Case of the Day – Thursday, August 25, 2016

GIVE ‘EM AN INCH …

fence150722We continue our tour through the House of Bad Neighbor Horrors today (see our post from Tuesday) with a look at neighbors Paula A. Luckring and Christopher Blair.

There’s an old legal adage which argues that “a bad settlement is better than a good lawsuit.” Paula sues her neighbor, arguing that branches from his trees overhung her property, and that they were doing all the kinds of things trees do – you know, dropping twigs and leaves, leaking sap, growing roots, just normal tree stuff. Paula insisted that she was entitled to something north of $13,000 because the trees were “trespassing” on her property, making claims that sounded a lot like her lawyer had read Fancher v. Fagella.

Neighbor Chris Blair counterclaimed, pointing out that if Paula wanted to really get technical, her deck – which she claimed was being damaged by his trees – was built partly on his property, and it should be removed.

The case looked like the trial would be the Saturday night main event, but alas … before trial, the parties settled. There’s nothing wrong with that. Civil actions are just a formalized means of settling disputes, a little more complex and fact-driven than “rock, paper, scissors,” but often, it seems, just as random. When the parties find a means short of a full-blown trial to resolve things, time and money are saved, and people are able to get on with their lives.

That must be what Chris Blair thought, because he settled the case with Paula Luckring before trial. He agreed to give Paula title to an 11-foot strip of his own land and to build, at his own expense, a fence marking the new boundary line between their properties.

appease150722We have to hand it to Chris. He apparently was a Bible scholar, and remembered Matthew 5:39 – 40: But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also…” For that matter, Neville Chamberlain thought that giving Hitler Czechoslovakia would keep the brown shirts out of Paris.

We’re not saying Ms. Luckring was evil, nor would we ever equate her territorial ambitions with those of the Third Reich. For a concession to be effective, however, the party being appeased has to be acting in good faith. This is rarely the case. Rather, the problem is that the party being appeased has probably acted in bad faith in order for affairs to get to the point that appeasement is necessary. Hitler had the “Anschluss.” Without it, Chamberlain wouldn’t have needed to make a deal. Putin started by taking South Ossetia from Georgia. Then, he grabbed Crimea, and now he wants a piece of Ukraine (if not Moldova, Estonia and the other Baltic states as well). History has shown us that appeasement doesn’t work, because appeasement only convinces the appeased party that bad conduct pays.

Just ask Chris Blair. Chris thought he had bought peace by giving away a piece of this land. But when Chris hired a fence company to build the agreed-upon fence along the new boundary, Paula Luckring refused to let the contractor set foot on her property during the construction process. It’s hard to build a fence from one side only. To further appease Ms. Luckring, the contractor built the fence 13 inches into Chris’s side of the boundary. After that, when Chris’s caretaker (Chris himself had severe Parkinson’s, a condition that undoubtedly only goaded Ms. Luckring into further predations) would try to use a weed whacker on the grass growing in the 13-inch space between the new boundary and the fence, Ms. Luckring demanded that he go the cutting without setting foot on her property. However, she magnanimously conceded, she would cut the grass on the 13-inch strip … if Chris gave her an easement for the 13 inches of space.

nomans150722The trial court was drawn back into what it called the “predictable drama” that arose by Ms. Luckring’s demands. It told Paula that she had to pay to have the fence moved and reinstalled right along the boundary. No 13-inch “no man’s land.” No easements. No more trespassing actions.

Naturally, Ms. Luckring appealed. The appellate panel was having none of it. It held that “a mere cursory review of the Plaintiff’s pleadings and her own testimony … adduces an ongoing pattern of bullying of a Defendant who granted her the moon and the stars in acquiescing to her unceasing demands, and yet was confronted with demands for more …” It’s not unheard-of for a plaintiff to cripple her case by her own testimony, but to prove yourself to be a bully?

Under the circumstances, making Paula pay to relocate the fence seemed to the court to be a lot like justice. Approximate justice, but still justice.

Luckring v. Blair, 2014 Pa. Dist. & Cnty. Dec. LEXIS 3 (Com.Pl.Ct. Pennsylvania, Dec. 3, 2014). Paula Luckring sued neighbor Christopher Blair, alleging that his pine and sycamore trees trespassed onto her property, causing public safety issues that had been presented to the local township authorities. She additionally complained of damage caused by “tree sap, needles, branches, cones, roots” constituting a “nuisance” because the trees overhung, fell upon, and grew under her property which caused damage such as a broken window, damage to a deck and stamped concrete, as well as clogging a sewer line and causing landscape damage. She demanded $13,369 for cutting down or trimming the offending trees and restoring her property to its previous condition.

trespass150722Blair countered that he had given Luckring permission to trim the sap-dripping white pine tree all the way back to its trunk, but her trimming caused the sap to drip excessively because there were no tree branches remaining to catch and absorb its flow. He also said that she had previously accepted his written permission and cut down the encroaching white pine tree at her own expense. He argued she should not now be able to renegotiate that contract. He also counterclaimed, alleging that Luckring was trespassing on his property with her deck and retaining wall.

