2024 Legislative Session Dates
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Key Takeaways:

  • Public nuisance’s common law application prohibits an individual or entity from using its own property to infringe upon a public right, addressing situations like loud noises, foul smells, and water pollution.
  • Creative litigants have attempted to apply it to a more expansive range of issues, such as holding companies responsible for addiction and climate change. While most of these have been rebuffed, several have ended in private settlements and claims continue to appear across the country.
  • In June, Oklahoma’s Supreme Court released an opinion for a case in which the plaintiffs included the last remaining survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. The Court found that the claims fell outside the scope of the state’s public nuisance laws.
  • Ongoing attempts to stretch the use of “public nuisance” across the country mean that it is only a matter of time before the other state courts must address the issue, as well.
  • We also cover key decisions in 14 other states, from commercial landlords and public sidewalks in New Jersey to public utilities in Texas.


State high courts issue thousands of opinions each year, and these court decisions have just as much of an impact on public policy as the legislative process. To help you keep track of consequential judicial decisions and their impact on state policy, MultiState publishes the Monthly Court Report, which offers a monthly recap of notable state high court decisions to provide a more dynamic picture of public policy trends.

Oklahoma Decision Rejects Novel Use of Public Nuisance Claim 

What is Public Nuisance?

Public nuisance is a legal concept whose long history has recently seen attempts to apply its theory in more controversial ways, and in June, the Oklahoma Supreme Court became the newest state court to add its voice to the public nuisance debate. Public nuisance’s common law application broadly prohibits an individual or entity from using its own property to infringe upon a public right, addressing anything from loud noises and foul smells to the pollution of waterways. 

In recent decades, however, creative litigants have attempted to apply public nuisance to a much more expansive range of issues. Such cases include attempts to hold companies responsible for addiction caused by selling legally permissible drugs and climate change caused by lawful conduct. While the majority of these efforts have been rebuffed by the courts, several have ended in private settlements, and such claims continue to appear in courts across the country. 

Randle v. City of Tulsa

This month, Oklahoma’s Supreme Court released an opinion regarding a particularly unique use of public nuisance. The plaintiffs in the case of Randle v. City of Tulsa included the last remaining survivors of the June 1, 1921, Tulsa Race Massacre where white rioters burned and looted the bustling black neighborhood of Greenwood. 

The Plaintiffs claimed that the destruction and murder committed by the white mob resulted in a decades long blight in the neighborhood and “generational-societal inequities” that ultimately created a public nuisance in the community. Despite the Plaintiffs’ novel legal maneuvering, however, the Court found that the claims fell outside the scope of the state’s public nuisance laws. The Court stated that there were no individuals remaining alive that could be held criminally liable; there is no physical injury to property that could be resolved by an injunction or other civil remedy; and the “proposed abatement remedy does not constitute abatement but rather a series of affirmative policies directed at offsetting or minimizing the aforementioned inequities.” 

While the Plaintiffs were unsuccessful in this case and public nuisance limits were clarified for the state of Oklahoma, the continuous attempts to stretch the use of “public nuisance” across the country mean that it is only a matter of time before the remaining state courts have to address the issue for themselves.

Other Key June Decisions 

California

The California Supreme Court reached a unanimous ruling permitting a 1,200 unit housing project at UC Berkeley to move forward, despite opposition from local neighborhood groups. The neighborhood groups had argued that the inherent noise that was sure to be produced by the project amounted to a pollutant, and the government was required to perform a study on the environmental consequences of this noise under the Environmental Quality Act (EQA). The Court, however, found that the noise did not fall under the EQA. Read more.

California’s Supreme Court also issued a decision regarding a highly contentious ballot tax initiative. The initiative, the “Taxpayer Protection Act,” was sponsored by members of the business community and sought to impose restrictions to make raising state taxes more difficult, including requiring voter approval of all new or increased taxes. Read more.

Colorado

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled that a driver of a vehicle may revoke their statutory consent to police breath or blood testing. The Court stated that while simply driving a vehicle provides such consent, if it is revoked by a driver, the police must then obtain a warrant. Read more.

Delaware

Delaware’s Supreme Court ruled that a poultry plant employee’s workers’ compensation claim for his COVID-19 infection as an occupational disease was invalid. The Court held that to claim the infection as an occupational disease, the employee would have to establish that the COVID-19 infection “resulted from the peculiar nature of” his specific job. Read more.

