Showing posts with label nuisance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label nuisance. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Free torts textbook ready for academic year 2024-25

TORTZ: A Study of American Tort Law is complete and revised for the coming academic year 2024-25.

The two-volume textbook is posted for free download from SSRN (vol. 1, vol. 2), and available in hardcopy from at cost, about $30 per volume plus shipping.

This final iteration of the book now, for the first time, includes its final three chapters: (16) interference and business torts, (17) government liability and civil rights, and (18) tort alternatives.


Volume 1

Chapter 1: Introduction

A. Welcome
B. The Fundamental Problem
C. Parameters
D. Etymology and Vocabulary
E. “The Pound Progression”
F. Alternatives
G. Review

Chapter 2: Intentional Torts

A. Introduction
B. Assault

1. History
2. The Restatement of Torts
3. Subjective and Objective Testing
4. Modern Rule
5. Transferred Intent
6. Statutory Torts and Harassment

C. Battery

1. Modern Rule
2. The Eggshell Plaintiff
3. Knowledge of a Substantially Certain Result
4. Common Law Evolution and Battered Woman Syndrome

D. False Imprisonment

1. Modern Rule
2. Problems

E. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED)

1. Dynamic Intent
2. Modern Rule
3. The “Heart Balm” Torts

F. Fraud

1. Fraud in Context
2. Modern Rule
3. Pleading Fraud
4. Exercise

G. The “Process” Torts

1. Innate Imprecision
2. Modern Rule
3. Majority Rejection of Malicious Civil Prosecution

H. “Prima Facie Tort”

1. Origin of Intentional Tort
2. Modern Rule

Chapter 3: Defenses to Intentional Torts 

A. Introduction
B. Defenses of Self, Other, and Property
C. The Spring Gun Case
D. Arrest Privilege and Merchant’s Privilege
E. Consent

1. Modern Rule
2. Scope of Consent
3. Medical Malpractice
4. Limits of Consent

F. Consent in Sport, or Recklessness

1. The Problem of Sport
2. Recklessness

Chapter 4: Negligence

A. Introduction
B. Modern Rule
C. Paradigmatic Cases
D. Historical and Theoretical Approaches to Negligence

1. Origin
2. Foreseeability
3. Custom
4. Augmented Standards
5. Economics

a. Introduction
b. “The Hand Formula”
c. Coase Theorem, Normativity, and Transaction Costs

6. Aristotelian Justice
7. Insurance and Loss-Spreading

E. Landowner Negligence, or Premises Liability

1. Theory of Duty and Standards of Breach
2. Common Law Tripartite Approach
3. Variations from the Unitary Approach in the Third Restatement
4. Applying the Framework, and Who Decides

F. Responsibility for Third-Party Conduct

1. Attenuated Causation, or “the Frances T.  Problem”: Negligence Liability in Creating Opportunity for a Criminal or Tortious Actor
2. Vicarious Liability and Attenuated Causation in the Employment Context: Respondeat Superior and “Direct” Negligence Theories

G. Statutory Torts and Negligence Per Se

1. Statutory Torts
2. Negligence Per Se

a. Introduction
b. Threshold Test
c. Three Mile Island

H. Medical Negligence
I. Spoliation of Evidence

1. Introduction
2. Minority Rule
3. Recognition or Non-Recognition of the Tort Approach
4. Majority Approach

J. Beyond Negligence

Chapter 5: Defenses to Negligence

A. Express Assumption of Risk (EAOR)
B. EAOR in Medical Negligence, and the Informed Consent Tort

1. Development of the Doctrine
2. The “Reasonable Patient” Standard
3. Modern Rule of Informed Consent
4. Causation in Informed Consent
5. Experimental Medicine

