“[Don’t] you be my neighbor”—if you trespass on my land; snowblow my house; and spy on me.
Theresa Cangemi and Gretchen Yeager/Steven Nichols own adjoining parcels of land on Oneida Lake. Yeager/Nichols have an easement/right-of-way over the southernmost portion of Cangemi’s property for the purposes of ingress and egress only. After a property dispute arose, Cangemi filed suit against Yeager/Nichols asserting a claim under Civil Rights Law § 52-a (private right of action for installation of surveillance equipment without consent) and claims of trespass and private nuisance and seeking injunctive relief. Cangemi moved for a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order enjoining Yeager/Nichols from trespassing on or damaging her property and from harassing her. Supreme Court denied the motion. Cangemi appealed.
Upon a motion for a preliminary injunction, the party seeking injunctive relief must demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence: (1) a probability of success on the merits; (2) danger of irreparable injury in the absence of an injunction; and (3) a balance of equities in its favor.
The appeals court concluded that Cangemie met her burden of demonstrating by clear and convincing evidence a likelihood of success on the merits of her claims against Nichols for trespass and private nuisance as well as her claim against him under Civil Rights Law § 52-a. To demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits, it was sufficient for Cangemi to make a prima facie showing of her right to relief with the actual proving of the case to be left to the full hearing on the merits.
To establish a claim of trespass, a plaintiff must show that an actor invaded the plaintiff’s interest in the exclusive possession of his or her land. Cangemi’s affidavit and photographs demonstrated that Nichols repeatedly drove across her lawn and blew snow with his snowblower onto the side of her house, allegedly causing damage to her awning and fence. Both events were intentional invasions of Cangemi’s interest in the exclusive possession of her land. Furthermore, although an action for trespass over the lands of one property owner may not be maintained where the purported trespasser has acquired an easement of way over the land, Cangemie established that the acts allegedly committed by Nichols on the easement exceeded the scope of the easement and did not constitute a reasonable use of his interest in the easement. Thus, Cangemi demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of her trespass claim.
To establish a claim of private nuisance, a plaintiff must show: an interference (1) substantial in nature, (2) intentional in origin, (3) unreasonable in character, (4) with the plaintiff’s property right to use and enjoy land, (5) caused by another’s conduct in acting or failure to act. The interference must not be fanciful, slight or theoretical, but certain and substantial, and must interfere with the physical comfort of the ordinarily reasonable person. The evidence submitted by Cangemie established that Nichols drove across her lawn, used a snowblower to blow snow onto her house, tampered with and removed her property markers, parked his vehicle so as to obstruct Cangemi’s driveway, drove on the freshly paved driveway and left tire tracks in the asphalt, and repeatedly painted a white line across the driveway. That conduct exceeded the scope of the easement and was fairly characterized as a substantial interference with Cangemi’s use and enjoyment of her property. Thus, Cangemie demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of her private nuisance claim.
Cangemi’s affidavit and video evidence also demonstrated that Nichols threatened to install a “150-foot night vision camera” in his backyard and to point it directly into her backyard and at her living room. As Nichols installed the surveillance camera, he stated to Cangemie “It’s gonna look right in your ****living room! . . . You’re on camera ***! . . Smile for the camera ***!” Thus, Cangemie also demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of her claim under Civil Rights Law § 52-a.
With respect to the second prong of the test for a preliminary injunction, Cangemei established by clear and convincing evidence a danger of irreparable injury in the absence of injunctive relief. A plaintiff may demonstrate irreparable injury where, for example, a defendant encroaches upon the plaintiff’s property, blocks plaintiff’s access to a private drive, or in some way threatens the destruction of plaintiff’s property. Cangemi demonstrated through her affidavit, photographs, and video evidence that Nichols’s video surveillance of her backyard and home was likely to continue in the absence of a preliminary injunction and that Nichols would likely continue to intrude upon her property and interfere with her use and enjoyment of her home if he was not preliminarily enjoined from engaging in acts of trespass and private nuisance.
Finally, Cangemi met her burden of establishing by clear and convincing evidence a balance of equities in her favor. The Court concluded that the irreparable injury to be sustained was more burdensome to Cangemi than the harm caused to Nichols through imposition of the injunction and that an injunction would provide some security to Cangemi while merely restraining Nichols from continuing any unlawful or wrongful activities.