The parties settled the case before trial by signing a settlement agreement that called for Blair to grant title to Luckring, free of charge, to an 11-foot strip of his own land and to build, at his own expense, a fence marking the new boundary line between their respective parcels. Nevertheless, the parties were back in court a year later seeking to resolve the predictable drama ensuing from the Plaintiff’s abject and literal refusal to allow the fence company to set foot on her newly acquired property in order to erect the structure. The contractor then built the fence thirteen inches inside the Blair’s side of the new property line in order to appease the Plaintiff in that regard. Adding further insult to injury to Blair, who suffered from severe Parkinson’s Disease, Luckring demanded that when Blair cut the tall grass and weeds on the 13-inch strip of his property on Luckring’s side of the fence, such work must be accomplished without setting foot on her land. She offered to cut the grass and weeds herself, but only if Blair granted her an easement to that additional piece of his property.

The appellate court enforced the settlement agreement by ordering Luckring to move the fence to the boundary line of the respective properties at her own expense.

Luckring appealed.

Held: The enforcement of the settlement agreement was upheld.

The appellate panel noted with disdain that after Blair applied for a building permit for the fence in May 2013, Luckring made multiple calls to Haverford Township officials to note her opposition to the fence despite having agreed in the settlement not to oppose in any manner the erection of the fence and to waive any and all objections thereto. She also erected signs on her property pointing in the direction of Blair’s residence saying “No Trespassing,” and put up a sign on her property order-ing the fence company not to install the fence all the way to the sidewalk, contrary to Blair’s in-structions. She also initiated a verbal confrontation with Mary Blair, in which she accused the Blairs of being “too cheap to get their own survey”, even though the settlement agreement required Luckring to bear the expense; and she hammered stakes into the ground on Blair’s property and – after the fence was built – she entered the Blair’s property to “wash” the brand new fence.

Whatever Ms. Lucking might do for a living, we're betting it's not driving the Welcome Wagon.

Whatever Ms. Lucking might do for a living, we’re betting it’s not driving the Welcome Wagon.

The Court noted that when Luckring was asked at the hearing to expound upon her belief that the parties must strictly adhere to the terms of their settlement agreement regarding the need to care for the portion of the Blair’s land outside the fence line and abutting her property, she replied that, if the caretaker stepped on her property during this process, he would be trespassing and that she would sue.

The Court concluded that a “mere cursory review of the Plaintiff’s pleadings and her own testimony at the Hearing on the Defendant’s Petition to Enforce Settlement adduces an ongoing pattern of bullying of a Defendant who granted her the moon and the stars in acquiescing to her unceasing demands, and yet was confronted with demands for more. The parties’ Settlement Agreement and Release provided for a fence to be built by the Defendant on his side of the new boundary line of the neighboring properties, albeit without trespassing on the Plaintiff’s land. A reasonable interpre-tation of this requirement would result in the edge of the fence being placed on the edge of the Plaintiff’s new property line and not crossing this point of demarcation. Moreover, the momentary intrusion involved in its construction would be of no concern whatsoever with regard to the fence contractor’s presence on the Plaintiff’s side of the boundary line in order to complete the effort. However, the Plaintiff took the extreme position that enforcement of these provisions must be strict, and refused to permit the fence installer to step on her property to undertake its construction in the place designated by the Defendant in express accordance with the parties’ stipulated Agreement. As a result, the fence contractor took it upon itself to erect the structure thirteen inches inside the Defendant’s side of the boundary line, instead of on the line itself, in order to placate the Plaintiff. The Plaintiff then added to this mix of unreasonableness and bad faith by complaining that the Defendant’s landscaper was stepping on her property when clearing weeds and high grass growing on the thirteen inch strip on her side of the fence that remained in the ownership and possession of the Defendant.”

Calling Luckring’s conduct “obdurate and [in] bad faith,” the Court concluded that Luckring had not acted in good faith, and the trial court’s order that she pay to move the fence “ was warranted and necessary to achieve justice in this case.”

