What’s a Neighbor to Do? Two Pick-Up Trucks and a Cargo Van in the Driveway Next Door

This was originally posted on the SGR Blog.

Suburbanites know that the biggest obstacle to peace and quiet is an intractably difficult neighbor.

In a recent case, the neighbors escalated the misery by using their driveway as a parking lot. Would the Court come to their jurisprudential rescue?

Christine Duffy and Owen Duffy sued Kellie Baldwin and James Baldwin for public and private nuisance, damages and a permanent injunction. The Baldwins moved to dismiss the Duffys’ complaint.

The Duffys and the Baldwins own adjacent homes at 15 and 11 Fletcher Road in Guilderland, New York. Both properties consist of single-family homes on approximately .25 acres of land, located in a residential neighborhood. The Duffys alleged that in 2015, the Baldwins paved the frontmost 20 feet of their property to be used as a driveway to accommodate 3 vehicles beyond those that could already be stored in the existing driveway on their property. And also alleged that the Duffys regularly parked 2 full-sized pickup trucks and a cargo van in the expanded driveway.

According to the Duffys, those vehicles were “unsightly” and created excessive “noise, exhaust and light.” The vehicles also created the impression that the property was being used for commercial purposes, placing it at variance with the residential character of the neighborhood. And the Baldwins’ driveway interfered with the Duffys’ line of vision when entering or leaving their driveway.

The complaint asserted three causes of action. The first and second causes of action sought damages for private and public nuisance. The third cause of action sought damages and injunctive relief.

A party may be liable for a private nuisance upon proof of an intentional and unreasonable invasion of the use and enjoyment of another’s land. The elements of the cause of action are: (1) an interference, substantial in nature; (2) intentional in origin; (3) unreasonable in character; (4) with plaintiff’s right to use and enjoy land; (5) caused by defendant’s conduct.

A plaintiff must sufficiently allege facts which would raise an inference that defendant’s acts substantially interfered with plaintiff’s use or enjoyment of the land. In order to establish nuisance, the inconvenience and interference complained of must not be fanciful, slight, or theoretical, but certain and substantial, and must interfere with the physical comfort of the ordinarily reasonable person. Simply put, the use of the property must produce a tangible and appreciable injury to neighboring property as to render its enjoyment specially uncomfortable or inconvenient.

The Court concluded that the Duffys had not stated a legally cognizable cause of action sounding in private nuisance since they failed to sufficiently allege facts which would raise an inference that Baldwins’ acts substantially interfered with their use or enjoyment of their home. There was no allegation that the Baldwins intentionally invaded the Duffys use of their own property. Nor were the conclusory allegations that such use diminished the market value of their property or that an accident was likely to occur sufficient because such allegations were speculative and theoretical, rather than known or substantially certain to result. The Duffys failed to state a cause of action to recover damages for a private nuisance.

The second cause of action for public nuisance did not state a cognizable cause of action. The Duffys, as private individuals, seeking to recover damages based on a public nuisance, allege (and later prove by clear and convincing evidence): (1) the existence of a public nuisance; (2) conduct or omissions by defendant that creates, contributes to or maintains that public nuisance; and (3) special or different injury beyond that suffered by the community at large as a result of the public nuisance.

A public nuisance consists of conduct or omissions which offend, interfere with or cause damage to the public in the exercise of rights common to all, in a manner such as to offend public morals, interfere with use by the public of a public place or endanger or injure the property, health, safety or comfort of a considerable number of persons. The Duffys did not allege an interference with rights belonging to the general public, nor an interest in public land . The essence of their nuisance claim was that the parked vehicles/driveway might cause an accident involving pedestrians, cyclists or motorists driving past the Baldwins’ home.  The cause of action for public nuisance was wholly speculative, lacked basis in fact, and was dismissed.

The third cause of action sought a permanent injunction against the Baldwins. To state a cause of action for a permanent injunction, the complaint must allege the violation of a right presently occurring, or threatened and imminent; plaintiff has no adequate remedy at law, serious and irreparable injury will result if the injunction is not granted; and the equities are balanced in plaintiffs’ favor.

An irreparable injury is a continuing harm resulting in substantial prejudice caused by the acts sought to be restrained if permitted to continue. Because the Court dismissed the two other causes of action, and the Duffys failed to sufficiently allege a violation of a right, the third cause of action for a permanent injunction against the Baldwins was dismissed.

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