Chiming Church Bells and Blaring Fire Horns a Nuisance in New York?

In today’s ever concentrating society, where we live in close proximity to one another, I was wondering whether citizens in our communities ever considered the chiming of church bells and the blaring of fire horns to be a “nuisance,” and whether they ever sought to quite these things we hear every day. Here are some cases.

CHURCH BELLS

Langan v. Bellinger, 203 A.D.2d 857, 611 N.Y.S.2d 59 (3rd Dept. 1994)

In Langan, residents living twenty fifty (250) feet from church brought a nuisance claim against church to prevent hourly ringing of bells between 8a and 8p and presentation of carillon concerts at 12p and 6p. Among evidence presented, an acoustical expert testified that the church bells made no more noise than passing automobiles and affidavits from fifteen community residents stated the church bells were pleasant. Additionally, the village mayor and village attorney established there was no violation of an ordinance. The court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment because residents had failed to allege that the bell ringing and presentation of carillon concerts was an interference that was either substantial in nature or unreasonable in character particularly failing to present objective evidence that either rebutted opinion of defendant’s expert or to demonstrate that the music and chimes constituted nuisance.

Remember: whether the interference is “substantial in nature” or “unreasonable in character” are two tests for nuisance in New York.

Impellizerri v. Jamesville Federated Church, 428 N.Y.S.2d 550 (1979)

In Impellizerri, residents brought a nuisance claim against church to prevent ringing of church bells three times a day and four times on Sundays of approximately four minutes each time. Residents argued that the volume of the bells affected their son who had a neurological disease and that he suffered heightened migraine headaches and muscle spasms as a result of the church bells. The court dismissed residents motion for injunction reasoning that although residents had special circumstances, ringing of church bells did not amount to a nuisance because ringing would not have produced an unwanted effect on an ordinary person in the same circumstances.

FIRE ALARMS
Fire bells are generally not a nuisance. See Van de Vere v. Kansas City, 107 Mo. 83, 17 S.W. 695 (1891) (ruling a lot owner cannot have a city enjoined from erecting a fire engine house on an adjacent lot on the ground that fire bells constitute a nuisance and would depreciate the value of his property). Although the operation of a municipal fire alarm system may constitute a nuisance, fire bells are not an actionable nuisance in light of the public’s need to be protected from fire and other injuries. Malhame v. Borough of Demarest, 162 N.J. 248 (1978) (articulating that if operation of present fire alarm system and certain sound levels in some locations in borough were an actionable nuisance, then continued maintenance of that nuisance would be patently unreasonable and would constitute an abuse of discretion).