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No Noise Ordinance In Your Community? Fire Away!

Owners of land surrounding a shooting range constructed by an American Legion Post on a 40 acre tract in rural Arkansas County filed suit to stop the operation of the range, arguing that noise from the range constituted a nuisance. In a 4-3 decision, the Arkansas Supreme Court sided with the shooting range because no local noise ordinance was in effect. The dissenting justices would have ruled differently, but for the same reason – because no local noise ordinance was in effect.

 

Noise generated from a shooting range constructed by an American Legion Post in southeast Arkansas prompted neighboring landowners on three sides, including two businesses, to file a lawsuit claiming that noise from the range interfered with the use and enjoyment of their land so as to constitute a legal nuisance. The case required an interpretation of Ark. Code Ann. §16-105-502, a statute which states that a person operating a sport shooting range will not be subject to civil or criminal liability for noise or noise pollution resulting from the operation of the range if the range “is in compliance with noise control ordinances of local units of government that applied to the sport shooting range and its operation at the time the sport shooting range was constructed and began operation.” It was undisputed that there was no noise control ordinance if effect when the Legion’s range began operation. The circuit court found that because there was no local noise ordinance in existence, the range was entitled to immunity from suit under the statute.

The landowners appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court and lost. In 3 Rivers Logistics, Inc. v. Brown-Wright Post No. 158, 2018 Ark. 91 (March 15, 2018), a four-justice majority of the Court concluded that because no local noise control existed at the time the shooting range began operation, “the Legion was in compliance with local noise control ordinances” and the circuit court was correct in finding that the Legion was entitled to immunity. Interestingly, it was for precisely the same reason – because no local noise ordinance existed – that three justices dissented. Their interpretation of the statute was that a local noise ordinance controlling how much noise is acceptable must be in place in order for a shooting range to enjoy the immunity granted by the statute. The dissenting justices stated that if the legislature intended for the statute to immunize a shooting range even when there is no noise ordinance that would apply, it would have simply said so.

Will shooting ranges that become operational when where there in no local noise control ordinance in effect be forever immune from nuisance suits, as the dissenting opinion suggests? Time will tell. For now, though, it is clear that range owners and their customers need not worry about a neighbor’s noise complaints if no local noise ordinance was in effect when the range opened for business.

 

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