Washington, D.C.: “Court orders man to stop smoking in his own home”

Lawyers Brendan and Nessa Coppinger moved into their row house in Washington, D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood last September. They have now gotten a judge to agree to a temporary restraining order prohibiting their neighbor, Edwin Gray, from smoking or allowing anyone to smoke on his property. The Coppingers say the smoke is getting onto their premises through openings between the connected structures and “is harming them and their children”; they also want cash damages. The Gray family has owned the house next door for 50 years. [AP/ABC13 via ABA Journal; Washington Post]

Benjamin Freed at Washingtonian was kind enough to quote me at length making several points about this and similar litigation: 1) it would have been thrown out over most of the course of legal history because courts insisted that nuisance and similar claims (in this case couched as “negligence, nuisance, and trespassing”) exceed a de minimis standard and, in a claim for damages, required proof of actual harm going well beyond “you hit me with a molecule and that could kill me”; 2) smoking is uniquely disapproved nowadays which means some courts are willing to entertain de minimis claims that they would not for other common neighborhood nuisances; 3) if carcinogenic smoke drifting across property lines is to be stopped, both backyard grills and barbecues and common fireplaces are in trouble, at least if courts behaved logically — a very big if, of course. (It should be noted that the lawsuit includes some claims — such as that an unrepaired chimney at the Grays’ is contributing to the smoke problem — that might fit more readily into traditional legal categories.)

The temporary court order, incidentally, also bars the Gray family from allowing any smoking of now-legal marijuana in their house, which prompts this additional thought:

“It does make you wonder why conservative opponents of marijuana would bother to fight legalization in DC when instead they can let it go through and get rich suing over it,” Olson says.

Whole thing here.


  • Of the $500,000 demanded, from the Washington Post’s story:

    “If they just get these things fixed, the lawsuit will go away. This isn’t about the money,” Nessa Coppinger said.

  • Pure hysteria, not only over fear of the “health” concerns posed by second hand smoke passing through walls, but also evidenced by the clear exaggeration of the quantity of such smoke. In the Post article, the Coppingers claim that one man’s cigarettes “fill” their house with smoke. I don’t believe for a second that even continuous cigarette smoking — to say nothing of the occasional smoking in which Gray claims to engage — would generate enough smoke to fill the Coppinger’s house. If that were true, it stands to reason they’d have known of the problem before closing. Indeed, smoke of that magnitude would have been present at the showings and left the place smelling of cigarettes all the time.

  • I’m interested why you think the carcinogenic effect of the smoke is the only harm they could be experiencing. Smoke negatively affects breathing well before cancer occurs, and can cause or exacerbate asthma.

  • Schuman’s Expert Witnesses Testify in Secondhand Smoke Trial

    The plaintiff’s expert witnesses spoke up on day three of David Schuman’s case against his housing cooperative, Greenbelt Homes, Inc. (GHI), for its failure to prohibit the nuisance created by his townhome neighbors, the Popovics’, secondhand smoke.

    Courtroom and Plaintiff’s Townhome Register Similar Carcinogen Levels

    But, an incident from Repace’s testimony Thursday came back into play Friday during cross examination. Goecke pointed out that on Thursday, while demonstrating the carcinogen monitor, Repace had measured the concentration of carcinogens in the court room — which is in a smoke-free building — and the amount he recorded there was similar to what Repace had reported recording in Schuman’s townhome in July of 2011.


    As you can see even in a smokefree courtroom the same so called levels were read in Schumans own Kitchen in his house! The so called scientist was none other than a fellow prohibitionist and JUNK SCIENTIST,Tornado Repace!

    Talk about being laughed out of court……………….btw these prohibitionists create whats called ”risk assesment studies” Purely fictional and nothing more than statistical magic to create fear and bigotry against smokers!

  • If you dig deep enuf you are likely to find the lawyers are working for a anti-smoking group or tied to it and working on getting a presidence case for more in home bans. They meaning tobacco control was always after coming into our homes.

    A little on the “slippery slope” that apparently – according to the antismoking fanatics – doesn’t exist.

    The first demand for a smoking ban was in the late-1980s concerning short-haul flights in the USA of less than 2 hours. At the time, the antismokers were asked if this was a “slippery slope” – where would it end? They ridiculed anyone suggesting such because this ban was ALL that they were after.

    Then they ONLY wanted smoking bans on all flights.
    Then the antismokers ONLY wanted nonsmoking sections in restaurants, bars, etc., and ensuring that this was ALL they wanted.
    Then the antismokers ONLY wanted complete bans indoors. That was all they wanted. At the time, no-one was complaining about having to “endure” wisps of smoke outdoors.

