Three delightful legal curios remind us that when neighbours fall out, balance and judgment cascade out the window – or are defenestrated.
Let’s start with Monsieur Proust – who was sensitive beyond sensitivity. Yet even a cork-lined writing room couldn’t shield him from shoes on wooden floors and thin walls, from the harp-playing wife of an American dentist, Marie Williams.
Gallimard published the recently found letters as an epistolary novel, Lettres à sa voisine, last year. The catalogue descibes it thus::
«C’est un vrai petit roman, fondé sur une surprise : la découverte de ces vingt-trois lettres à une dame (et trois à son mari) dont nous ne savions rien, et qui se trouve avoir été la voisine de Marcel Proust, au troisième étage du 102 boulevard Haussmann, Mme Marie Williams, épouse, en deuxièmes noces, d’un dentiste américain, le docteur Charles D. Williams, qui exerçait, lui, au deuxième, c’est-à dire au-dessus de la tête du pauvre Marcel : d’où bien des drames vécus par ce phobique du bruit.
Un roman par lettres, dans lequel les deux épistoliers rivalisent de style. Proust déploie à l’égard de Mme Willliams tout son charme, fait briller son humour, sa culture, son art du compliment. C’est qu’il éprouve pour cette autre recluse, par-delà le désir de plaire à une voisine qui détient les clés du silence, une sympathie réelle, de l’amitié, une forme d’affection. Nous n’avons malheureusement pas les lettres de Mme Williams.
De quoi est-il question dans ces lettres? Du bruit d’abord, des travaux à l’étage du dessus, qui torturent Proust pendant ses heures de sommeil et de travail. Il est aussi question de musique, parce que Mme Williams aime la musique et joue de la harpe ; de roses, naturelles et métaphoriques, échangées avec les lettres ; mais aussi de la maladie (la sienne et celle de Mme Williams) ; de la solitude. Le ton est celui de l’amitié, de l’intimité de plus en plus grande.
Nous n’avons pas les dernières lettres envoyées par Proust. Contenaient-elles des adieux touchants? Elle quitte le boulevard Huassmann en même temps que Proust. Contraint de s’en aller par la vente de l’immeuble, il déménage le 31 mai 1919. Proust n’a parlé de Mme Williams à personne.» .
As one would expect the letters are magnificently written, though in that slightly over-ripe idiom of fin de siècle Paris – <>, You can read more at the BBC Magazine this week, under the headline: Nightmare neighbours: behind the chic facades of French apartment blocks
But since this is Slaw, let’s return to the law and the Canadian courts: Shantz, Gorman v. Godfroid, 2012 BCPC 81 (CanLII). It’s a fight among seniors at an Abbotsford condo, called the Carlisle, which the Provincial Court Judge Hamilton summarized thus:
The conflict among these parties and other residents at the Carlisle, and the behaviour of the individuals involved in the conflict, is so bizarre that it is difficult to believe that it is happening in real life rather than in a fictional story.
The Vancouver Province story was headlined: Egg-throwing, scooter tampering, prank calls: Seniors’ condo battle worse than a reality TV show
He commented on one piece of hand-written correspondence:
it is clear the content of the notes is intended to embarrass, belittle, taunt, and offend Terrick Bullion. The suggestion is that the notes were delivered as a step taken by Brian Shantz in the ongoing Carlisle Dispute. If that is the case, it is a step taken that represents a complete abandonment of civility in favour of abusive, disgusting, and deliberately offensive rhetoric designed solely to inflame emotions and take this Carlisle Dispute to a depth where one would expect to find emotional children who have not yet learned the basic tenets of acting civilly towards each other, not senior citizens.
There are nine separate actions filed on the same facts. The Judge commented:
Looking at the whole history of the Carlisle Dispute as well as the lawsuits and Petition filed in the Supreme Court, it does appear that Ms. Gorman and Mr. Shantz are struggling with the process of our court system. It is clearly unnecessary to have nine separate lawsuits against residents of the Carlisle all alleging substantially similar claims based upon substantially the same facts. However, Ms. Gorman and Mr. Shantz have been representing themselves and it could be that they were unaware that they could commence one lawsuit against all the named defendants and have the claims arising out of the Carlisle Dispute resolved in one action.
Self-represented litigants come up with some creative pleadings:
It is difficult for me to conceive of a valid cause of action arising out of an alleged assault where the claimant was neither the victim of the assault nor witnessed the assault.
In the end the Judge declined to find all of this the activity of vexatious litigants, and set the matter down for trial. The trial might well be worth attending. An earlier criminal excursion into the same dispute is at R. v. de Vos; R. v. Godfroid et al, 2012 BCPC 542 (CanLII).
In the Ontario case of Morland-Jones v. Taerk, 2014 ONSC 3061 (CanLII), the parties had senior litigators from Aird & Berlis and a Yorkville litigation boutique arguing their case in front of Justice Ed Morgan. He was just as unimpressed with the nature of the claims:
There is no claim for pooping and scooping into the neighbour’s garbage can, and there is no claim for letting Rover water the neighbour’s hedge. Likewise, there is no claim for looking at the neighbour’s pretty house, parking a car legally but with malintent, engaging in faux photography on a public street, raising objections at a municipal hearing, walking on the sidewalk with dictaphone in hand, or just plain thinking badly of a person who lives nearby.
Justice Morgan described the whole thing as a gem of a lawsuit, then scolded all concerned:
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. And now that the matter has taken up an entire day in what is already a crowded motions court, they are doing so at the taxpayer’s expense.
Somehow I don’t think Gallimard will be publishing these two examples of neighbours with grievances,