C. “Implied Assumption of Risk” (IAOR)

1. Everyday Life
2. Twentieth-Century Rule
3. Play and Sport
4. Work

D. Contributory Negligence

1. Twentieth-Century Rule
2. Complete Defense
3. Vitiation by “Last Clear Chance”

E. Comparative Fault
F. IAOR in the Age of Comparative Fault

1. The Demise of “IAOR”
2. Whither “Secondary Reasonable IAOR”?
3. Revisiting Mrs. Palsgraf at Gulfway General Hospital

G. Statutes of Limitations
H. Imputation of Negligence

Chapter 6: Subjective Standards

A. Introduction
B. Gender

1. The Reasonable Family
2. When Gender Matters

C. Youth

1. When Youth Matters
2. Attractive Nuisance
3. When Youth Doesn’t Matter

D. Mental Limitations

1. General Approach
2. Disputed Policy

Chapter 7: Strict Liability

A. Categorical Approach
B. Non-Natural Use of Land
C. Abnormally Dangerous Activities

1. Defining the Class
2. Modern Industry

D. Product Liability

1. Adoption of Strict Liability
2. Modern Norms
3. “Big Tobacco”
4. Frontiers of Product Liability

Chapter 8: Necessity

A. The Malleable Concept of Necessity
B. Necessity in Tort Law
C. Making Sense of Vincent
D. Necessity, the Liability Theory

Chapter 9: Damages

A. Introduction
B. Vocabulary of Damages
C. Theory of Damages
D. Calculation of Damages
E. Valuation of Intangibles
F. Remittitur
G. Wrongful Death and Survival Claims

1. Historical Common Law
2. Modern Statutory Framework

a. Lord Campbell’s Act and Wrongful Death
b. Survival of Action After Death of a Party

3. Problems of Application

H. “Wrongful Birth” and “Wrongful Life”
I. Punitive Damages

1. Introduction
2. Modern Rule
3. Pinpointing the Standard

J. Rethinking Death Compensation

Volume 2

Chapter 10: Res Ipsa Loquitur

A. Basic Rules of Proof
B. Res Ipsa Loquitur (RIL)

1. Modern Rule
2. Paradigmatic Fact Patterns

Chapter 11: Multiple Liabilities

A. Introduction
B. Alternative Liability
C. Joint and Ancillary Liability
D. Market-Share Liability Theory
E. Indemnification, Contribution, and Apportionment

1. Active-Passive Indemnity
2. Contribution and Apportionment
3. Apportionment and the Effect of Settlement

F. Rules and Evolving Models in Liability and Enforcement
G. Review and Application of Models

Chapter 12: Attenuated Duty and Causation

A. Introduction
B. Negligence Per Se Redux

1. The Problem in Duty
2. The Problem in Causation
3. The Problem in Public Policy

C. Duty Relationships and Causation Timelines

1. Introduction
2. Frances T. Redux, or Intervening Criminal Acts
3. Mental Illness and Tarasoff Liability
4. Dram Shop and Social Host Liability
5. Rescue Doctrine and “the Fire Fighter Rule”

a. Inverse Rules of Duty
b. Application and Limits

6. Palsgraf: The Orbit and the Stream

a. The Classic Case
b. A Deeper Dig

D. Principles of Duty and Causation

1. Duty
2. Causation

a. The Story of Causation
b. Proximate Cause in the Second Restatement
c. Scope of Liability in the Third Restatement
d. Proximate Cause in the Third Restatement, and Holdover Rules
e. A Study of Transition: Doull v. Foster

E. The Outer Bounds of Tort Law

1. Balancing the Fundamental Elements
2. Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress (NIED)

a. Rule of No Liability
b. Bystanders and Borderline NIED

3. Economic Loss Rule

a. The Injury Requirement
b. Outer Limits of Tort Law
c. Loss in Product Liability and the Single Integrated Product Rule

Chapter 13: Affirmative Duty

A. Social Policy
B. The American Rule
C. Comparative Perspectives
D. Bystander Effect, or “Kitty Genovese Syndrome”

Chapter 14: Nuisance and Property Torts

A. Trespass and Conversion
B. Private Nuisance
C. Public Nuisance and the Distinction Between Private and Public
D. “Super Tort”

Chapter 15: Communication and Media Torts

A. Origin of “Media Torts”
B. Defamation

1. Framework and Rules
2. Defamation of Private Figures

a. Defamation Proof
b. Defamation Defense

3. Anti-SLAPP Defense
4. Section 230 Defense
5. Constitutional Defamation

a. Sea Change: New York Times Co. v. Sullivan
b. Extending Sullivan
c. Reconsidering Sullivan

C. Invasion of Privacy

1. Framework and Rules

a. Disclosure
b. Intrusion
c. False Light
d. Right of Publicity
e. Data Protection

