Morgan v. High Penn Oil Co. Case Brief

Summary of Morgan v. High Penn Oil Co., Supreme Ct. of NC (1953)

Parties: PL’s are landowners and business proprietors on adjacent land to DF, who owns and operates an oil refinery.

Cause of action/remedy sought: The following is a civil action to recover temporary damages for a private nuisance, and also an equitable action to abate such nuisance by injunction.

Procedural History: Trial court found for PL and awarded $2500 in damages and enjoined DF’s from further use of the land.

Facts: Oil refinery established in 1950; landowners bought their composite tract of land (from separate smaller conveyances) in 1945. PL’s land has a home, restaurant, and accommodations for 32 other trailer homes. Oil refinery emits sounds and noises both unreasonable to the neighbors of ordinary sensitivities. Noises were at all hours of the day, smells came two or three times weekly. PL wishes to enjoin such activity and receive damages for DF’s previous violations.

Issue(s): Under NC property law, does a neighboring oil refinery’s existence on a neighboring tract of land to Plaintiff landowners represent a nuisance when the refinery’s smells and noises pervade the landowners’ tract?

Holding: Yes. To allow DF’s to continue their use of an oil refinery to the extent that it is would present the threat of an irreparable injury to PL’s and under this standard both temporary damages and a permanent injunction are appropriate.

Court’s Rationale/Reasoning: After applying the law of nuisance, this court finds that the intentional and unreasonable act of the refinery in establishing its business so close to Plaintiffs and all their tenant landowners that the smells and noises were close enough where they knew or should have known there would be a hindrance on the enjoyment of land. This results in an substantial impairment to PL’s use and enjoyment of the land, which should result in temporary damages and a permanent injunction. If allowed to continue, there could be permanent damages, and the court does not tolerate this.

Rule: Nuisance law is a combination of property and tort law:

Property portion: the interest in any use and enjoyment of land, that any substantial nontrespassatory invasion of another’s interest in the private use and enjoyment of land by any type of liability forming conduct is a private nuisance. Liability may be intentional (when their conduct is unreasonable under the circumstances of a particular case) or unintentional (when conduct is negligent, reckless, or ultrahazardous)

Tort portion: invasion of another’s interest in the use and enjoyment of land is intentional in the law of private nuisance when the person whose conduct is in question as a basis for liability acts for the purpose of causing it, or knows that it is resulting from his conduct, or knows that it is substantially certain to result from his conduct.

Did court avoid issues?: No.

Dicta: No.

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