Obiter Dicta

Reality—What a Concept

But some prefer the court-ordered, rose-colored version

Posted Mar 1, 2010 2:00 AM CDT
By Brian Sullivan

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Illustration by Francisco Caceres

There’s an old standard that’s been recorded by numerous artists since the 1960s, perhaps most notably by country singer Eddy Arnold. It’s called “Make the World Go Away,” and it’s about the “world” getting in the way of one’s romantic longings.

The title, you might figure, is meant to be taken figuratively, but based on a couple of lawsuits filed in November, it seems that some people actually do want the world to go away.

Stanley Hilton of Hillsborough, Calif., an attorney currently ineligible to practice law in the state, bought a house about four miles southwest of San Francisco International Airport. He’s been living there since 2003, and things probably would have been peachy, except for all those darn planes.

In his lawsuit, filed in California Superior Court, Hilton, 60, alleges that the noise and smoke from the “round-the-clock jet aircraft” have caused him to suffer physical and emotional injuries, caused insomnia, cost him his marriage (which ended in “an extremely acrimonious and bitter divorce”) and family, and torpedoed his law career.

In addition to the airport, airport authority, dozens of airlines and various others, Hilton includes on the list of defendants the real estate agents who assisted in the purchase of the house.

He alleges fraud, breach of contract and breach of professional duty, claiming the agents “concealed ... the fact that the house ... experienced regular and continuing severe air pollution from jet aircraft taking off and landing at SFO.” One wonders how they managed to conceal the airport as well.

As much as Hilton might like to live in a noise- and smog-free bubble, the inconvenient truth is that he chose to live near an airport. This brings to mind stories of those who move to farming communities and sue when they get a whiff of barnyard reality.

On the subject of reality, another plaintiff trying to block it out also happens to be a lawyer (let’s just call it a coincidence). Harry Arthur, 68, a Houston PI attorney, has a practice across the street from a day center for the homeless known as the Beacon. The center provides free meals and laundry services, among other things.

In apparent disregard to karma, Arthur has sued Christ Church Cathedral—which operates the Beacon—claiming that all those unsightly “derelicts” and “disheveled individuals” are a nuisance because they engage in “undesirable activities,” thereby decreasing the value of his practice and the real estate he owns in the area.

Making it clear in a lawsuit filed in state district court in Harris County that he would prefer the unwashed masses to congregate elsewhere, Arthur seeks an injunction to shut down the Beacon permanently.

It’s a crowded planet, folks, and unless you own an island, it’s not likely you’re going to have everything exactly as you want it. But it’s a tough time out there for a lot of people, so maybe there are better ways to use the courts than trying to make the world go away from your little corner of it.

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