2. Constitutional Privacy and False Light
3. Demonstrative Cases

a. Disclosure and Intrusion
b. Right of Publicity
c. Bollea v. Gawker Media

4. Data Protection, Common Law, and Evolving Recognition of Dignitary Harms

Chapter 16: Interference and Business Torts

A. Business Torts in General

1. Tort Taxonomy
2. The Broad Landscape
3. Civil RICO

B. Wrongful Termination
C. Tortious Interference

Chapter 17: Government Liability and Civil Rights

A. Sovereign Immunity

1. Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) and Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA)
2. Text and History of the FTCA
3. Discretionary Function Immunity

B. Civil Rights

1. “Constitutional Tort”
2. Core Framework
3. Official Immunities
4. Climate Change

C. Qui Tam
D. Human Rights

1. Alien Tort Statute
2. Anti-Terrorism Laws

Chapter 18: Tort Alternatives

A. Worker Compensation

1. Introduction and History
2. Elements and Causation
3. Efficacy and Reform

B. Ad Hoc Compensation Funds

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

TORTZ volume 2 unpacks duty, causation, damages, introduces nuisance, defamation, privacy

Tortz volume 2 is now available for affordable purchase from and for free PDF download from SSRN.

Tortz volume 2 follows up volume 1 (Lulu, SSRN, The Savory Tort), published in 2023 and pending update this year. I am using Tortz volumes 1 and 2 with students in my American tort law classes in the United States and in Poland this academic year.

The two-volume Tortz textbook represents a survey study of American tort law suitable to American 1L students and foreign law students. In volume 1, the first eight chapters cover the fundamentals of the culpability spectrum from intentional torts to negligence to strict liability.

Volume 2 comprises chapters 9 to 15: (9) damages, (10) res ipsa loquitur, (11) multiple liabilities, (12) attenuated duty and causation, (13) affirmative duty, (14) nuisance and property torts, and (15) communication and media torts. 

Contemporary content in Tortz volume 2 includes exercises in pure several liability; treatment of opioid litigation in public nuisance law; recent criticism of New York Times v. Sullivan in defamation law; and exposure to common law developments in privacy law, such as the extension of fiduciary obligations to protect personal information.

Three final chapters will be added to Tortz volume 2 for a revised edition later in 2024: (16) interference and business torts, (17) government claims and liabilities, “constitutional tort,” and statutory tort, and (18) worker compensation and tort alternatives. Any teacher who would like to have copies of draft materials for these chapters in the spring is welcome to contact me.

Tortz is inspired by the teachings of Professor Marshall Shapo, a mentor to whom I am deeply indebted. Marshall passed away in November 2023.

My thanks to Professor Christopher Robinette, Southwestern Law School, who kindly noted the publication of Tortz volume 2 on TortsProf Blog even before I got to it here.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Court rejects 'super tort' theory in suit alleging animal cruelty, though concurrence mentions rights of nature

Kodiak bear at Olympic Game Farm, a private zoo in Washington.
Analise Zocher via Flickr CC BY 2.0
The Animal Legal Defense Fund tried but failed in August to convince the Washington Supreme Court to treat animal cruelty as an actionable "super tort."

The nonprofit Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) sued a private zoo in Washington, alleging animal cruelty under state public nuisance law. In mid-August, the Washington Supreme Court rejected the theory as beyond the scope of the statute.

It is a clever theory. Like environmentalists, animal protection organizations face high hurdles using tort law to advance their work. Animal cruelty laws often are not vigorously enforced by public authorities and provide scant mechanisms for private enforcement. Nonprofits usually have no standing to sue without a statutory authorization.

State and local governments lately have been pushing nuisance law as a potential accountability mechanism for all kinds of social ills. Nuisance is a leading theory in lawsuits against Big Oil for the impact of climate change. And some governments found success with nuisance to leverage settlements with opioid sellers.

But this "super tort," as termed by the defense bar and tort reformers, is problematic for policy reasons. Overusing the tort system to regulate business exceeds the bounds of corrective justice, threatening the free market and the organic social contract. The courts are not equipped to make policy, and it's not their function in the constitutional design of separated powers. Converting, or perverting, social problems into civil litigation thus bypasses the political branches of government, enervating democratic accountability and threatening unintended consequences.

In 2020, I wrote about this issue in the context of the Rhode Island suit (my home state) against Big Oil. I spoke about the problem to a Jagiellonian University audience via Zoom earlier that same year.

