Folks in Cobb County, Georgia have developed a whole new way to interfere with reproductive freedom, and I sure didn’t see this one coming. Local property owners banded together and sued Dr. Daniel McBrayer and his clinic (which closed in 2015) for creating a nuisance – and a jury has awarded them almost $1.5 million.
Here is the twisted logic: Alpha OB/GYN was a nuisance because conspicuous anti-abortion protesters violated Governor’s Ridge Property Owners’ Association rights to enjoy their property undisturbed.
Yes, you read that right. Because the anti-abortion picketers upset passersby with their giant, graphic signage, the clinic and the doctor got sued for causing a ruckus. It wasn’t just the signs that upset the property owners, either. The clinic had been a victim of arson in 2012, and attorneys for the association said that their clients feared there might be another attack. Talk about some next-level victim-blaming. One wonders whether these attorneys are also in the business of accepting contingency fees for folks looking to sue churches, synagogues, and mosques that’ve been victimized by hate groups.
I have to admit – using nuisance law certainly is clever. Generally, nuisance laws allow property owners to assert claims against anyone who creates a substantial or unreasonable interference with use or enjoyment of private land. You sue for nuisance when your neighbor incessantly plays loud music or stacks smelly, rotting garbage too close to your property line.
But let’s be clear – nuisance laws don’t exist for the purpose of allowing every irritable neighbor to obtain hefty courtroom verdicts; they’re there to compensate landowners for really extreme interference. The idea that property owners should be compensated for shouldering the extreme burden of tolerating women exercising their right to seek medical attention is brazen beyond comprehension.
What’s worse is that those involved with this case were also willing to throw the law out the window in order to punish Dr. McBrayer. You see, nuisance liability always requires that the defendant’s action be both the actual and proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. In non-legalese, that means it’s not enough that the plaintiffs here were bothered by the protesters; the source of the nuisance needed to be the clinic’s fault. Anyone who has taken Torts in law school knows that intentional actions of third parties (like, for example, a gaggle of anti-abortion zealots) severs any causal connection between a complaining landowner and a nuisance defendant. In other words, if the property owners were looking for someone to sue, they should have been suing the protesters.
It doesn’t, however, seem as though anyone involved with this case – including Cobb Superior Court Judge S. Lark Ingram felt particularly constrained by following the law. Kind of an interesting departure from a judge who made headlines in the past for interrupting a father representing himself in a custody dispute when he didn’t know proper court procedures.
No word yet on whether the clinic plans to appeal, but we’ll be watching.
[Image via Saul Loeb/Getty Images]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.