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Morgan v. High Penn Oil Co

    Brief Fact Summary. The Plaintiffs, Mr. and Mrs. Morgan (Plaintiffs) sued for an injunction and damages due to nauseating fumes and gases emanating from the Defendant’s, High Penn Oil Co. (Defendant), oil refinery business that was less than a mile from Plaintiff’s residence.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A person who intentionally creates or maintains a private nuisance is liable for the resulting injury to others regardless of the degree of care or skill exercised by him to avoid such injury.

    Facts. The Plaintiffs bought a tract of land, in which they created areas for trailers and rented these areas out. Approximately 1000 feet from the Plaintiff’s house, was located an oil refinery owned by the Defendant. Plaintiffs alleged that at certain hours during two or three days a week, the Defendant’s business emitted nauseating gas and fumes. Plaintiffs instituted a civil action to recover temporary damages for a private nuisance and to abate the nuisance by an injunction. The jury found for the Plaintiff and awarded damages and the injunction. The Defendant appealed.

    Issue. Whether the operation of the oil refinery constituted a nuisance per accidens, even if the business was not operated in a negligent manner.

    Held. Affirmed. The Plaintiffs do not need to prove that the business alleged to be the nuisance was negligently operated; rather they must prove that the operation and activity was intentional.
    Private nuisances are classified as (i) per se or at law and (ii) nuisances per accidens or in fact. A nuisance per se or at law is an act, occupation or structure, which is a nuisance at all times, under any circumstances. Nuisances per accidens or in fact are those, which become nuisances by reason of their location or manner in which they are constructed, maintained or operated.
    When an operation or business is conducted lawfully, it cannot be a nuisance per se or at law.
    An invasion of another’s interest in the use and enjoyment of land is intentional in the law of private nuisance when the person whose conduct is in question acts for the purpose of causing it or knows that it is resulting from his conduct or knows that it is substantially certain to result from his conduct.

    Discussion. The court focused on the property standard to evaluate whether operation of the oil refinery was a nuisance per accidens and the proper standard to determine what conduct by the person/company in question would subject them to liability. The court dismissed the Defendant’s argument that negligence was the appropriate standard. Rather, the court found that the proper standard was whether the person/company was aware that they had created a nuisance.


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