Some states, such as Washington, allow the enforcement of public nuisance law with "private attorney general," or "citizen-suit," provisions. The potential for public authorities to expand the scope of public nuisance is thus multiplied by willing and creative advocacy organizations.

ALDF theorized that animal cruelty, which the nonprofit alleged in suing the private zoo in Washington, constituted a public nuisance. That's a reach, but not irrational.

Pollution, or environmental damage, is the classic example of a public nuisance.  A die-off of fish in a public waterway might adversely affect the interests of waterside property owners, but there is no incursion on any one property such as creates a privately enforceable nuisance. Public authorities are obliged to respond to the problem as a matter of policymaking—thus, environmental protection law and regulation. Add citizen suits to the public nuisance mix, and environmentalists acquire enforcement power.

ALDF's wish to enforce animal cruelty law is a short leap through analogy in natural resource protection. Moreover, nuisance law in some states has a "per se" concept, like negligence law, by which the standard of right and wrong can be informed by statute. So ALDF bolstered its public nuisance claim by pointing to anti-cruelty statutes and wildlife conservation laws as public policy properly pronounced by the legislature.

ALDF further analogized to a peculiar but exigent strain of public nuisance law tied to morality.  In my 2020 talk, I made scant reference to this theory, in the interest of succinctness, but probably I should have given it a more respectful nod.

Historically, public nuisance law was used to shut down the likes of brothels and saloons.  Sometimes red-light businesses externalize costs to surrounding property owners that are real but difficult to quantify—consider the long-running feud between a Chicago-area strip club and next-door nuns, by which the convent alleged injury by "secondary effects" (as known in First Amendment law), such as crime and litter.  But many times, too, public nuisance laws have been invoked on the mere basis of moral objection.

In that sense, runaway public nuisance is a problem of the law's own creation.  Common law courts opened the door to nuisance in the moral abstract, untethering the concept from physical property.  ALDF just stepped through the door.  Society's intolerance of animal cruelty is a moral statement no less than condemnation of human trafficking.  As an animal advocate myself—full disclosure, I'm a founding faculty adviser of the student ALDF chapter and a past ALDF supporter—I find this theory appealing.

To be objective, though, the difficulty arises in that not everyone, least of all the legal system, embraces ALDF and my view of unequivocal morality in the area of animal cruelty.  The law permits even purely recreational hunts to kill exotic animals.  For all her worthy work, even Temple Grandin has not succeeded in making humane methods universal in food production.  Despite advancements in the recognition of human grief as a compensable loss in tort claims for injury to pets, the law continues to regard animals, for the most part, as mere chattel.

Such was the tone of the Washington Supreme Court's response to the ALDF claim.  ALDF could not articulate a conventional nuisance theory, in the way of interference with peace and enjoyment of land, and the court refused to engage with ALDF's theory as a matter of policy indicated by the animal cruelty or wildlife conservation laws.

"While ALDF cites to some cases that identify wildlife as a public resource," the court opined, "it cites no cases or statutes indicating that the public has a right to use that resource as it sees fit or has any individual, personal property rights in wildlife."

ALDF pointed to a seeming precedent to no avail. ALDF prevailed in a claim against a Wisconsin private zoo in federal court last year, winning a permanent injunction on a citizen-suit nuisance theory. However, the defendant had given up the fight partway through and allowed a default judgment to be entered. The Washington Supreme Court observed that the federal trial court in the case made no ultimate finding of fact that the private zoo was a nuisance.

In concurrence, Chief Justice Steven C. González left the door open, just a crack, and made a shout out, remarkably, to the theory of the rights of nature (RoN), if not by name.  Though agreeing with the holding, the chief opined (selective citations omitted; links added):

[T]he world has changed much since the days when King Henry II, Kukulkan, and the Great Khan were young. Now, the private use of land has profound potential to harm our ecosystem and the various species we share it with. It may well be time to heed Justice Douglas's call to consider whether those places and things threatened with environmental catastrophe should have standing in court to sue for their own injuries. See Sierra Club v. Morton ... (U.S. 1972) (Douglas, J., dissenting) (citing Christopher D. Stone, Should Trees Have Standing?—Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects, 45 S. Cal. L. Rev. 450 (1972)). Thus, I am wary of fully endorsing the majority’s sweeping conclusion that "[w]here the statutory framework and case law do not support a claim, none exists."
I'm all for ALDF's objectives, just like I'm gravely concerned about the impact of the opioid crisis. And I value the chief's assessment of common law evolution, an important capacity of American tort law that often is marginalized or forgotten in contemporary practice.  I have hastened to recognize the potential of common law evolution to reflect, not make, social policy in areas such as privacy and data protection.

