“The Parties Do Not Need a Judge; They Need a Rather Stern Kindergarten Teacher”

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"I say this with the greatest respect," continued Justice E.M. Morgan, "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." But when it comes to this case, he wrote in an opinion released today, they are "acting like children."

The opinion in Morland-Jones v. Taerk has to be read to be fully appreciated—it's an outstanding example of its category. That category being something like, "Opinions by Canadian Judges Who Think the Parties Are Being Ridiculous and Enjoy Telling Them So in Humorous Terms." (One previous example here.) It is also an example of the sort of utterly ridiculous case that so often arises out of a petty dispute between neighbors.

The parties, two couples who live next door to each other, "do not seem to like each other," Morgan wrote with true Canadian understatement. They have in fact hated each other for years. Two of plaintiffs' 11 security cameras point at the defendants' front door and yard, and plaintiffs record everything they do. This was clear from the video that plaintiffs brought to the hearing on their motion for injunctive relief. For example, "the hearing before me started off with … a short excerpt from security footage shot by the Plaintiffs several years ago, in which Ms. Taerk is seen performing a 'poop and scoop' after a dog did its business on her front lawn." Her crime, it appears, was in disposing of said poop in the plaintiffs' trash can rather than the defendants' own. But as the court pointed out, "there is no claim for pooping and scooping into the neighbour's garbage can…."

And "[t]he 'dog feces incident,' as counsel for the Plaintiffs calls it, is [the] high point of [Plaintiffs'] claim." (Emphasis added.)

The defendants had not been "entirely innocent," the court noted. They realize that the plaintiffs don't like to be recorded—though they record everyone else—and so defendants do precisely that, using cell phones and dictaphones and making sure that plaintiffs see them doing it. Oddly, Ms. Taerk denied she had actually taken any pictures, insisting that she had only been pretending to do so (to irritate them, that is). But of course that "explanation reflects more malevolence than what it attempts to exclude."

All in all, the parties' antics constituted "a repeated form of hijinks that could, if a sponsor were found, be broadcast and screened weekly, although probably limited to the cable channels high up in the 300s," Justice Morgan wrote.

"[A] court cannot order the Defendants to be nice to the Plaintiffs," he observed, and so "there is no serious issue to be tried in this action." In dismissing the case, he did not award costs to anyone, as "[e]ach side deserves to bear its own costs."

Really, I've only scratched the surface here. It's great stuff.

Justice Morgan was also in the news last year when he declared William Assaf a "vexatious litigant," hoping thereby to put an end to a 40-year, 30-lawsuit legal war between members of the same family as well as certain other unfortunates who, he wrote, "doubtless to their lasting regret, stumbled into the Assaf family maelstrom." That decision is probably also worth looking up.

(Report in the Globe & Mail; thanks, Sean & Adam)