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Simpkins v. Speck

Supreme Court of Montana

May 28, 2019

HUNTER SIMPKINS and PATRICK GUSTIN, Plaintiffs and Appellees,
v.
SHARON J. SPECK, Defendant and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: March 27, 2019

          Appeal From District Court of the First Judicial District,In and For the County of Lewis And Clark, Cause No. DDV-2017-569 Honorable James P. Reynolds, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Burt W. Ward, Jackson, Murdo & Grant, P.C., Helena, Montana.

          For Appellees: Mark Lancaster, Shenandoah R. Roath, Luxan & Murfitt, PLLP, Helena, Montana.

          OPINION

          BETH BAKER JUDGE.

         ¶1 Sharon J. Speck appeals an order of the First Judicial District Court, Lewis and Clark County, affirming the Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, Order and Judgment of the Lewis and Clark County Justice Court. The Justice Court's order enjoined Speck from feeding birds within 100 feet of her shared property line in the city of Helena with Hunter Simpkins and Patrick Gustin (collectively "Plaintiffs") and prohibited her from maintaining open water during winter months. We restate the issues Speck raises on appeal as follows:

         1. Did the Justice Court abuse its discretion in granting injunctive relief on the ground that Speck's feeding of wild birds constituted a nuisance?

         2.Was the Justice Court's injunction overly broad? We affirm in part and reverse and remand in part.

         PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         ¶2 Speck, a local member of the Audubon Society, grew up in what she described as a bird-feeding family and has fed birds in her yard for most of her life. Speck now lives in Helena, and her home sits on a 25-by-125-foot lot. In her yard, Speck planted specific varieties of trees and shrubs to promote a bird-friendly habitat. To attract multiple species of wild birds, Speck utilized a variety of feeds and feeding methods, such as different hanging bird feeders and ground feeding. The feeding she provided changed with the seasons: during winter months, she provided additional feed and maintained a heated bird bath to ensure that wild birds would have an unfrozen source of water.

         ¶3 Plaintiffs moved in next door to Speck about four or five years before the trial in this case. From the time Plaintiffs first moved in, Gustin observed Speck feed birds in her yard on a regular basis. The birds feeding in Speck's yard congregated on a power line running along the property line and landed in the trees in Plaintiffs' yard. Plaintiffs regularly found bird excrement on their property and on vehicles parked in their driveway, endured bird calls from dawn to dusk, and discovered feathers, dismembered birds, and bird carcasses in their yard. Gustin witnessed pigeons, magpies, and crows coming to and from a large patch of ground along their shared property line where Speck spread feed on the ground.

         ¶4 Gustin confronted Speck twice in January 2017 about her bird feeding. On or around January 11, 2017, Gustin caught Speck while she was on her way to work to complain about bird carcasses and excrement on his property. Their next encounter about the issue occurred three days later while Speck was spreading bird feed on the ground in her yard. Speck told Gustin that she could not ethically stop feeding the birds at that time because the birds had become habituated to her feedings in winter. After their confrontation, however, Speck attempted to mitigate Gustin's concerns by moving her ground feeding area to the center of her back yard and then to her side yard and by reducing the amount of feed she provided in summer.

         ¶5 Plaintiffs filed a complaint against Speck in Justice Court on February 9, 2017, alleging trespass, negligence, and nuisance and seeking injunctive relief to prohibit Speck from feeding wild birds within 150 feet of their property. The Justice Court held a bench trial on May 31, 2017. Speck and Gustin testified and provided photographic and video 3 evidence. After the bench trial, the Justice Court determined that Speck had not trespassed onto Plaintiffs' property. It found, however, that Speck was negligent in her bird feeding and caused a nuisance. The court ordered Speck to pay the costs of having Plaintiffs' cars professionally cleaned and enjoined her from feeding birds within 100 feet of Plaintiffs' property and from maintaining open water during winter months. Speck appealed to the District Court, which affirmed the Justice Court's judgment.

         STANDARDS ...


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