Recently, there have been a number of nuisance and trespass claims filed by homeowners and cities against energy companies. State courts have ruled that the allegations are not overruled by federal environmental laws and state Clean Air Acts. For instance, a Texas court found that a city and homeowners have the right to allege state nuisance and trespass claims against five energy companies, all of whom are accused of polluting private property.
The U.S. Supreme Court decided not to review a ruling made by the Iowa Supreme Court, which found that state law class actions are not preempted by the federal Clean Air Act. This ruling, which was made in December 2014, was appealed by a corn company in Iowa that was alleged by homeowners to have caused harmful odors and perilous pollution in the vicinity of one of its milling facilities. The United States Supreme Court decided not to hear the appeal.
There appears to be a trend of rulings by courts that state nuisance claims are not subject to preemption by federal statutes. However, courts also seem reluctant to allow class action lawsuits to proceed. For instance, in the Third Circuit class action, when the case was remanded, the district court removed the proposed class action plaintiffs because their damages lacked specificity.
A private nuisance is an activity or conduct that interferes with the rights of private landowners; it interferes with one’s quiet enjoyment of the land without including trespass. A public nuisance is where such conduct interferes with the general public’s rights in that it can have an adverse effect on the health and safety of the public.
In a class action, plaintiffs are required to show harm and causation, which are issues that tend to be unique to each individual. In other words, homeowners are more likely to succeed based on claims that they were individually harmed rather than by bringing class action lawsuits on behalf of the entire neighborhood. However, the amount of money collected by each plaintiff was smaller than they would have received had they filed together. The individual suits were only based on the amount by which the value of the property was reduced.
Due to the increasing prevalence of facilities that are closer in proximity to residential areas than in prior years, it is within the right of plaintiffs to file a nuisance claim if they are being harmed by the energy companies’ operations. For instance, there has been a rise in such industries as hydraulic fracturing, and oil and gas exploration, near people’s homes, thereby causing tensions between residents and energy companies.
In order to maintain a cooperative relationship with homeowners and other business owners, energy companies have a responsibility to be conscious of their environment and the people who may be affected by their operations.
Seeking Legal Advice
If someone is interfering with the quiet enjoyment of your home or business, and thus, creating a nuisance, you should consult a nuisance attorney who will help you obtain an injunction against the wrongdoer and secure damages for any injuries you may have suffered.
Authored by Roxanne Minott, LegalMatch Legal Writer and Attorney at Law