Brendan Coppinger and Nessa Coppinger v Edwin Gray and Mozella Johnson (2015) H&FLR 2015-27
Superior Court of the District of Columbia
2 March 2015
Coram: Beck J
Appearing for the Plaintiffs: Eric Klein (of Beveridge & Diamond)
Appearing for the Defendants: Self-represented
Catchwords: District of Columbia – neighbour – smoking – tobacco – negligence – nuisance – trespass – injunction
Facts: The first defendant (Gray) lived in a Washington DC house owned by the second defendant (Johnson). The house had been purchased by their mother in 1964. In mid-2014 the plaintiffs and their infant daughter moved into the adjoining house. The first defendant conceded that from time to time he would smoke tobacco and marijuana and burn incense. The plaintiffs alleged that this caused their house to smell of (or become filled by) smoke, causing loss of amenity and a risk of personal harm.
There was significant evidence that there were cracks in the wall shared by the houses, that the defendants’ chimney was decaying, and that these factors were causing smoke to enter the plaintiffs’ house. The defendants alleged that shoddy renovations to the plaintiffs’ property had left the wall inadequately sealed.
Discussions between the parties did not resolve the matter and the plaintiffs issued proceedings in negligence, nuisance and trespass and claiming damages. An interlocutory injunction on the defendant smoking in the premises was sought by the plaintiffs.
Held: Granting the injunction, that the defendant be forbidden from smoking any substance whatsoever inside his home. Her Honour further ordered him to refuse to allow any person to reenter the house who smoked in breach of the order. The order was to remain in force until further order or until the matter was finally heard.
No written reasons are available. This report has been prepared based on reports in the Washington Post of 10 March 2015 (here and here), by radio station WTOP and television station WJLA-TV.
Comment: This matter invites comparison with the German case of Proprietor v Adolfs (2014) H&FLR 2014-36. One might infer that the law will be particularly receptive to claims of loss of amenity due to smoking, particularly in light of other cases which suggest tobacco use is coming to be considered a social burden (for example, Police v Dumughn (2002) H&FLR 2015-23 and State v Native Wholesale Supply (2014) H&FLR 2014-32).
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