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A Man's Home Is His Castle...Or Is It?

Edwin Gray, 53 years old, lives with his four adult sons in a home owned by his family for fifty years. Edwin smokes and has smoked all his life. The townhouse next to his that shares a wall with his own home was renovated prior to the new owner moving in last fall. The new neighbors, Brendan and Nessa Coppinger, have an 18-month old daughter, and Nessa is pregnant with their second child. Although neither Brendan nor Nessa smoke, and they do not allow anyone to smoke in their home, their townhouse is nonetheless frequently filled with smoke.

Considering the smoke a health hazard to their toddler and their unborn child, and suspecting that it emanated from Mr. Gray's home, the Coppingers approached the Grays to see if there was a way to resolve the situation. Both homes were inspected, and cracks in the common wall and in the basement foundation were discovered as the means by which smoke from Mr. Gray's home seeped into and filled the Coppingers' home.

The Coppingers negotiated with Mr. Gray to stop the smoke from entering their property, and even offered to help with the cost of bringing his home up to code. When Mr. Gray refused to work with them, the Coppingers filed a lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court, seeking an injunction on the smoke and $500,000 in damages. Last week, the Court granted the injunction, ordering Mr. Gray to refrain from smoking--including newly legalized marijuana--in his own home.

Mr. Gray is shocked, claiming he has the right to engage in the legal activity of smoking in his own home. Lawsuits between neighbors have become much more common; the failure to settle disputes amicably means that more people are turning to the courts for resolution of their grievances. But this case goes to the heart of a doctrine that is enshrined not only in American jurisprudence but in American culture: a man's home is his castle. The Castle doctrine has justified the use of deadly force in defense of self and home. The idea of one's home as castle and fortress, a place of sanctuary from those who would do one harm, has been a pillar of English common law for centuries.

But will the litigious environment prevalent today, combined with the preference shown toward non-smokers, lead to the erosion of this hallmark legal doctrine?

SAY HELLO TO THE NUISANCE NEXT DOOR

Not necessarily. The injunction issued by the D.C. Superior Court was based on a nuisance theory, with the offending material (the smoke) trespassing onto the Coppingers' property by way of the cracks in the shared wall and the foundation. Just as with noise, odor and water, smoke can trespass onto neighboring properties and become a nuisance. The injunction is against the trespass and resulting nuisance rather than the act of smoking; as the Coppingers stated, if Mr. Gray would agree to fix the wall and foundation--therefore preventing the trespass of the smoke and the creation of the nuisance--there would be no lawsuit. The case is not seeking to stop Mr. Gray from smoking in his own house so much as it is seeking to stop the smoke from trespassing to the Coppingers' property next door and becoming a nuisance.

It looks as if the Castle doctrine will remain alive and well.

CONTACT YOUR ATTORNEY

If your peace and well-being is being threatened by the actions of someone living close to you, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm.

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