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Morgan v. High Penn Oil Co

    Brief Fact Summary. The use of the Plaintiff, Morgan’s (Plaintiff) land, was allegedly being interfered with by the Defendant, High Penn Oil Co.’s (Defendant), emission of noxious gases. Plaintiff brought suit for private nuisance, requesting temporary damages and an injunction.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. An intentional private nuisance occurs when a person either acts for the purpose of unreasonably interfering with another person’s enjoyment of their land or knows that such interference is resulting from his conduct.

    Facts. Plaintiff owned a tract of land on which he had a dwelling, a restaurant, and accommodations for thirty-two trailers. The Defendant owned the adjoining tract of land on which it operated an oil refinery. Plaintiff claimed that for some hours, on two to three days a week, the refinery emitted nauseating gases and odors that rendered persons of ordinary sensitivities on his land uncomfortable and sick. Plaintiff put Defendant on notice of the situation and demanded that he abate it, but Defendant failed to do so.

    Issue. Did the trial court err by not granting Defendant’s motion for a compulsory nonsuit on the claim that the refinery was so maintained and operated as to create a nuisance?

    Held. No. Judgment affirmed. A new trial was ordered because of an error in instructions to the jury.
    * Defendant argues that the evidence is insufficient to establish either an actionable or an abatable private nuisance. Plaintiff asserts that private nuisances are classified either as nuisances per se or at law, or nuisances per accidens or in fact. The Defendant claims correctly that that an oil refinery is a lawful enterprise and therefore cannot be a nuisance at law.
    * However, the Defendant incorrectly asserts that an oil refinery cannot become a nuisance in fact unless it is constructed or operated in a negligent manner. A nuisance in fact may be created or maintained without negligence. A person may be subject to liability for an intentional invasion of one’s use and enjoyment of their land if his conduct is unreasonable under the circumstances. A person may be liable for an unintentional invasion when his conduct is negligent, reckless, or ultrahazardous.
    * An intentional invasion occurs when the person knows that the nuisance is resulting from his conduct, regardless of the care or skill exercised to prevent the injury. Interpreting the evidence in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, it supports a finding that the Defendant intentionally and unreasonably caused noxious gases to escape onto Plaintiff’s property so as to impair in a substantial manner his use and enjoyment of the land. This entitles Plaintiff to recover temporary damages. Additionally, using the same standard, the evidence is sufficient to show that Defendant intends to operate its oil refinery in the same manner and thus the issuance of an injunction is appropriate.

    Discussion. Unlike in the present case, when the Defendant has committed an unintentional interference, negligence is the basis of liability.


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