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532 Madison Avenue Gourmet Foods, Inc. v. Finlandia Center, Inc

    Brief Fact Summary. A section of the south wall of an office tower partially collapsed. 532 Madison Avenue Gourmet Foods, Inc., (Plaintiff) had to remain closed for five weeks. Plaintiff sued Defendant for public nuisance.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A public nuisance is actionable by a private person only if it is shown that the person suffered special injury beyond that suffered by the community at large.

    Facts. A section of the south wall of 540 Madison Avenue, a 39-story office tower, partially collapsed. Bricks, mortar and other material fell onto Madison Avenue at 55th Street, a prime commercial location crammed with stores and skyscrapers. It was necessary to close off the surrounding areas. Plaintiff operates a 24-hour delicatessen, one-half block south of 540 Madison. They had to remain closed for five weeks. Other stores and entities also sued because they were shut down as well. The Supreme Court of New York dismissed Plaintiff’s public nuisance claim on the ground that the injuries were the same in kind as those suffered by all of the businesses in the community. Plaintiff appealed.

    Issue. Is a public nuisance actionable by a private person only if it is shown that the person suffered special injury beyond that suffered by the community at large?

    Held. Yes. Judgment affirmed.
    * A public nuisance exists for conduct that amounts to a substantial interference with the exercise of a common right of the public, thereby offending public morals, interfering with the use by the public of a public place or endangering or injuring the property, health, safety or comfort of a considerable number of persons. A public nuisance is a violation against the state and is subject to abatement or prosecution by the proper governmental authority.
    * A public nuisance is actionable by a private person only if it is shown that the person suffered special injury beyond that suffered by the community at large. A nuisance is the actual invasion of interests in land, and it may arise from varying types of conduct.
    * Under these facts, the public space around Madison Avenue and Times Square was invaded, not only by the building collapses but also by the City’s decision, in the interest of public safety, to close off those areas. In this case, the economic loss was “common to an entire community and Plaintiff suffered it only in a greater degree than others.” It is not a different kind of harm and Plaintiff cannot recover for the invasion of the public right.

    Discussion. In order for Plaintiff to maintain its action for public nuisance, they have to prove that they suffered a different type of injury. Their claim was dismissed because the injury suffered only varied in degree, not type. Plaintiff, a private individual, cannot maintain an action for public nuisance unless the harm suffered is of a different type than the community at large.



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