tort law Cases

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Case Summary of Miller v Jackson [1977] 1 QB 966

Introduction

The case of Miller v Jackson1 is a case on nuisance. The tort of nuisance provides that there will be a remedy where an indirect and unreasonable interference to land has occurred.2 Where a nuisance is found to have occurred the court may grant an injunction restricting the nuisance from occurring in the future. Alternatively, the court may determine that the appropriate remedy is an award of damages.

Prior to Miller v Jackson3 it had previously been held that there was no defence of 'coming to the nuisance'.4 For example, in Sturges v Bridgman5 the defendant was a confectioner who had operated in the premises for more than 20 years. A doctor moved in next door and found that the noise and vibrations from the confectioner's work interfered with his practice. The court upheld the doctor's request for an injunction even though the doctor had known about the confectioner's work. However, public policy may have a role to play. In Bolton v Stone6 the pursuit of cricket was held to have benefit to society which negated negligence where the damage only arose exceptionally.

In relation to the grant of an injunction, the prior case law indicated that damages would only be granted in lieu of injunction in exceptional circumstances.7 These circumstances were that the injury was small and capable of being estimated in money, the injury could be adequately compensated by a small money payment and the case is one in which it would be oppressive to the defendant to grant an injunction.8

Issues

The issues for the Court of Appeal in Miller v Jackson9 were whether the defendants were guilty of negligence and/or nuisance; whether there was a defence of 'coming to the nuisance'; whether policy reasoning should impact the granting of an injunction.

Facts

The defendants had played cricket on a particular area of land for around 70 years. The neighbouring land was then sold for development and houses built on it. The plaintiffs bought one of the houses and then complained of negligence and nuisance from cricket balls landing on the property. The plaintiffs suffered damage to property and also complained that the activities of the cricketers prevented the enjoyment of their land and caused nervous damage. The first instance judge granted the injunction sought.

Decision

By a majority, the Court of Appeal found that the cricket club was guilty of both negligence and nuisance (Lord Denning dissenting). However, in relation to the injunction the majority considered that no injunction should be awarded (Geoffrey Lane LJ dissenting).

Lord Denning took the view that cricket was an important public interest which ought to be balanced against the private interest of the plaintiffs. He stated that "The houses ought to have been so sited as not to interfere with the cricket".10 Lord Denning considered that the plaintiffs were newcomers who had come to the nuisance and that this provided a defence to nuisance and stated that: "The building of the house does not convert the playing of cricket into a nuisance when it was not so before."11 Furthermore, Lord Denning viewed cricket as a reasonable use of the land.

However, Geoffrey Lane LJ and Cumming-Bruce LJ considered the Court of Appeal to be bound by the decision in Sturges v Bridgman12 that it is no defence that the plaintiff came to the nuisance.

On the injunction point Geoffrey Lane LJ considered that the continuation of the nuisance could not be adequately remedied by damages. However, Lord Denning and Cumming-Bruce LJ took the view that public policy considerations outweighed the private rights of the plaintiffs and therefore a remedy of damages was sufficient in the circumstances. Lord Denning stressed that an injunction is a discretionary remedy and stated that: "I am of the opinion that the public interest should prevail over the private interest".13

The final result was therefore that the defendant cricket club was able to continue playing cricket on the ground and only had to pay damages to the plaintiffs for any loss they incurred.14

Impact

Miller v Jackson15 confirmed that there is no defence that the plaintiff came to the negligence. However, the Court of Appeal appeared to depart from earlier case law on the injunction point, viewing an injunction as a discretionary remedy rather than a remedy for nuisance to be departed from only in exceptional circumstances. Public policy was not able to negate a finding of negligence or nuisance but it was able to militate against the grant of an injunction.16 The case therefore paved the way for a balancing of interests between the parties.17

Further cases have followed Miller v Jackson18 in finding that there will be no defence that the claimant came to the nuisance. For example, in Kennaway v Thompson19 the claimant was able to sue for an injunction after building her house next to a lake which was used by a water-skiing and motorboat club. More recently, in Coventry v Lawrence20 the Supreme Court restored an injunction originally granted at first instance after the claimants had moved in to a bungalow near to a speedway track on which motorbikes and stock cars had raced since 1975. As the majority had done in Miller v Jackson21 the court considered that the character of a neighbourhood could not be defined by the nuisance, and no defence existed merely because the nuisance had occurred prior to the claimant coming to it.22 However, the judgment of the court also followed Miller v Jackson23, not only on the injunction point, but also on applying a more relaxed approach to the granting of an injunction. Unlike cases prior to Miller v Jackson24 it was considered that the court does have an unfettered discretion to award damages in lieu of an injunction.25

Ultimately therefore, the case of Miller v Jackson26 did not change the law by providing a new defence to nuisance, as this was rejected by the majority.27 However, it did provide for more flexibility in the law when considering whether to grant an injunction and allowed public policy to play a greater role in this regard.

Footnotes

1 Miller v Jackson 1977 1 QB 966

2 K Horsey and E Rackley, Tort Law (2nd Edition, Oxford University Press, 2011) p 489

3 Miller v Jackson (n1)

4 Horsey and Rackley (n2) p 511

5 Sturges v Bridgman (1879) LR 11 Ch D 852

6 Bolton v Stone 1951 AC 850

7 S Deakin, A Johnston and B Markesinis, Markesinis and Deakin's Tort Law (7th Edition, Oxford University Press, 2013) p 449; Shelfer v City of London Electric Lighting Co 1895 1 Ch 287

8 Sturges v Bridgman (n5) at 322-333

9 Miller v Jackson (n1)

10 Miller v Jackson (n1) 976

11 Miller v Jackson (n1) 981

12 Sturges v Bridgman (n5)

13 Miller v Jackson (n1) 982

14 N J McBride and R Bagshaw, Tort Law (3rd Edition, Longman, 2008) p 84

15 Miller v Jackson (n1)

16 Deakin, Johnston and Markesinis (n7) p 448

17 A Samuels, "Developments that Cause a Nuisance: The Legal Significance of the Grant of Planning Permission" (2004) JPL 394, 396

18 Miller v Jackson (n1)

19 Kennaway v Thompson 1981 QB 88

20 Coventry v Lawrence 2014 UKSC 13

21 Miller v Jackson (n1)

22 D Howarth, "Noise and Nuisance" (2014) CLJ 247, 248

23 Miller v Jackson (n1)

24 Miller v Jackson (n1); see (n7)

25 K Horsey and E Rackley, Kidner's Casebook on Torts (13th Edition, Oxford University Press, 2015) p 443

26 Miller v Jackson (n1)

27 J Segan, "Of Cricket Balls and Velux Windows - A Victory for Lord Denning and the Common Law Right to Hit a Good Six" (2014) Sports Law Bulletin, available atClick here