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:
- that the defendant intended to interfere with the plaintiff’s use and enjoyment of property;
- that the defendant knew with substantial certainty that its actions would cause an interference;
- that the defendant negligently created the interference; or
- 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.