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Matenkoski v. Greer

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

June 25, 2019

DOUGLAS MATENKOSKI AND SHIU MATENKOSKI Appellees
v.
JOSEPH GREER AND VICTORIA GREER Appellants

          Appellants No. 2607 EDA 2018 Appeal from the Order Entered August 7, 2018 In the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County Civil Division at No: 2016-00619

          BEFORE: STABILE, J., MURRAY, J., and FORD ELLIOTT, P.J.E.

          OPINION

          STABILE, J.

         In this nuisance action, Appellants, Joseph Greer and Victoria Greer, appeal from a decision[1] granting a preliminary injunction against them and in favor of their neighbors, Appellees Douglas and Shiu Matenkoski, and declining Appellants' counterclaim for injunctive relief. Pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 311(a)(4)(ii), we exercise jurisdiction over this appeal to the extent it concerns the grant of injunctive relief to Appellees, but we quash this appeal to the extent it concerns the denial of injunctive relief to Appellants. On the merits, we affirm the grant of the preliminary injunction to Appellees.

         The evidence demonstrates that Appellants violated local zoning ordinances by operating a noisy and malodorous automobile repair business on nights and weekends on their residential property. Through this conduct, Appellants intentionally interfered with Appellees' quiet enjoyment of their residence.

         Since 1990, Appellees have lived in an R-2 Residential District in East Nottingham Township. In 2011, Appellants moved into the residence next door to Appellees. Appellants constructed a two-car garage one foot from Appellees' property line next to an existing two-car garage on Appellants' land. Appellants started a business restoring and repairing automobiles on weeknights and weekends. The repair and restoration work was very noisy. Appellants also left vehicles idling in front of their garages, creating additional noise and noxious fumes. Appellees frequently complained to Appellants and township officials about the noise and fumes. Appellees used handheld cameras to make audiovisual recordings of Appellants' repair work. In response, Appellant Joseph Greer cursed at Appellees, made obscene gestures, and used a handheld camera to record Appellees' activities.

         In 2016, five years after Appellants began their repair business, Appellees filed a civil action against Appellants alleging nuisance, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and trespass. Appellants filed six counterclaims, including invasion of privacy (intrusion upon seclusion), private nuisance, intentional infliction of emotional distress, violation of the Pennsylvania Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Control Act (18 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 5701-5728) ("Wiretap Act"), injunction and trespass.

         On August 7, 2018, following a three-day bench trial, the trial court granted a preliminary injunction[2] prohibiting Appellants "from carrying on automobile repairs and restorations in this R-2 residential district both as a violation of the East Nottingham Township Zoning Ordinance and as a nuisance." Decision, 8/7/18, at 1. The court further prohibited Appellants

from [using] grinders, sanders, compressors, spray paint tools, solvents, or other tools or items associated with the repair of automobiles or other vehicles unless those vehicles are titled in their name and used as their personal vehicles. In such circumstances, [Appellants] may work on their personal titled vehicles between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Id. The court held in favor of Appellees in their actions for nuisance and intentional infliction of emotional distress but declined to award damages. Id. at 2. Finally, the court ruled against Appellees on their claim of trespass and against Appellants on their counterclaims for injunctive relief and damages. Id.

         With regard to the preliminary injunction, the court stated:

The [c]ourt credits [Appellees'] testimony and evidence introduced while finding [Appellants'] testimony not to be credible . . . [Appellant] Joseph Greer, and to a lesser extent Victoria Greer, have used foul and demeaning language and conduct, obscene hand gestures and engaged in other conduct not only intended to create a nuisance but to inflict emotional distress on [Appellees], and in particular upon Shiu Matenkoski. [Appellant] Joseph Greer clearly is engaging in the business of automobile repair and sales from his personal residence, having sold seventeen (17) vehicles over the last four (4) years, at least seven (7) of which were not titled to either [Appellant]. The work on these vehicles takes place on [Appellants'] R-2 residential district property, mainly outside of any structure, and cannot be considered a major or non-impact home occupation or permitted automobile sales/service use under the East Nottingham Ordinances. Repairs and work on these vehicles occur at unreasonable hours, often at times past 10 p.m. There are times when [Appellants] play loud music, especially during the weekends, while other individuals, not related to the Greer family, either work on vehicles located on [Appellants'] property or support the automobile repair business activity occurring thereon. [Appellant] Joseph Greer often idles his work vehicle for hours in the morning creating a malodorous condition in [Appellees'] residence, for no valid reason. [Appellants'] use of solvents, paints or other chemicals associated with automobile restoration and repair further contribute to the malodorous conditions suffered by [Appellees] while on their property. The odors and noise from [Appellants'] property constitute a continuing nuisance to [Appellees], thus also entitling them to injunctive relief. [Appellees] have lived in their residence for twenty-nine (29) years. The record reflects that the conditions [Appellees] now complain about began with the purchase of [Appellants'] property in 2010 and have generally increased since that time.

