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Tranfield v. Arcuni-English

Supreme Court of Maine

August 15, 2019

RICHARD TRANFIELD et al.
v.
PATRICIA ARCUNI-ENGLISH

          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-English[1] 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 ...

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