Pennsylvania Record

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Bethlehem landfill isn't obligated to protect neighbors from bad odors, judge rules


By Tomas Kassahun | Mar 25, 2019


PHILADELPHIA –  A district court has dismissed a class action lawsuit against a landfill company that was accused of disturbing residents with its bad odor.  

In a March 13 ruling, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Judge Chad Kenney said the residents didn’t provide any arguments to prove that Bethlehem Landfill Co. has an obligation to protect neighboring landowners from bad smells or other nuisance conditions. 

The plaintiffs, according to the court, alleged that the company was negligent and reckless in failing to "construct, maintain, and/or operate the landfill," which allegedly caused the interference of odors with plaintiffs' "enjoyment of their property."

“Plaintiffs do not submit any legal argument to show that defendant had a duty to plaintiffs other than that which is allegedly imposed by statute or regulation,” the opinion stated. “Plaintiffs do not assert any other arguments supporting their claim that defendant has a duty to plaintiffs to protect them from odors on their property and thus have failed to state a claim for negligence.” 

The court said the residents have alleged a public nuisance, but haven’t shown how they have suffered special harm that would allow them to pursue a private action for the public nuisance.

“Plaintiffs fail to allege a private action for this public nuisance because they don’t show how their injury is over and above the injury suffered by public generally,” the opinion stated. The court said a private party who states a claim for a public nuisance must prove that the harm must be of "greater magnitude and of a different kind than that which the general public suffered." 

The plaintiffs also failed to state a claim for private nuisance, the opinion states. 

A defendant is only liable for a private nuisance if “its conduct was a 'legal cause of an invasion of another's interest in the private use and enjoyment of land,’" the opinion states. 

The court said the invasion must also be "intentional and unreasonable or unintentional and otherwise actionable under the rules controlling liability for negligent or reckless conduct, or for abnormally dangerous conditions or activities."

The opinion adds that “the main difference between the public and private nuisance causes of action is that the public nuisance is common to all members of the public alike, whereas a private nuisance affects a member of the public."

According to the court, the allegations plaintiffs make regarding the landfill affect the community at large and not plaintiffs' property in particular. “Thus, plaintiffs have failed to state a claim for private nuisance against defendant and this claim must be dismissed,” the opinion stated. 

According to the court, Robin and Dexter Baptiste brought the lawsuit on behalf of neighbors who are owner/occupants and renters of residential property within a 2.5-mile radius of the Bethlehem Landfill Co. facility.

The court said the plaintiffs claim that the landfill releases "pollutants, air contaminants, and noxious odors.” The plaintiffs claimed the landfill has a "well-documented history of repeated failures in the proper maintenance and managements of the landfill.”

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