Florida

The Florida Supreme Court issued an opinion regarding a 2021 “anti-riot” statute that both Republican Governor Ron DeSantis and the ACLU have lauded as a win. The law sought to impose greater penalties on protesters, rousing opposition from various civil rights organizations. The Court, however, ruled that the governor’s assurances that the law would not be used against peaceful protesters were the correct legal interpretation of the measure. Read more.

Iowa

Iowa’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of the state’s ban on abortion at six weeks of pregnancy, finding that the state’s law had a rational basis in regards to the state’s “legitimate interest in protecting unborn life.” As a result of the decision, Iowa joins 17 other states that ban and severely restrict abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. Read more.

Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued a split decision establishing that, in order to comply with the state prompt pay law, contractors must pay delinquent invoices before they may dispute charges. The state prompt pay law provides specific deadlines by which payments must be made to contract parties. Read more.

Mississippi

Mississippi’s Supreme Court determined that an insurer may not revoke a worker’s compensation policy from an employer, even if the employer made a material misrepresentation to the insurer. In the case before the Court, an employer had not disclosed that employees would be working at certain heights to the insurer. The Court found that such actions by an employer do not “cut off an injured employee’s legitimate right to benefits.” Read more.

New Jersey

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that all commercial landowners have a duty to maintain adjacent public sidewalks in “reasonably good” condition or be subject to liability for injuries resulting from their failure to do so. The Court held that the standard applies to both properties with and without structures on them. Prior Appellate Court decisions had confused the issue by granting exemptions for some vacant lots based on a lack of capacity to generate income. Read more.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma’s Supreme Court ruled that the state Department of Education does not have the authority to determine what books a local school district may permit in school libraries. The state Department had attempted to prohibit certain books within the school system, but the Court found that the Department had no statutory authority to overrule the local district’s discretion. Read more.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court also issued another ruling regarding public schools, finding that the establishment of a virtual Catholic public charter school would be unconstitutional as it would provide state funding to a church. It held that a charter school is a public school, and therefore a state actor subject to the constitutional requirement of the separation of church and state. Read more.

Oregon

Oregon’s Supreme Court issued an opinion against Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company, stating that the company exceeded federal protections against the imposition of state income tax on out-of-state corporations. The Court established that the tobacco company’s actions of prebooking orders backed by incentive agreements were not a mere “solicitation of orders” within the meaning of the federal law protection against taxation. Read more.

South Dakota

The South Dakota Supreme Court reversed a lower court ruling requiring a woman to repay unemployment benefits received during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the case, the woman applied for and received unemployment benefits after she lost one of her part-time jobs as a result of the pandemic. The Department of Labor accused her of fraud due to improper reporting of hours worked at her other part-time position. The Court found that the individual did take actions to notify the Department of her hours, and therefore, did not commit the “willful misrepresentation” required to prove fraud. Read More.

Texas

Texas’s Supreme Court dealt a blow to utility companies in its unanimous decision stating that the Public Utility Commission did not exceed its authority when it increased electricity prices to 300 times their regular rate during a severe winter storm. The rate increase resulted in massive energy bills for utility companies, as well as businesses and consumers without fixed-rate pricing plans. Read more.

The Texas Supreme Court also issued an opinion with important implications regarding reproductive rights law. In the case, a man sued three friends of his ex-wife for “wrongful death” by aiding her in obtaining and using medication for an abortion. The Court ruled that the ex-wife was not required to turn over evidence that she had received such an abortion as it would violate her right against self-incrimination. Read more.

Finally, Texas’s Supreme Court wrapped up the busy month by overturning a lower court’s temporary block of the state’s ban on gender-transition treatment for minors. The Court asserted that parental rights did not prevent “a permissible, rational policy choice to limit the types of medical procedures for children.” Read more.

West Virginia

The West Virginia Supreme Court held that the state Workers’ Compensation Board erred in calculating a plaintiff’s disability by using an apportionment method. The Court established that the actual final disability percentage should be calculated using a combined values chart. Read more.

Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s Supreme Court released an opinion with implications for the upcoming election. In a mixed decision, the Court retained a lower court’s ruling prohibiting the use of mobile voting sites, but overruled portions of the ruling that limited absentee ballot locations which had been challenged as granting a partisan-advantage to democrats. Read more