May 22, 2014

Kevin Gourlay

Some of the most entertaining cases that make their way through the Courts revolve around warring neighbours.  Sometimes the disputes involve “real” concerns such as long-term fences that are found to be too far onto one person’s property.  Or, they can be about utterly trivial nonsense that a normal person should be ashamed to end up in Court over.  Such is the case in a recent decision out of Ontario: Morland-Jones v. Taerk, 2014 ONSC 3061.

The plaintiff, John Morland-Jones, is an oil company executive.  The defendant, Gary Taerk, is a psychiatrist.  Morland-Jones lives across the street from  Taerk in Forest Hills — Toronto’s Shaughnessy.  Despite living in a wealthy neighbourhood, Mr. Morland-Jones encircled his house with 11 security cameras, including 2 pointed directly across the street at the Taerks’ homes.  It is from these security cameras that much of the “evidence” of wrongdoing by their neighbours came to be.

The allegations levelled against the Taerks are beyond ridiculous.  In what the judge described as the “poop-and-scoop” incident, Ms. Taerk is seen picking up her dog’s poop and depositing it into the Morland-Jones’ garbage can.  Ms. Taerk is also accused of taking photographs of the Morland-Jones home (an odd complaint against someone whose home you are constantly filming), parking on the Morland-Jones’ side of the street, and occasionally giving them the bird.  If ever the piece-de-resistance of your case is described as follows, you’re in trouble:

[16]           In what is perhaps the piece de resistance of the claim, the Plaintiffs allege that the Defendants – again focusing primarily on Ms. Taerk – sometimes stand in their own driveway or elsewhere on their property and look at the Plaintiffs’ house. One of the video exhibits shows Ms. Taerk doing just that, casting her gaze from her own property across the street and resting her eyes on the Plaintiffs’ abode for a full 25 seconds. There is no denying that Ms. Taerk is guilty as charged. The camera doesn’t lie.

Fortunately, Justice Morgan of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice put an end to the lunacy, dismissing the case on a preliminary motion and scolding the parties for their childishness and wasting of taxpayer funds:

[23]           In my view, the parties do not need a judge; what they need is a rather stern kindergarten teacher. I say this with the greatest of respect, as both the Plaintiffs and the Defendants are educated professionals who are successful in their work lives and are otherwise productive members of the community. Despite their many advantages in life, however, they are acting like children. And now that the matter has taken up an entire day in what is already a crowded motions court, they are doing so at the taxpayer’s expense.

[24]           As I explained to Plaintiffs’ counsel at the hearing, a court cannot order the Defendants to be nice to the Plaintiffs. Litigation must focus on legal wrongs and legal rights – commodities which are in remarkably short supply in this action. As my colleague Perell J. put it in High Parklane Consulting Inc. v  Royal Group Technologies Ltd., [2007] OJ No 107 (SCJ), at para 36, “[i]t is trite to say that making a living is a stressful activity and that much of life can be nasty and brutish. Tort law does not provide compensation for all stress-causing and nasty conduct that individuals may suffer at the hands of another…”

The right to have disputes resolved by the Courts is a fundamental right in our society but is not an absolute right.  Fortunately cases of this level of idiocy are newsworthy because they are rare.  Hopefully the parties (who undoubtedly spent many thousands of dollars to get their comeuppance from the Court) can make up, but I doubt it.


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