But I worry, too, about misuse of the courts to make social policy; what the public will to do so tells us about possibly catastrophic dysfunction in the political branches; and what that means for the fabric of our democracy.

The case is Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Olympic Game Farm, Inc., No. 101264-1 (Wash. Aug. 17, 2023) (ALDF commentary).  Associate Chief Justice Charles W. Johnson wrote the opinion of the court.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Posh Londoners poo poo peekaboo performance art

"Rear Window" by Anthony O'Neil, CC BY-SA 2.0
Residents who live opposite the Tate Modern, an art museum in London on the south bank of the Thames, sued the Tate for private nuisance and will have their appeal heard by the U.K. Supreme Court.  Residents of the swank NEO Bankside apartment building grew discontent two years ago when a new 360-degree viewing platform at the Tate afforded hundreds of thousands of visitors annually a generous vantage point on private quarters as close as 34 meters away.  Some Tate tourists took pictures and shared to social media insights into the private lives of London apartment dwellers.  The problem in legal terms is whether "overlooking" is a private nuisance, and the general rule, at least in an urban environment, is that it is not.  Accordingly, the residents lost in the High Court in 2019 and in the Court of Appeal in 2020.  Not to be deterred, the resident-plaintiffs will press on in the Supreme Court this year.  The case is Fearn v. Tate, [2020] EWCA Civ 104, and Fearn v. Board of Trustees, [2019] EWHC 246 (Ch).  Hat tip to Art Law & More from Boodle Hatfield.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

'Super tort' might represent failure of public policymaking, but is only tip of melting iceberg

First Circuit remands R.I. suit against Big Oil for public nuisance

Super Tort
( CC0)
A "super tort" sounds delicious.  Indeed, the term refers more often to food than to a theory of civil liability.  Maybe that's why the term animated headlines recently when the defense-friendly American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) used it in an amicus brief to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

In October, ATRA filed its brief on the side of Johnson & Johnson's appeal of a $465m trial verdict of public nuisance liability in the opioid epidemic.  In the brief, ATRA warned that the award represented a "new species of public nuisance [that] will devour all of Oklahoma tort law and, with it, who knows how many businesses."  ATRA explained (my bold):

Since its inception, public nuisance has played a circumscribed role in Oklahoman—indeed, American—jurisprudence. It originated as a property-based tort used to remedy invasions of public lands or shared resources like highways and waterways. The trial court ignored that history, transforming public nuisance into a super tort that exposes Oklahoma businesses to unlimited liability for a broad array of public issues that are far removed from traditional public nuisances.

ATRA further argued its position in terms of the separation of powers, or, classically stated, Aristotelian justice:

The decision will also chill business activity throughout the state for fear that any product linked to a perceived social problem may lead to astronomical and disproportionate liability. It is not the judiciary's role to create a new tort to address social problems. That job belongs to the legislature, which can weigh competing policy factors and study the possible consequences of expanding traditional nuisance law.

Lead paint can
(Thester11 CC BY 3.0)
This isn't the first time ATRA has bemoaned the emergence of a public nuisance "super tort."  Among other tort-reform advocates, defense attorney Phil Goldberg used the term in 2008 and in 2018 to describe lead paint liability.  On the former occasion, echoed in an industry legal brief and in legal scholarship, the Supreme Court of Rhode Island had just rejected industry liability for lead paint on grounds that the defendants had no control over the product at the time it caused harm to children.  An ATRA leader warned of "super tort" in the climate change context as early as 2011 (States News Serv., Apr. 18, 2011 (quoting Tiger Joyce)). (Inapposite here, Patrick O'Callaghan, University College Cork, used the term "super tort" in the Irish Law Times in 2006 to describe potential excess in invasion-of-privacy liability.)