Decision, 8/17/18, at 1 n.2.

         On September 5, 2018, without filing post-trial motions or reducing the decision to judgment, Appellants appealed to this Court. Both Appellants and the trial court complied with Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b). In its Rule 1925 opinion, the court elaborated on its decision to issue preliminary injunctive relief as follows:

[Appellants] complain that the injunction issued is overly broad as set forth in paragraphs A and B of their Concise Statement. The [c]ourt does not agree. [Appellants] are only prohibited from using tools associated with the repair of automobiles or other vehicles unless those vehicles are titled in their name or used as their personal vehicles. This restriction was placed upon [Appellants] because it is clear from the record that [Appellants], and in particular, Joseph Greer, was engaged in the business of repairing and selling automobiles and automobile parts, with [Appellants] confirming that he sold seventeen (17) vehicles over the last four (4) years from his residence and at least seven (7) of them were not titled in [Appellants'] names. [Appellees] were afforded no enforcement protection from this obvious commercial activity in a residential area from East Nottingham Township after registering complaints. See Trial Ex. P4; 53 P.S. § 10617.
[Appellees] did not receive any help from local police. Although the [c]ourt made no specific finding in its verdict, it is noted that a friend of [Appellant] Joseph Greer was at all times relevant herein, a Pennsylvania State Trooper who would assist [Appellants] in repairing automobiles and also used [Appellants'] property to fix his own automobile.[3] In order to get relief from [Appellants'] egregious conduct, [Appellees] resorted to taking videos of the [Appellants'] abuses, which included audio recordings of the excessive auto repair noises coming from the property, and their filing a civil lawsuit. [Appellants'] activities would occur very late into the evenings, often past 10 p.m. The reason for enjoining the work hours on personal vehicles between the hours of [6 p.m. to 8 a.m.] is because of the appearance and testimony of [Appellant], Joseph Greer, who appears to be the type of person who will not accept restriction on his conduct and believes in "his" exclusive rights as an American. When
[Appellees] would attempt to discuss with Mr. Greer the excessive noise and odor issues, Mr. Greer would curse at them, extend his middle finger to them, or defiantly state "this is America and I can do what I want with my property." He would then put up a large American flag to attempt to visually block out the commercial activity occurring on his driveway that could be viewed by the [Appellees]. It should be noted that [Appellee], Shiu Matenkoski, was born in Taiwan, speaks broken English, and it was she who primarily complained to [Appellants] regarding their activities. [Appellees] have lived in their residence for 29 years. It is unclear to the trial court why Mrs. Matenkoski needed to be reminded what country she has been living in for over 30 years. [Appellees] have only experienced the noise, fumes and auto repair business intrusions into their property since [Appellants] purchased their property in 2010. [Appellant] Joseph Greer appears xenophobic. Along with engaging in his automobile repair and sales business, he would idle his work truck excessively for hours starting at 5 a.m., set off car alarms at inconvenient hours, and shine laser beams into the [Appellees'] residence at night. In addition,
[Appellants], along with their auto enthusiast male friends, would party and listen to music in [Appellants'] detached garage and then walk around the side of the garage, observable from [Appellees'] residence, and urinate on the ground. The hours of 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. allows [Appellants] sufficient time on weekends to work on their personal automobiles, if necessary, especially since Mr. Greer works during the day during the week.

Trial Court Opinion, 12/28/18, at 1-3.

         Appellants raise the following questions in their appellate brief:

I. Did the trial court err as a matter of law in granting an injunction against Appellants, on the grounds that:
A. The injunction is overly broad in encompassing legal activity not contemplated as nuisances or violations of local ordinances, vague for not narrowly defining enjoined activities, and unreasonably restrictive as to time;
B. Appellees violated Pennsylvania's [Wiretap Act], thus having unclean hands and not warranting equitable relief;
C. The basis for the injunction was Appellants' alleged violation of an East Nottingham Township Zoning Ordinance prohibiting the operation of business, yet as a matter of law Appellants were not involved in any business; and
D. The injunction is overly broad in enjoining activities as nuisances where such activities could not legally constitute the basis ...

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