My husband and I have been in a dispute with a neighbor regarding a row of trees that were erected and maintained out of complete spite. These trees not only blocked a view from our property but provided a haven for rodents, insects, and coyotes that caused thousands of dollars of damage to our property. Recently, their house was sold, prior to the close of escrow, we asked said owner, once again, to have the trees trimmed at our cost, the husband finally gave permission to the tree trimmer and we commenced with the work. However, before the job was finished, the wife called the police on us and said we were not given permission. Long story short, she lied about the circumstances and because of her deceit (which can be documented in the police records), the CA ended up filing criminal charges of vandalism and trespassing. These charges, however, were recently dismissed. Not only did this recent incident cause incredible emotional damage to my family, the roughly past 8 years have been "hell." Clearly were were denied the quiet peaceful enjoyment of our backyard. We even have a statement from here wherein she noted that 8 years ago she allowed these trees to grow beyond the fence line in order to deny us a view. I have recently educated myself with regards to the California "Spite Fence" code Cal.Civ.code 841.4. Which I feel clearly applies here. My property is worth about 1.3 million. My backyard is at least 20% of my property. I was therefore denied 20% peaceful enjoyment of my yard. If the statute only allows me 3 years of damages that would be $780,000.00 worth of damage. Additionally, she spread around the neighborhood that my husband was a pedophile/peeping tom. Further, as mentioned before, I have evidence that she lied to the detective which opened the door for the criminal law suit to be pressed. Although my husband and I are thrilled the criminal offense has been dropped, the damage to our lives and property is too unforgivable. Therefore, given the details of this matter, is there a civil lawsuit possibility with regard to the "spite fence", "slander", or "malicious prosecution?" Any and all answers to this question would be of great help. Thank you.
2 Answers from Attorneys
You may have a case, although your damages wouldn't be anywhere near the amount you speculate upon. There is legal precedent in California that a line of trees can be, or become, a spite fence as meant in Civil Code section 841.4. You should look up two cases in particular, Wilson v. Handley (2002) 97 Cal.App.4th 1301, and Vanderpol v. Starr (2011) 194 Cal.App.4th 385. These cases relate to the "trees as a spite fence" issue. I'm somewhat doubtful about the proposed slander and malicious prosecution concepts, but an experienced local attorney could advise you after an interview and (probably) a little further research.
I recall you asking this question before, but your question was more focused on whether or not a civil compromise would bar a lawsuit against your neighbor for damages. Although I pointed out that a civil compromise of a criminal case would not bar a civil action for any cause of action, I don't think you have the element of successful termination of the criminal case - which is a must for any malicious prosecution action - based on a dismissal pursuant to a civil compromise, if that is indeed what happened.
You should be made aware that malicious prosecution civil cases are subject to SLAPP motions at the outset, which can be very difficult to overcome. In the event that you lose a SLAPP motion, you would have to pay the other side's attorney's fees.
When you seek revenge, dig two graves.
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