Nevertheless, public nuisance is the leading theory with which the State of Rhode Island now demands that oil companies pay for the past and future consequences of climate change.  Rhode Island alleges theories of product liability and public trust, in addition to public nuisance.  The state's suit is just one of many filed by state and local governments against Big Oil.  The Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, at Columbia Law School, tracks all U.S. litigation on climate change, including the Rhode Island suit

Just last week, the First Circuit remanded the Rhode Island suit to state court, rejecting industry claims of federal preemption.  Meanwhile, the case in state court is on hold while the U.S. Supreme Court ponders the outer constitutional limits of personal jurisdiction.  The Court's ruling in an otherwise unrelated case, which I wrote about in April and the Court heard this fall, has ramifications for Rhode Island's thin assertion of jurisdiction over transnational oil defendants.

Over the summer, I spoke about the expansive approach to public nuisance that resulted in the colossal Oklahoma award against Johnson & Johnson and that leads government claims against Big Oil over climate change.  Corporate objections voiced by ATRA, based in Aristotelian justice, are legitimate.  Ironically, as I discussed briefly in my lecture, I see this resort to the courts as an understandable expression of public frustration with corporate capture of our political branches of government.

The Rhode Island complaint images industry-sponsored public service announcements that sewed doubt about climate change and the role of fossil fuel.

Yet despite my skepticism, as a Rhode Islander and a taxpayer, I find the allegations in the state's 2018 complaint awfully persuasive.  The climate science is neatly summarized with color charts, and I'm a sucker for a color chart.  More dispassionately persuasive of moral responsibility on the part of industry, though, are excerpts of trade association advertising that downplayed, if not mocked, climate change science at a time when the industry must have known better.  The ads are eerily reminiscent of Big Tobacco efforts to downplay the risks of smoking for decades through the selectively scientific work of the Tobacco Institute.  That makes me wonder that product liability and consumer protection might be the states' and localities' best approach, not to mention a more doctrinally conservative strategy, and therefore judicially appealing approach, compared with a no-holds-barred theory of public nuisance—if we must rely on the courts alone, after all.

We might ought worry that "super tort" will devour our rational framework of civil liability.  But rather than reject industry responsibility and liability outright, we should add "super tort" to our lately exploded catalog of reasons to examine how and why our political institutions have failed to protect the environment, public health, and human life.

The case in Rhode Island state court is Rhode Island v. Chevron Corp., No. PC-2018-4716 (Bristol County, R.I. Super. Ct. filed July 2, 2018).  The case in the First Circuit was Rhode Island v. Shell Oil Prod. Co., No. 19-1818 (1st Cir. Oct. 29, 2020).

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Talk traces 'nuisance' from King Henry I to COVID-19

Yesterday I had the privilege to present in a lecture series (virtually) at Jagiellonian University (UJ) on the tort of nuisance in American common law.  I sketched out the historical background of nuisance relative to the recent lawsuit by the State of Missouri, against the People's Republic of China, alleging public nuisance, among other theories, and seeking to establish responsibility and liability for the coronavirus pandemic.  Here is a video (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) of the presentation, also available from Facebook, where the lecture streamed live.  A narrative abstract is below the video.
The Tort of 'Nuisance' in American Common Law:
From Hedge Trimming to Coronavirus in 900 Years
Nuisance is one of the oldest civil actions in Anglo-American law, dating to the earliest written common law of the late middle ages.  Nuisance for centuries referred to an offense against property rights, like trespass, interfering with a neighbor’s enjoyment of land.  But a nuisance need not be physical, and colorful cases have addressed nuisance achieved by forces such as sound, light, and smell.  In recent decades, nuisance has undergone a radical transformation and generated a new theory of civil liability that has become untethered from private property.  State and local officials have litigated a broad new theory of “public nuisance” to attack problems on which the federal government has been apathetic, if not willfully resistant to resolution, such as climate change and the opioid epidemic.  Just last month, the State of Missouri sued the People’s Republic of China, asserting that COVID-19 constitutes a public nuisance.  Emerging from understandable frustration, public nuisance nevertheless threatens to destabilize the fragile equilibrium of state and federal power that holds the United States together.

