Judge Enjoins Paragliders Who Harrassed Homeowners On Peaked Cliff, Plymouth

by Rich Vetstein on June 10, 2021

in Boundaries, Massachusetts Real Estate Law, Premises Liability, Real Estate Litigation

First Reported Decision In Massachusetts On Private Nuisance and Para-Hang Gliding

Recently, I filed a very interesting and novel case involving private nuisance and paragliders which resulted in a favorable injunction ruling for my client. My clients have a beautiful home on Peaked Cliff in the Sagamore Highlands area of Plymouth/Bourne, overlooking Cape Cod Bay providing breathtaking views of ocean and cliffs. The home has a large back deck overlooking the ocean which the family uses frequently to enjoy the views and ocean.

With its high thermal wind activity, the area has become a hotbed for hang-gliders and para-gliders. Unfortunately, the gliders, most of whom are members of the New England Paragliding and Hang Gliding Club, have become increasingly reckless and belligerent. They have flown within feet of my clients’ home yelling and screaming obscenities and giving obscene finger gestures. On several instances, the gliders have crash landed on the grounds, and at least one glider crashed into the roof. One glider almost died when he crashed directly on the cliff, necessitating a complicated rescue operation. My clients daughters have complained that gliders have taken photographs of them through their bedroom windows and while lounging on the deck.

After many complaints and the issuance of no-trespass notices, the Club attempted to impose a “No-Fly” zone over my client’s home. However, it wasn’t enforced and the gliders kept harassing my clients, often starting flights at 6AM running through sunset. My client had enough, and asked me to file a lawsuit for private nuisance and trespass in Brockton Superior Court. We asked the Court to issue an injunction imposing a 150 foot no-fly zone around my client’s property.

A private nuisance occurs when someone “creates, permits or maintains a condition or activity on property that causes a substantial and unreasonable interference with the use and enjoyment of the property of another.” This is the first case that I am aware of in Massachusetts whether paragliding and hang-gliding may rise to the level of private nuisance. Judge Thomas F. McGuire, Jr. held an in-person evidentiary hearing, which was actually my first in-person hearing since Covid-19 hit. I put together a video montage of photographs and video footage of the offending glider activity and showed that to the Judge. I also cross-examined a representative of the Club who conceded that their no-fly zone would not substantially impede glider flights in the area.

The Court issued a well-reasoned written opinion (embedded below) granting an injunction prohibiting all paraglider and hang-glider flights over my client’s property and extending thirty feet outside their property line. Notably, the judge found that the Club itself had documented the gliders’ problematic activity in their internal meeting minutes (which we found online). The judge ruled that the gliding activity rose to the level of being a private nuisance, and that my clients would suffer irreparable harm if they were not enjoined from flying over and near their house. The judge imposed a 30 foot no-fly zone around my client’s property. We are hopeful that this will keep the peace, but the order is enforceable with contempt powers, as the judge made clear in his ruling.

As I said before, this ruling is notable because it’s the first reported decision involving gliders and private nuisance in Massachusetts. With the proliferation of drones and other low flying aircraft and devices, this ruling should provide some much needed legal precedent and guidance in this other situations where property rights conflict with airspace rights. The case reference is Kaplan v. New England Paragliding and Hang Gliding Club, et al., Plymouth Superior Court CA 2183CV0331.

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