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One thought on “Case of the Day – Thursday, August 25, 2016

  1. Gotta love your passion in telling a story here, however, it is a story; it is not THE story. In today’s words it is a spin and “Fake news” filled with “alternate facts”. Posting https://treeandneighborlawblog.files.wordpress.com/2015/07/luckring150722.pdf with the Common Pleas Court Judge’s filing to the appellate court is interesting. However know the whole story. Know that the President Judge of the Appellate Court’s opening remark to Lucking was “its clear the [common pleas] judge did not like you”- is that how rulings are based… does the judge like you? What happened to the blind scales of justice.

    Know too that the judge offered “alternate facts” in his filing, (Oh our legal system where attorneys can mislead and lie and judges seem to have no accountability either- well….most of them were lawyers) . The issue lost in your writing is that the Judge seemed to have forgotten basic Contract Law in his ruling (the basis for the appeal and reinforced in his absurd remarks that you quote).Funny he signed the order making the agreement binding then later on decided what he reviewed and approved did not make sense- Huh? The agreement is the agreement in every other court of law. Know too that later on he recused himself (an embarrassment to judges and seldom done) due to his flawed ruling and open bias against Luckring which is amplified in your story.

    Know the appellate did not review or consider the appeal for only one reason; Luckring’s attorney did not file on time- more attorney incompetence. The Real story and what transpired ie Chris Blair’s estate spending tens of Thousands fo dollars over an initial ruling against them of approx $1300- seriously who would appeal a $1300 ruling- Chris Blair was a smart man and watched every penny. And as you pointed out he had Parkinsons so would he really initiate this action. He was not at most of the hearings, the family brought him to the 1st hearing as a prop- they all went into the hall at one point leaving Chris Blair in the hall and the daughter said to Mary Blair “what should we do with Dad?” so then one of them came back in and wheeled Chris out to join the rest as they hung in the hallway.

    To the “giving of property for Free” to Luckring and your spin. You fail to note that Mary Blair cut down a jointly owned mature and large boundary tree so she could put up a “spite fence” however she did not think to ask Luckring if it was OK to cut down the tree. Yeah… that exposed Mary Blair to Civil and Criminal liability hence the property was as compensation for damages and put an end to the frivolous suit Blairs were conducting. Regarding the cutting down Luckring’s (and Blairs) Boundary Tree, there were already multiple police reports with regard to Mary Blair vandalizing Luckring’s property so the cutting down of Luckring’s tree- just more of the same behavior from Mary Blair.

    OK so the meat of this outrageous action by the Blairs and their cracker jack attorney was that they initiated a 2nd suit to the court of common pleas over approx $265 that the Blair’s owed Luckring (and never questioned the validity of that claim in court) because they breached the initial agreement with the “free property” terms which forced more legal fees on Luckring. (Luckring’s mistake to try and get them to pay her what she was legally owed per the terms of the agreement and to hold them accountable- she should have learned the first time about dealing with a “rich kid with a mean streak” ) And filing over $265- what does an attorney charge per hour and how long does it take to file an appeal let alone litigate it. Blairs were burning cash and for what?

    There is a story here, its wild and it defies logic- No rational person would act the way the Blairs did; read all the filings. Read the transcripts and see the open lying in sworn testimony and by the Officers of the court if you want the story. Then again maybe you don’t want the real story, maybe you are you connected with Doug Humes (the estate planning attorney who rather than doing wills and setting up trusts move to litigate and filed suits claiming many crazy things like Luckring had Ground Ivy was encroaching on the Blair’s property- now there’s a basis for a law suit for you? . And the deck that you write that was encroaching- Blairs used to come over to Luckring’s and use the deck as well as borrow Luckring’s gas grill that sat on it – guess the deck wasn’t an issue for them then… and the fact is the Deck was there for 21+ years and fell under the Law of Adverse Possession – yeah another good frivolous claim filed by Attorney Humes and the Blairs- there were more (down spout runoff, etc) and all just as ridiculous.

    The real story ie the “tale of two neighbors” and what really happened, why it happened, seeing that Luckring was collateral damage in a Blair family feud as finally explained by the Blair Daughter- this is a story and corroborated by testimony of Blair’s real estate agent and township commissioner. You slandering Luckring and quoting a judge who intimated in several court sessions that he was too good to deal with this case and thus he ruled accordingly- that makes for an amusing read but a heavily fabricated narrative on your part. If you want the real story let me know; I can get you the transcripts, the filings (though the filing are posted). If you don’t want them and you are somehow connected to Douglass P Humes, and would rather throw Luckring under the bus because “fake news” seems to be the new norm, then I might suggest you take down your posting.

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