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Dowdell v. Bloomquist - 847 A.2d 827 (R.I. 2004)

Rule:

When the spite fence statute, R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-10-20 (1956) is violated, the offending action is deemed a private nuisance. Under private nuisance law, equitable relief is an appropriate remedy.

Facts:

Plaintiff Cheryl Dowdell filed a lawsuit in Rhode Island superior court alleging that her neighbor, defendant Peter Bloomquist, planted four western arborvitae trees on his property solely to exact revenge against Dowdell, to retaliate by blocking her view, and in violation of the spite fence statute, G.L. 1956 § 34-10-20. Dowdell sought legal and equitable relief. After a bench trial, the presiding superior court justice found that the trees were planted to satisfy Bloomquist's malicious intent, not his pretextual desire for privacy, and that Bloomquist had violated § 34-10-20. The trial justice granted Dowdell injunctive relief. Bloomquist appealed, arguing that the trees did not constitute a fence and that, even if they were a fence, the trial court erred in granting relief in the face of testimony that they were for his privacy.

Issue:

Did the trial court err in granting Dowdell injunctive relief in the face of Bloomquist's testimony that the trees were for his privacy?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The state supreme court affirmed the superior court's judgment. The court ruled that, based on the turbulent history between the parties, the provocative statements made by Bloomquist, and the size, timing, and placement of the trees, it could not say that the trial justice was wrong to give Bloomquist's testimony little weight and to find his claim that the fence was installed to enhance his privacy lacked credibility. The court declined to disturb the trial justice's findings that the trees, planted in a row, constituted a fence and that Bloomquist planted them with spiteful intentions. The court further ruled that § 34-10-20 did not exclude injunctive relief as a remedy, which was logically rooted in the nature and purpose of the statute. Thus, the trial judge had authority to grant Dowdell an injunction.

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