts in the country after the first dog, Sunny, bit a tourist in the White House. The female Portuguese Water Dog left a serious gash under the eye of the 18-year-old visitor.
New York State Supreme Court Judge Barbara Jaffe has dismissed the defamation case against against President-elect Donald Trump brought by political strategist and TV pundit Cheryl Jacobus. Trump slammed Jacobus during the campaign and said that she “begged him for a job” at one time. Jaffe, however, held that such tweets are manifestly opinion and not facts for the purposes of defamation law. It is perhaps fitting that the first major ruling related to Trump would be over the character of tweets. If upheld, this could be a major new rule. As if on cue, Trump make more headlines today in the wake of the decision on Twitter with a tweet attacking the intelligence agencies saying “Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to “leak” into the public. One last shot at me.Are we living in Nazi Germany?” That is clearly opinion and hyperbole but the scope of Jaffe’s decision certainly adds a layer of protection not just for Trump but other regular tweeters.
By Mike Appleton, Weekend Contributor
“Corporation, n. An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.”
-Ambrose Bierce, “The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary”
I have frequently criticized media coverage of legal issues. For example, news reports often attribute significance to orders on routine procedural motions that is wholly unwarranted. And even reporters with legal backgrounds are not clear and understandable in their explanation of court rulings to laypersons. So when I came across reports that Treasury Secretary-designate Steven Mnuchin’s bank had filed a mortgage foreclosure action against a 90 year old Florida widow over 27 cents, I was skeptical.
But the story interested me because the subject of the suit resides in Polk County, only an hour’s drive from where I live. In addition, with the advent of electronic filing in court proceedings, I knew that I could access the court files online and review the actual record in the case. I have now done so and have concluded that the stories have been misleading, but not for the reasons one might expect. What has happened to Ms. Ossie Lofton of Lakeland, Florida is worse than what has been reported.
Like many my family watched the Dick Clark New Year’s celebration on Saturday night (we watched CNN in past years but the inexplicable return of the always vulgar Kathy Griffin finally led us elsewhere this year). Instead we caught the disaster surrounding the performance (or lack thereof) of Mariah Carey. Not only did Carey show the world that she is the worst lip sync artist since Milli Vanilli, but she went on a tirade against Dick Clark Productions about technical problems that DCP says did not exist. Now, 2017 is starting with our first alleged defamation (a promising start) from DCP over her comments. DCP made it clear that Mariah is all wind and that it was her not the equipment that was out of whack on New Year’s Eve.
There was an interesting ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court this month on the interpretation of a 1979 state law governing slip-and-fall lawsuits. It is commonly understood that homeowners are legally required to clear their walks of snow and ice. As a native Chicagoan, this lesson was engrained into me to the point that my kids mock me for shoveling the driveway even when the roads are impassable. I was raised that an uncleared driveway was a matter of public shame. Now, however, couch potatoes can rejoice. The Court has held that the Snow and Ice Removal Act shields property owners from liability if someone gets hurt. Of course, the snow or ice must be due to natural conditions. The case is Murphy-Hylton v. Lieberman Mgmt. Servs., 2016 IL 120394.
There is an interesting case out of Austin Texas that raises the now defunct “coming to the nuisance” doctrine. There was a time that a defendant could move to dismiss a nuisance case on the basis that the plaintiff moved to the existing nuisance only to challenge it in court. That doctrine fell into disfavor, but there continue to be cases where the underlying rationale seems compelling. Take the Westin in Austin. The company built a large hotel right next to the Nook Amphitheater — a huge draw in the city for music. The hotel then objected to . . . you guessed it . . . the music. The hotel is seeking to enjoin the music as harming their business.