Here are some links to read more, as referenced in the presentation:

Here is a two-minute video (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) of only my PowerPoint (no audio), if you want an idea about the course of the talk:

The four-part lecture series, "American Law in Difficult Times," comprises:
Paul Kurth: The American Low-Income Taxpayer: Legal Framework and Roles Law Students Play
May 12, 18:00
Event - Video

May 19, 18:00
Richard Peltz-Steele: “Nuisance” in American Common Law Tort: COVID-19 as a Public Nuisance?
Event - Video

May 26, 18:00
Susanna Fischer: Art Museums in Financial Crisis: Legal and Ethical Issues Related to Deaccessioning
Event - Video

June 2, 18:00
Cecily Baskir: American Criminal Justice Reform in the Time of COVID-19
Event - Video

Here is the lecture series invitation (Polish) from the American Law Students' Society (ALSS) at UJ, via Facebook:

Here is an "about" from ALSS and partners:

The American Law Program (Szkoła Prawa Amerykańskiego) run by the Columbus School of Law, The Catholic University of American [CUA], Washington D.C., and the Faculty of Law and Administration, Jagiellonian University, Kraków, as well as the American Law Students’ Society (Koło Naukowe Prawa Amerykańskiego) at the Jagiellonian University, Kraków, sincerely invite you to participate in a series of four one-hour online open lectures and discussion sessions delivered by professors from the American Law Program.

The lectures will be devoted to a variety of legal issues mainly relating to COVID-19 difficulties facing people and institutions, for which legal solutions may be useful.

The lectures will be available through Microsoft Teams as well as a live-stream via Facebook. Participants willing to participate through Microsoft Teams are kindly asked to provide the organizers with their e-mails no later than 6 hours before the commencement of the lecture, by e-mail to

Your participation in all four lectures will be certified by the American Law Students’ Society. Only those participants who provide the organisers with their name, surname and e-mail will be granted such certificates.
I am grateful to Jagoda Szpak and Agnieszka Zając of ALSS at UJ; Wojciech Bańczyk, Piotr Szwedo, Julianna Karaszkiewicz-Kobierzyńska, and Gaspar Kot at UJ; and Leah Wortham at CUA.  The lecture series is sponsored by, and I am further grateful to, the Koło Naukowe Prawa Amerykańskiego (ALSS), Szkoła Prawa Amerykańskiego (School of American Law), and the Ośrodek Koordynacyjny Szkół Praw Obcych (Coordination Center for Foreign Law Schools) at the Uniwersytet Jagielloński w Krakowie (UJ in Kraków), and to CUA.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Mass. Superior Court dismisses nuisance claim over airport skydiving concession on Cape Cod

Chatham Municipal Airport approach (CC BY 2.0 woodleywonderworks)
The Superior Court in Barnstable, Massachusetts, ruled in favor of the Town of Chatham against a citizen group earlier this month over the town's award of a skydiving concession at the Chatham Municipal Airport, the Cape Cod Times reported.  Arguing for summary judgment, the town relied on preemption by FAA regulations in asserting that it had no choice but to award the concession for a lawful activity.  The court agreed, according to the newspaper.  The trial court arguments were detailed by Tim Wood in a story for The Cape Cod Chronicle in May.  According to Wood's reporting, the citizens argued "that skydiving is not safe and is a nuisance, with multiple flights and screaming and yelling by tandem jumpers interfering with the 'quiet enjoyment' of their property. They point to a 2012 crash of a skydiving plane into Lovers Lake after it ran out of fuel and the severe injuries suffered by a tandem jumper as evidence of the safety concerns."

Chatham Municipal Airport on Cape Cod

Friday, July 27, 2018

Nuisance rule for trees rooted in history, reaffirmed by Mass. high court

In an opinion suitable for textbooks, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reaffirmed the rule of nuisance that neighbor may not sue neighbor over property damage from a healthy, overhanging tree.

A resident of Randolph, Massachusetts, complained that a neighbor's overhanging tree, a 100-foot sugar oak, had caused property damage by promoting algae on the complainant's roof.  The high court reiterated the historic rule that a property owner cannot be held liable in nuisance for damage caused by a neighbor's healthy tree, whether unruly roots that damage a foundation, or the natural shedding of leaves, branches, and sap.  A neighbor is entitled to trim back offending incursions, the court observed.

The court reaffirmed the historic rule despite the complainant's entreaty to consider alternative approaches from other states.  The rule emerged from a time of lower population density, when it would have been excessively burdensome for property owners to monitor all trees near property lines, the court explained.  "We invite challenge to antiquated laws," the court wrote.  Nevertheless, the court declined to "uproot precedent."  The historic rule continues to have relevance by minimizing litigation, the court reasoned, especially when the law is clear that a neighbor may cut back overhanging branches.

Affirming the lower court, the case is Shiel v. Rowell, No. SJC-12432 (Mass. July 16, 2018) (Cypher, J.).