Texas Supreme Court Issues Major Nuisance Decision

The Texas Supreme Court clarified key points of Texas law regarding the common law doctrine of nuisance, Crosstex North Texas Pipeline v. Gardiner, issued June 24, 2016.  As I mentioned in an earlier alert about this case, at oral argument, the parties invited the Court to clarify some difficult concepts relating to nuisance; the Court did so.

At trial, the jury found that noise from Crosstex’s natural gas compressor station constituted a negligent nuisance. The jury awarded the Gardiners over $2 million in damages.  The Texas Supreme Court ruled that the damage award should be reversed.  However, rather than render a decision that the Gardiners take nothing, the Court ruled that the Gardiners were entitled to a new trial.

In clarifying the law, the Court acknowledged that a nuisance was a substantial interference with another’s use and enjoyment of property. However, the Court also stated that a nuisance was a type of injury, not a basis to recover any damages.  To recover, the person subject to the interference must prove one of the following:

  1. that the defendant intended to interfere with the plaintiff’s use and enjoyment of property;
  2. that the defendant knew with substantial certainty that its actions would cause an interference;
  3. that the defendant negligently created the interference; or
  4. that the interference resulted from abnormally dangerous activity.

The Court Effectively Eliminated Strict Liability for Creating a Nuisance in Texas.

The Court specifically rejected the Gardiners’ argument that they could recover due to a nuisance caused by conduct that was “abnormal and out of place in its surroundings.” The Court limited the concept of abnormal activity to abnormally dangerous activity; that is, “conduct that creates a high degree of risk of serious injury.”  As a matter of law, the Court ruled that noise from a compressor station could not meet this standard.

Almost all modern nuisance cases involve such things as odors, noise, dust and bright lights; they do not involve abnormally dangerous activity. As a practical matter, this decision ends strict liability for creating a nuisance.

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