Brief Fact Summary.
Defendant opened a center to provide free meals to local poor people. The neighborhood association filed a lawsuit against Defendant for public nuisance because the poor people who attended the center would often trespass, urinate, litter, and drink on the properties of neighboring residents.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
A defendant’s conduct that unreasonably and significantly interferes with the public health, safety, peace, comfort, or convenience is considered a public nuisance and need not be prohibited by a criminal statute.
The Episcopal Community Services in Arizona (Defendant) opened the St. Martin’s Center, located next to the Armory Park Historical Residential District, to provide a free meal to local poor people. The Armory Park Neighborhood Association (Plaintiff) filed a lawsuit against Defendant for public nuisance to enjoin the center from continuing its free meal distribution program to local poor people. Plaintiff claimed that neighborhood residents sustained injuries from those who went to the center because they frequently trespassed onto neighbor’s yards. These individuals would sometimes urinate, drink, or litter on their yards as well. Due to these incidents, arrests in the neighborhood occurred more often. After the trial court granted Plaintiff’s request and denied Defendant’s motion to dismiss, Defendant appealed. After the court of appeals reversed the trial court’s ruling due to the lack of a criminal violation, the Arizona Supreme Court granted certiorari.
Does a defendant’s conduct that unreasonably and significantly interferes with the public health, safety, peace, comfort, or convenience have to be prohibited by a criminal statute in order to constitute a public nuisance?
No. A defendant’s conduct that unreasonably and significantly interferes with the public health, safety, peace, comfort, or convenience is considered a public nuisance. A criminal statute need not prohibit a defendant’s conduct in order to constitute a public nuisance. In this case, those who visited the center committed acts that unreasonably and significantly affected the residents’ use and enjoyment of their land. Despite Defendant’s charitable intentions with the opening of the center, the interference caused by the center was unreasonable. As such, the court of appeal’s judgment is reversed and remanded.
Public nuisance encompasses any unreasonable inference with a right common to the general public. Historically, a citizen does not have standing to sue for public nuisance. However, recovery under public nuisance is now possible as long as the private citizen has the ability to show an invasion of a right that is different from an invasion to the public. Injury to a person’s land is sufficient to distinguish a person’s injuries from those experienced by the general public. For a public nuisance to exist, the interference must be unreasonable, substantial, and intentional. To determine whether these elements are met, a trial court considers the following factors: (1) if the conduct constitutes a significant interference with the public health, safety, peace, comfort, or convenience; (2) if the conduct is prohibited by law; and (3) if the conduct is continuous or has produced a long-lasting effect on the public’s right.