Page County Appliance Center v. Honeywell, 347 N.W.2d 171 (Iowa 1984)

Case Name: Page County Appliance Center, Inc. v. Honeywell, Inc.
Plaintiff: Page County Appliance Center, Inc.
Defendants: Honeywell, Inc. and ITT Electronic Travel Services, Inc.
Citation: 347 N.W.2d 171 (Iowa 1984)


Key Facts: Page County Appliance Center sued for nuisance and tortious interference with business relations. Since 1953, Appliance Center has owned and operated an appliance store. Before 1980, they had no reception trouble with their display televisions. In Jan. 1980, many of the appliance center’s customers complained that their TVs were bad. This was traced back to one of  ITT’s computers because it was leaking radiation. The computer was manufactured, installed, and maintained by Honeywell. Honeywell engineers made many unsuccessful trips to fix the computer.

Nuisance is defined as a substantial and unreasonable interference with the use or enjoyment of land. Appliance Center alleged a private nuisance which is “an actionable interference with a person’s interest in the private use and enjoyment of his or her property.” Nuisance per accidens – “in fact” – a lawful activity conducted in such a manner as to be a nuisance.

Issue: Whether the defendants are liable for a nuisance claim when they were conducting lawful business activities which caused reception trouble for Appliance Center’s TVs.

Procedural History: The plaintiff was awarded compensatory and punitive damages. Appliance Center asked only for injunctive relief but was also awarded $71,000 in compensatory damages and $150,000 in exemplary damages. The trial court awarded ITT full indemnity against Honeywell. Both defendants appeal from the judgment in favor of Appliance Center. In addition, Honeywell appeals from the judgment awarding ITT indemnity.

Rule: In reviewing a nuisance claim against a lawful trade or industry, a jury must consider the reasonableness of the defendant conducting the trade or industry in the existing manner and place. The existence of a nuisance is not affected by the intention of its creator not to injure anyone.

Judgment: Reversed and remanded for a new trial. New instructions included:
1. Further define the unreasonableness concept
2. Nothing informed the jury that a defendant’s conduct must be a “substantial factor” in bringing about the alleged harm
3. Whether Appliance Center was devoting its premises to an unusually sensitive use


Noone v. Price, 298 S.E.2d 218 (W. Va. 1982)

Case Name: Noone v. Price
Plaintiffs/Appellants: Mr. and Mrs. William H. Noone
Defendant/Appellee: Mrs. Marion T. Price
Citation: 298 S.E.2d 218 (W. Va. 1982)

Key Facts:
Part of the Noones’ house was subsiding. The Noones believed this was caused by Price’s negligence in maintaining her retaining wall. Price’s home was located directly below the Noones at the foot of the hill. Price’s home was built in 1912 and the stone wall was built sometime between 1912 and 1919 while the Noones’ home was built after that in 1928. Price purchased her home in 1955 and the Noones purchased their home in 1960.

Price denied that the wall on her property provided support to the slope or that the condition of her wall caused the slipping and damage to the Noones’ property.

Issue: Whether the defendant is strictly liable or negligent when the plaintiffs’ home subsided because the defendant did not maintain a retaining wall on her property which was built before the plaintiffs’ home.

Procedural History: The circuit court awarded summary judgment to the defendant.

General Rule: A landowner is entitled to lateral support in the adjacent land for his soil.

Rule: A landowner may be negligent in failing to provide against the risk of harm to his neighbor’s structures even if he does not realize that any harm will occur.

Holding: Because the retaining wall was built before the plaintiffs’ home; it is only responsible for supporting the land in its natural condition.

Judgment: If the plaintiffs can recover, they must do so by proving that the disrepair of the retaining wall would have led to the subsidence of their land in its natural condition.

Friendswood Development Co. v. Smith-Southwest Industries, Inc.

Case Name: Friendswood Development Co. v. Smith-Southwest Industries, Inc.
Plaintiff/Appellee:  Smith-Southwest Industries and other landowners
Defendants/Appellant: Friendswood Development Company and Exxon Corporation (parent company)
576 S.W.2d 21 (Tex. 1978)

Key Facts: Smith-Southwest Industries alleged that Friendswood Development Co. pumped large amounts of subsurface waters from its own property which resulted in the subsidence of the plaintiff’s land. They alleged that the wells were negligently spaced too close together and too near the common boundary of lands owned by the plaintiffs and that the defendant produced the wells with knowledge that this could cause subsidence and flooding of the plaintiff’s land. Furthermore, the plaintiffs allege that the defendant’s continued use for the withdrawal and sale of large amounts of fresh water constitutes a continuing nuisance and permanent loss and damage to their property.

General Rule: A landowners has a duty not to use his property so as not to injure others. However, this court has held that this general rule does not apply to withdrawals of underground water because that right is absolute and not subject to the “reasonable use” rule.

