For years, one of my pro bono activities was serving as a small claims court arbitrator in Manhattan civil court. It was, to be frank, illuminating. While the breadth of claims was, well, breathtaking, there were certain claims that were exceptionally common. The “bad haircut” cases, the “security deposit refund” cases and the nastiest of all, the “neighbor” cases.
It’s good to know neighbors aren’t just awful in New York City, but in Ontario, Canada, as well.
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.
The things that evoke outrage are often unique. But the judge, after a brief but exceptionally funny opinion, gets to the bottom line.
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.
The judge thereupon trashes all claims, and adds this final spanking to the order.
There will be no costs order. Each side deserves to bear its own costs.
Indeed, each sides deserves to bear more than their own costs, but the cost of the court wasted on their neighborly hatred.
Except there remains a point that is easily missed in the scheme of this hysterical benchslap, that the neighbors will leave court no better off than they arrived. No matter how ridiculous their complaints of each other, the War will continue and neighbors will be miserable, smug in their righteousness of their own offense and outraged at their neighbor’s failure to disappear from the face of the earth.
This being such a common cause in my arbitration, the fact that the claims may have been legally unrecognizable wasn’t the end of my efforts. My usual tact was to separate the warring factions and give them a talk about squandering their lives in anger over crap, and simultaneously rationalizing why they’re behaving like offensive assholes.
As Justice E.M. Morgan observed, they didn’t need a judge but a stern kindergarten teacher. But simply saying this doesn’t do the trick. Someone needs to be that stern teacher, to grab them by the scruff of the neck and tell them that they’re suffering a life of misery of their own making, and it will only get worse.
It is, without a doubt, a nightmare to have horrible neighbors, and some are, without a doubt, horrible. Whether the talk worked was never clear, as there was no way for me to follow up a month, a year, later. But at least I tried to make people’s lives a little less pointlessly awful, even if it didn’t involve a positive, supportive tummy rub from a empathetic arbitrator.
Whether this suffices in Canada, I don’t know, eh?