Posted by: Patricia Salkin | April 23, 2018

AK Supreme Court Holds that Shooting Range was Immune from Noise-Based Nuisance Lawsuits under State Law

This post was authored by Amy Lavine, Esq.

Arkansas, like a number of other states, protects shooting ranges from noise-based nuisance lawsuits. The only requirement to be eligible for this immunity is that a shooting range has to be operated in compliance any local noise ordinances, but nothing in the statute explains how it should apply where no local noise regulations actually exist. The Arkansas Supreme Court considered this issue in a recent case and held that the existence of local noise regulations isn’t a prerequisite for the shooting range immunity to apply, and where this is the case, shooting ranges will necessarily be “in compliance” with local law and entitled to protection from noise-based nuisance lawsuits. 3 Rivers Logistics, Inc. v. Brown-Wright Post No. 158, 2018 Ark. 91 (3/15/18).

The appellants in 3 Rivers Logistics, Inc. v. Brown-Wright Post No. 158 were a group of residential and commercial property owners located in rural Arkansas County who sought to enjoin a shooting range operated by the American Legion. The shooting range opened for business in 2016 and was designed for the use of pistols, rifles, and shotguns; the appellants claimed that noise from these activities constituted a nuisance, however, and they commenced this litigation seeking a preliminary injunction and/or damages for the decreased value of their property.

It was conceded at trial that when the Legion began operating its shooting range, there were no local noise control ordinances in effect in Arkansas County, but the parties disagreed as to what this meant with respect to the statutory immunity provision. On the one hand, the appellants argued that the requirement of compliance with local noise control regulations presupposed that some such regulations actually existed. On the other side, the Legion contended that nothing in the plain language of the state law required any preexisting local ordinance for immunity to apply. The Legion also interpreted the statute to grant immunity in all cases where local noise regulations didn’t exist, as shooting ranges in such cases would technically be “in compliance” with local laws.

Both parties cited case law from other states in support of their positions, but the trial court ultimately found the Legion’s arguments to be more persuasive, and the Arkansas Supreme Court agreed on appeal. The court emphasized that the language of the statute clearly expressed the legislature’s intent to grant shooting ranges immunity from noise-based lawsuits, and there was no basis in the text or the context of the law to limit that immunity to only to those municipalities where noise control regulations were already in place. The court noted that unlike the appellants’ interpretation, its decision did not it add words to the statute to convey a meaning that was not actually there; instead, the plain language reflected that a shooting range should simply be considered in compliance if no particular local regulations applied. This result was also supported by Jenkins v. Clayton, 273 Ga. 439 (2001), the court pointed out, which dealt with Georgia’s almost identical shooting range statute.

The appellants also contended that granting immunity in the absence of local noise regulations would lead to absurd results in that shooting ranges would be able to operate at any size and intensity. The court found no support for this argument, however, as counties retained broad authority to prevent such uncontrolled shooting range activities through their zoning, licensing, and other police power regulations. Indeed, it would be a more absurd result, the court found, if property owners were required to somehow obtain the enactment of local noise ordinances prior to opening a shooting range.

The court also rejected the appellants’ final claim that the immunity statute constituted an unconstitutional taking of their property without just compensation. While they argued that immunizing the Legion’s shooting range disrupted the use of their property and decreased its value, the court emphasized that “the mere fact that a partial use of one’s property is burdened by regulation does not amount to a taking.”

3 Rivers Logistics, Inc. v. Brown-Wright Post No. 158, 2018 Ark. 91 (3/15/18)

 


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