Plaintiffs contend that the “reasonable use” doctrine should apply to ground water the same.

Issue: Whether Friendswood Development Co. is liable for nuisance and negligence when it pumped large amounts of subsurface waters from its own property causing subsidence of the plaintiff’s land.

Holding: Friendswood Development Co. is not liable for nuisance and negligence (following the English rule and Restatement of Torts).

Rule: For future subsidence cases, a landowner who withdraws ground water and is negligent, willfully wasteful, or tries to cause malicious injury, and is the proximate cause of subsidence to other landowners, will be liable for negligence.

Judgment: The plaintiffs cannot recover on this future rule because, in property, the parties should be able to rely on the law which existed at the time of their actions

Dissenting: Although, according to Texas law, a landowner has an absolute right to pump water; the plaintiffs also have an absolute right to the lateral support for his land.
I would hold that an owner of land may assert an action against one who destroys the later of subjacent support to his land when:

  1. He engages in conduct knowing that it will cause damages to another’s land by loss or destruction of the subjacent support
  2. The plaintiff proves negligence; or
  3. The plaintiff proves a nuisance

Also, it is unfair to treat the parties unequally by recognizing that they possess an action, but denying them the remedy.

Fancher v. Fagella, 650 S.E.2d 519 (Va. 2007)

Case Name: Fancher v. Fagella
Plaintiff: Richard Fancher
Defendant: Joseph Fagella
Citation: 650 S.E.2d 519 (Va. 2007)

Key Facts: Fancher and Fagella are neighbors. The defendant, Fagella, has a large sweet hum tree that has a root system which has damaged and displaced a retaining wall between the neighbors. The root system has also damaged the plaintiff’s patio, blocked his sewer and water pipes, and impaired the foundation of his house. Fancher attempted self-help but the root system continues to grow and worsen the condition of his property. The court determined that it had only reviewed these cases in more rural times and utilized persuasive authority to overrule precedent.

Issue: Whether the defendant’s large tree is a noxious nuisance to his neighbor when the tree has imposed actual damage and will continue to impose actual damage.

Noxious – hurtful, offensive

Rule: Encroaching trees and plants may be regarded as a nuisance when they cause actual harm or pose an imminent danger of actual harm to adjoining property.

Judgment: Remanded to consider injunctive relief in the present case.


Armstrong v. Francis Corp., 120 A.2d 4 (N.J. 1956)

Case Name: Armstrong v. Francis Corp.
Plaintiff: Armstrongs and Klemps
Defendant: Francis Corp. (Homebuilder)
Citation: 120 A.2d 4 (N.J. 1956)

Key Facts: The defendant, Francis Corp., built 186 small homes and 14 houses on a tract of land. Francis Corp. constructed the drainage system which emptied into an iron pipe which was below the level of the natural stream bed. The natural drainage of the plaintiffs’ property was affected by this and ruined their percolating stream. The water became discolored, evil smelling, and no longer had any fish in it. The stream built up silt and muck and started to erode the banks of the plaintiffs land.

Procedural History: The lower court stated that the plaintiffs were entitled to relief and that the only sensible and permanent solution is to pipe the rest of the brook at the defendant’s expense.

Issue: Whether the damage suffered by the plaintiffs is privileged and incidental by the improvement of the defendant’s land and thereby the plaintiffs are not entitled to relief.

Rule: Whether the harm caused by the defendant’s improvement is reasonable can be determined by consideration all of the relevant circumstances such as the amount of harm caused, the foreseeability of the harm, the purpose or motive of the defendant.

Borough of Glassboro v. Vallorosi, 117 N.J. 421 (1990)

Facts: A Borough of Glassboro ordinance limits residence in certain districts to stable and permanent “single housekeeping units” that constitute either a “traditional family unit” or its functional equivalent. The Borough conceded that the ordinance was to prevent groups of college students from living together.

Issue: Whether a group of ten unrelated college students constitute a “family” within the definition of a restrictive zoning ordinance.

Procedural History: The Chancery Division concluded that the relationship and living arrangements among Vallorosi and the other college students demonstrated the “generic character” of a family. The Appellate Division affirmed.

Holding: Affirmed the judgment of the Appellate Division.

Reasoning: Vallorosi and the other students often ate meals together, cooked for each other, and shared the household chores, grocery shopping, and yard work. In addition, a common checking account paid for food and other bills and they shared the use of a telephone. Although Vallorosi and the students are uncertain of living arrangements after graduation, their relationship “shows stability, permanency and can be described as the functional equivalent of a family.”

Penobscot Area Housing Development Corp. v. City of Brewer, 434 A.2d 14 (1981)

Facts: The Penobscot Area Housing Development Corp. is a nonprofit organization that provides housing for retarded citizens. The Penobscot Housing Corp. was denied an occupancy certificate for a house it purchased because the home was to be used as a “group home for six adults or older minors” which did “not meet the terms of the City of Brewer’s zoning ordinance as a single family.”