    While they pursued indoor bans, the antismokers were happy for smokers to be exiled to the outdoors.

    Having bulldozed their way into indoor bans, the antismokers then went to work on the outdoors, now declaring that momentary exposure to remnants of dilute smoke in doorways or a whiff outdoors was a “hazard”, more than poor, “innocent” nonsmokers should have to “endure”.
    Then they ONLY wanted bans within 10 feet of entranceways.
    Then they ONLY wanted bans within 20 feet of entranceways.
    Then they ONLY wanted bans in entire outdoor dining areas.
    Then they ONLY wanted bans for entire university and hospital campuses, and parks and beaches.
    Then they ONLY wanted bans for apartment balconies.
    Then they ONLY wanted bans for entire apartment (including individual apartments) complexes.
    Then they ONLY wanted bans in backyards.

    On top of all of this, there are now instances, particularly in the USA, where smokers are denied employment, denied housing (even the elderly), and denied medical treatment. Smokers in the UK are denied fostering/adoption. Involuntary mental patients are restrained physically or chemically (sedation) rather than allow them to have a cigarette.

    At each point there was a crazed insistence that there was no more to come while they were actually planning the next ban and the brainwashing required to push it. There has been incessant (pathological) lying and deception. Many medically-aligned groups have been committed to antismoking – their smokefree “utopia” – since the 1960s. They have prostituted their medical authority to chase ideology. All of it is working to a tobacco-extermination plan run by the WHO and that most governments are now signed-up to.

    This has all happened in just 20 years. If it was mentioned 20 years ago, or even 10 or 5 years ago, that smokers would be denied employment and housing, and smoking bans in parks and beaches, it would have been laughed at as “crazed thinking”. Yet here we are. Much of it has happened before and it has all been intentional, planned decades ago. We just don’t learn or we’re going to have to learn the very hard way because it has to do with far, far more than just smoking.

  • “at least if courts behaved logically — a very big if, of course.”

    Lawyers behaving logically? Ha, ha, ha….good one Walter. With a profession that is trained to BS their way into any desired position, logic, reason and consistency is the last thing the Law uses or teaches.

    The natural sciences (physics, engineering, etc) on the other hand, have the absolute discipline of things like F=mA and actual physical reality to keep our hubris in check. Try and arm wave / BS your way on an airplane design, for example, and you end up with an unintended body filled smoking hole in the ground.

    Oh, and I hope smoker guy sues the heck out of the neighbor for “filling” his house with smoke and foul odors when they cook fish or something similarly smelly in their place. . Hopefully he gets a temp restraining order to prohibit them from cooking anything without his prior consent. That’ll teach ’em

  • I read the articles attached to this and have to wonder about a few things.

    The Coppinger’s house was “newly renovated”. Shouldn’t any so called cracks in their walls have been fixed during the renovations?

    The statement was made about Mr. Gray bringing his house up to code. If both houses share a common wall, wouldn’t both houses be out of code?

    Last but not least “environmental lawyer” says it all.

  • The inconvenient truth is that the only studies of children of smokers suggest it is PROTECTIVE in contracting atopy in the first place. The New Zealand study says by a staggering factor of 82%.

    “Participants with atopic parents were also less likely to have positive SPTs between ages 13 and 32 years if they smoked themselves (OR=0.18), and this reduction in risk remained significant after adjusting for confounders.

    The authors write: “We found that children who were exposed to parental smoking and those who took up cigarette smoking themselves had a lower incidence of atopy to a range of common inhaled allergens.
    “These associations were found only in those with a parental history of asthma or hay fever.”

    They conclude: Our findings suggest that preventing allergic sensitization is not one of them.”
    The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology
    Volume 121, Issue 1 , Pages 38-42.e3, January 2008

    This is a Swedish study.

    “Children of mothers who smoked at least 15 cigarettes a day tended to have lower odds for suffering from allergic rhino-conjunctivitis, allergic asthma, atopic eczema and food allergy, compared to children of mothers who had never smoked (ORs 0.6-0.7)

    CONCLUSIONS: This study demonstrates an association between current exposure to tobacco smoke and a low risk for atopic disorders in smokers themselves and a similar tendency in their children.”
    Clin Exp Allergy 2001 Jun;31(6):908-14

  • I don’t understand why the Coppingers seem to have no responsibility to plug any “cracks” within their own residence – on their own side of the walls. Why would the Judge rule that any cracks in the wall are completely 100% solely Mr Gray’s responsibility to fix?

  • So, does this mean that people in DC can now start suing factories over smoke drifting over their properties? Pretty sure that would get thrown out…