Tranfield v. Arcuni-English, 081519 MESC, Kno-18-340

Docket Nº:Kno-18-340
Opinion Judge:MEAD, J.
Party Name:RICHARD TRANFIELD et al. v. PATRICIA ARCUNI-ENGLISH
Attorney:Joseph W. Baiungo, Esq. (orally), Belfast, for appellant Patricia Arcuni-English Dana F. Strout, Esq. (orally), Rockport, for appellees Richard Tranfield and Karla Doremus-Transfield
Judge Panel:Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ. Majority: SAUFLEY, C.J., and MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ. ALEXANDER, J., dissenting.
Case Date:August 15, 2019
Court:Supreme Judicial Court of Maine
 
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2019 ME 135

RICHARD TRANFIELD et al.

v.

PATRICIA ARCUNI-ENGLISH

No. Kno-18-340

Supreme Court of Maine

August 15, 2019

Argued: June 26, 2019

Joseph W. Baiungo, Esq. (orally), Belfast, for appellant Patricia Arcuni-English

Dana F. Strout, Esq. (orally), Rockport, for appellees Richard Tranfield and Karla Doremus-Transfield

Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

Majority: SAUFLEY, C.J., and MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

MEAD, J.

[¶1] Patricia Arcuni-English appeals from a judgment of the Superior Court (Knox County, Wheeler, J.) in favor of Richard Tranfield and Karla Doremus-Tranfield (the Tranfields) on their complaint alleging that Arcuni-English's installation of trees on the parties' boundary line constituted a nuisance pursuant to both Maine's spite fence statute, 17 M.R.S. § 2801 (2018), and common law. We affirm the judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

[¶2] The court found the following facts, which are supported by competent record evidence. See Rice v. Cook, 2015 ME 49, ¶ 3, 115 A.3d 86. In January 2016, the Tranfields purchased a parcel of land that abuts and is uphill from Arcuni-English's property. At that time, the Tranfield property had a slot view of the ocean out across Arcuni-English's property, but Arcuni-English was still afforded privacy by trees and overgrown shrubbery at lower levels on the parties' boundary line.

[¶3] On the day the Tranfields moved in, Mr. Tranfield went onto Arcuni-English's property to ask if he could use some of her firewood. She was not home, and he took some wood. Arcuni-English saw him in her driveway, did not recognize him, and thought that he was stealing her firewood. Later, Mr. Tranfield was removing a tree near a shed on his property and limbing dead branches on his property along the parties' boundary line. Arcuni-English approached him, expressing anger that he was cutting trees without discussing it with his neighbors beforehand. Arcuni-English then told Mr. Tranfield that she would put up a ten-foot fence to block the Tranfields' view. Additionally, Arcuni-English expressed displeasure with the Tranfields removing a koi pond on their property and with the fact that their dogs had urinated and defecated on her property.

[¶4] Later, while Arcuni-English was traveling, a local landscaper who works for both parties sent Arcuni-English a photograph of the parties' boundary line. The Tranfields had cleared much of the deadwood and debris on their property, thereby opening up a view of their house to Arcuni-English's property. Arcuni-English was devastated by the Tranfields' action on their property. She called the landscaper and told him that she needed trees and privacy, and they discussed how to do it.

[¶5] In April 2016, the landscaper planted approximately twenty-four arborvitaes along the boundary line. These trees were ten to twelve feet in height; some shorter trees were also installed to create an additional row to fill in any gaps. The landscaper installed seven four-to-six-foot pine trees near a structure on Arcuni-English's property.

[¶6] The Tranfields filed a complaint against Arcuni-English1 in the Superior Court alleging that the plantings constituted a nuisance and seeking damages and injunctive relief.2 A bench trial was held on September 29, 2017, and on February 9, 2018, the court entered a judgment in favor of the Tranfields. In determining that Arcuni-English had installed a spite fence, the court relied on the following facts, all of which are supported by competent evidence in the record: [T]he relationship between the Tranfields and Arcuni[-]English was poor from the first day the Tranfields moved to the neighborhood and tried to borrow firewood. The relationship became increasingly contentious . . . [and b]y the time[] Mr. Tranfield limbed the dead branches from the trees on his side of the property line opening up his property to . . . Arcuni[-]English's property, . . . Arcuni[-]English decided to take action ... and she instructed [the landscaper] to put up trees and to bring back her privacy.

Given an excuse, . . . Arcuni[-]English finally made good her threat to put up a fence to block the Tranfields' view, made when the Tranfields first moved into the neighborhood. Her dominant motive was to install a continuous green barrier between the two properties along the boundary line. The trees were installed without any advance notice to the Tranfields, along the portion of the boundary that would block their view and without considering other types of vegetation that could provide her privacy without blocking entirely the slot view that the Tranfields had or without totally closing in their back yard. The trees that were installed were 8 to 12 feet tall and will top out at 20 feet. They are 4 to 6 feet wide already creating a continuous wall of green. [Arcuni-English]'s motive was malicious and without that motive, she would not have installed the trees as she did, even to vindicate her privacy interest, which could have been satisfied with a use of fewer and more contained trees and bushes. Arcuni[-]English, with a dominant malicious motive, installed a continuous green wall that was both dense and unnecessary to restore her privacy. Having considered the intense animosity that Arcuni[-]English held towards the Tranfields, the court determines that she installed a spite fence

[¶7] The court ordered Arcuni-English to remove every other pine tree along the boundary line, remove the trees that were planted as an additional row to fill in gaps, and trim all of the arborvitae to a height no greater than ten feet. Additionally, the court prohibited Arcuni-English from replacing any arborvitae that die off.[3] Following...

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