Coppinger v Gray (2015) H&FLR 2015-27

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.

Judgment

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).

Ind. School Dist. No. I-89, Okla. Co v Okla. Sec. School Activities Ass’n (2014) H&FLR 2015-7

Independent School District No. I-89 of Oklahoma County, Oklahoma v Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association (2014) H&FLR 2015-7

District Court of Oklahoma County (Oklahoma)

11 December 2014

Coram: Jones J

Appearing for the Plaintiff: F. Andrew Fugitt and Anthony T. Childers
Appearing for the Defendant: Mark S. Grossman, Andre B. Caldwell and Meredith W. Wolfe (of Crowe & Dunlevy)

Catchwords: Oklahoma – high school – American football – umpiring – review of decisions – sporting associations – injunction.

Facts: A high school football team operated by the plaintiff took part in a playoff game overseen by the defendant on 28 November 2014. The plaintiff considered that its team had been disadvantaged by a particular umpiring decision and sought a replay of the game, which the defendant refused.  The plaintiff sought an injunction compelling the replaying of the last 64 seconds of the game or (alternatively) the replaying of the entire match.

Held: refusing to grant the injunction, that –

1. To obtain a temporary injunction a plaintiff must show (a) a substantial likelihood of success in the substantive issue; (b) irreparable harm to the plaintiff if the injunction is refused; (c) that the potential injury is not speculative and outweighs the harm of the temporary injunction to the respondent; and (d) that the injunction would not be contrary to the public interest.

Tulsa Order of Police Lodge No. 93 v City of Tulsa, 39 P.3d 152 (2001) and House of Realty v City of Midwest City, 109 P.3d 314 (2004), followed.

2. The necessary harm could not be shown simply by the defendant’s alleged breach of its own policies, particularly where the policies themselves and their application was a matter of the defendant’s discretion.

3. In general, courts should not intervene in matters where the parties have agreed to be bound by and submitted to the governance of activities associations.

4. The court would in any case decline to order the requested relief because there is no means of ensuring that it may be carried out fairly: it would be impossible to replicate entirely the conditions of the disputed match with regard to player fatigue, weather, field conditions, coaching and referee decisions, among other things, and an attempt to do so would invite uncertainty and error. Ultimately this would frustrate athletic pursuits themselves.

Judgment

The Court’s judgement is available here.