Procedural History: The Superior Court affirmed the Board’s affirmation of the Brewer City enforcement officer.

Issue: Whether the requirement of a domestic bond would have been met by the relationship forged among the residents themselves as they lived and worked together.

Holding: Rejected the Penobscot Area Housing Corp’s position because the concept of “domestic bond” within the context of the ordinance implies the existence of a traditional family-like structure of household authority.

Reasoning: The reviewing court’s function is only to determine whether the decision of the Board of Appeals was unlawful, arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable. Relationships other than those based on blood or law satisfy the ordinance. The domestic bond requirement is not met because most residents would only reside in the home for one to one and a half years.

Village of Belle Terre v. Boraas, 416 US 1 (1974)

Facts: The Village of Belle Terre is located on Long Island’s north shore and is inhabited by 700 people. Belle Terre restricts land use to one-family dwellings and Boraas became a colessee with five other college students. The Village of Belle Terre  defines “family” as “One or more persons related by blood, adoption, or marriage, living and cooking together as a single housekeeping unit, exclusive of household servants. A number of persons but not exceeding two (2) living and cooking together as a single housekeeping unit though not related by blood, adoption, or marriage shall be deemed to constitute a family.”

Issue: Whether the zoning ordinance interferes with certain fundamental rights such as the right to travel, immigrate to and settle within a State, barring people who are uncongenial to the present residents…and that the ordinance is antithetical to the Nation’s experience, ideology and self-perception as an open, egalitarian, and integrated society.

Holding: The zoning ordinance is upheld.

Reasoning: Zoning ordinances are legitimate police powers of the state, there is no fundamental right involved, and therefore, the zoning ordinance only needs to be “reasonable, not arbitrary” and bear a “rational relationship to a permissible state objective.”

Dissent (Justice Marshall): The classification burdens the students’ fundamental rights of association and privacy guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Therefore, the ordinance should not just be subjected to a rational basis review. Also, the Village of Belle Terre is free to limit the density of occupancy but cannot limit the density only in homes occupied by unrelated persons – the Village is then regulating the way people choose to associate with each other within the privacy of their own homes.

Somerville v. Jacobs – 170 S.E.2d 806 (W. Va. 1969)

Case Name: Somerville v. Jacobs
Plaintiffs: W.J. Somerville and Hazel M. Somerville
Defendants: William L. Jacobs and Marjorie S. Jacobs
Citation: 170 S.E.2d 806 (W. Va. 1969)

Issue: Whether the plaintiff, Somerville, can be awarded just compensation for improvements which he made on land which he did not own, but had reason to believe he owned and made a reasonable mistake of fact in good faith.

Key Facts: The  Somervilles owned three lots and wished to erect a warehouse building on one of their lots. They got a surveyor’s report and then mistakenly constructed the warehouse on a lot that was owned by the Jacobs, the defendants.
The Jacobs learned that the building was on their property and claimed ownership on the theory of annexation – the improvements passed to them as part of their land. The Somervilles concede this but assert that the Jacbos cannot keep and retain the building without compensating them for the value of the improvements.

Rule: An individual who improves land of another through a reasonable mistake of fact and in good faith is entitled to recover the value of the improvements from the landowner or to purchase the land which was improved for the value of the land less the improvements.

Dissent: The majority’s opinion has giving the errant party equitable treatment while not providing equitable treatment for the party which was not at fault and did not make a mistake.

Romero v. Garcia – 546 P.2d 66 (N.M. 1976)

Case Name: Romero v. Garcia
Plaintiff/Appellee: Ida Romero
Defendant/Appellant: Mr. and Mrs. Antonio Garcia (former father/mother-in-law of Romero)
Citation: 546 P.2d 66 (N.M. 1976)

Issue: Whether the plaintiff could claim the land under adverse possession when the deed failed to describe a specific piece of property.

Key Facts:
1947 – Plaintiff purchased the 13 acres in dispute from defendant father but defendant mother failed to join in the conveyance. (The 13 acres were part of the 165 acres that defendant father had purchased in 1923).
A home was built on the land and the deed was recorded in 1950. The plaintiff and deceased husband lived in the home until 1962, when he died, and the plaintiff moved out to Colorado and remarried.

The defendants argued that:
The void deed was inadequate for color of title. This is erroneous because a deed is sufficient for color of even though it is void because it lacks the signature of a community member.

The deed’s description was inadequate for adverse possession because it failed to describe a specific piece of property. A deed is not void for want of proper description if, with the deed and with extrinsic evidence on the ground, a surveyor can ascertain the boundaries. An indefinite and uncertain description may be clarified by subsequent acts of the parties

Procedural History: The court found for the plaintiff.

Holding: The subsequent acts of the parties in erecting a house and pointing to the land were sufficient to ascertain the boundaries.

Judgment: Affirmed.