Tennessee Supreme Court Considers Noisy Corn Maze in the Context of “Nuisance” Laws

In the fall, you’ll see corn mazes sprout up all over Tennessee. In fact, Memphis loves Marc Gasol so much that they made a corn maze mural of Big Spain. I’ve been to this corn maze, however, and I encourage you to not attend on the nights offering the “haunted” version. (It’s horribly terrifying.)

Ok, back to the legal talk. All this reminds me of a recent Tennessee Supreme Court opinion involving a corn maze, which is a great primer on the law surrounding “nuisance.” It’s at Shore v. Maple Lane Farms, dated August 19, 2013.

In the case, two neighboring landowners squared off in a dispute over the 225 acre farm’s noisy new side business. After years of raising cattle, corn, and other produce, Maple Lane Farms expanded to include an annual spring festival and, later, a fall festival and corn maze. The Plaintiff moved next door in 2003, and, over the next few years, the Farm’s side activities got louder. Beyond the quaint occasional pumpkin festivals, the Farm moved on to regular music festivals, ATV rides, fireworks, and even aerial tours of the corn maze via helicopter.

As you can imagine, music festivals and helicopter fly-overs can get loud, and the farm’s neighbor filed suit in Blount County Chancery Court for them to be quiet, citing local zoning laws.  The opinion has a long discussion of the procedural aspects, but I’ll talk about noisy neighbors here.

Citing the law that “directs landowners not to use their property in a way that injures the lawful rights of others,” the Court said a “nuisance is anything that annoys or disturbs the free use of one’s property or that renders the property’s ordinary use or physical occupation uncomfortable. It extends to everything that endangers life or health, gives offense to the senses, violates the laws of decency, or obstructs the reasonable and comfortable use of the property.” “As long as an interference with the use or enjoyment of property is substantial and unreasonable enough to be offensive or inconvenient, virtually any disturbance of the use or enjoyment of the property may amount to a nuisance.”

The Court noted that the test is for a “reasonable person,” not for the “hypersensitive.” In judging a noise complaint, the Court noted “[a]mong the relevant circumstances are the locality, the character of the neighborhood, the nature of the use causing the noise, the extent and frequency of the injury, the time of day when the noise occurs, and the effects on the enjoyment of life, health, and property of those affected by the noise.” Remedies include damages and injunctive relief.

So, as you’re walking around a corn maze this fall, yelling for help or waiting for the fireworks to start, think of the angry neighbors next door.

The really interesting part of this opinion is actually later, in the Court’s interpretation of the Farm’s defense under the Tennessee Right to Farm Act. I’ll save that talk for another day.

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