Nuisance Can Occur on Property Owned by Neither Plaintiff Nor Defendant

 

A defendant can be liable for nuisance damages even when the nuisance occurred on property that neither plaintiff nor defendant owned.

In Ryan v. Soucie, No. E2018-01121-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 18, 2019), plaintiff filed a claim for nuisance and intentional interference with business relationships after defendant blocked a right-of-way plaintiff used to access his business. Plaintiff operated a business on property that had been rezoned from residential to commercial in 1995, and defendant owned a home on property nearby. Plaintiff informed defendant that he operated a heat and air business on his property, and that he used a right-of-way over state-owned property to provide access to his supplier and his waste management company. Believing that the property was all zoned as residential, defendant impeded plaintiff’s use of the right-of-way by planting trees on it and parking a trailer in front of the gate to plaintiff’s property.

The trial court found for plaintiff on both claims and awarded him over $14,000 in damages, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

On appeal, defendant’s primary argument was that “claims of nuisance and intentional interference with business relationships require a factual showing that a defendant’s actions not only caused a disturbance to a plaintiff’s use of property but that such actions occurred on real property in which one of the parties maintains an interest.” The Court of Appeals rejected this assertion, agreeing with the trial court that “neither claim required Plaintiffs to allege or demonstrate that [defendant] owned the real property in question.” The Court pointed to other nuisance cases in which the nuisance occurred on land that neither the plaintiff nor defendant owned and explained:

[A] claim of nuisance does not require demonstration that a party maintains an ownership interest in the real property upon which the act of nuisance occurs. Rather, a nuisance claim requires a showing that the defendant has unreasonably interfered with the plaintiff’s use and enjoyment of the plaintiff’s property, wherever the nuisance act occurs.

(internal citations omitted). In addition, the elements of intentional interference with business relationships likewise “set forth no requirements concerning ownership of real property; rather the basis for relief focuses on the conduct and knowledge of the defendant.”

Having rejected the idea that an ownership interest is required for either claim, the Court then looked at the facts supporting each cause of action, crediting the trial court’s factual findings and determining that the preponderance of the evidence supported the trial court’s ruling for plaintiff. The Court of Appeals specifically affirmed the trial court’s decision to credit two of the witnesses who testified that plaintiff was given permission to use the right-of-way in question during the 1995 rezoning process, despite the fact that the witnesses remembered some details of the process differently. Because plaintiff had a right to access the right-of-way, and because defendant intentionally impeded that right, the nuisance claim was affirmed.

Regarding the intentional interference with business relationships claim, the Court found that defendant knew that plaintiff used the right-of-way to allow a supplier and a waste management company to access his business, as plaintiff had specifically informed defendant of these activities. Defendant planted trees and parked a trailer in the right-of-way for the purpose of interfering with plaintiff’s business, so the trial court’s ruling on this cause of action was also affirmed.

The main takeaway here is that a person can be liable for causing a nuisance even on property that he or she does not own. Ownership is not an element of the torts of either nuisance of intentional interference with business relationships.