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the Law section of

The material on this page was contributed by Geordie Duckler, LLC - Attorney at Law,
in an interview conducted by the Barking Dogs Webmaster in May of 2006

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On the Doctrine of Unclean Hands and the Legal Peril Inherent in Striking Back at the Dog Owner

Barking Dogs Webmaster:
From time to time I get letters from Barking Dog readers who are thinking about taking a sound effects recording of a barking dog and blasting it back at the home of the dog owner over an amplified system. I think the idea is that they want to give them a taste of what it is like to be forced to adjust your every activity to fit the barking schedule of the neighbor's dog. Some of the readers see it as being a matter of freedom of expression, which is supposedly constitutionally protected. Would blasting the sound of a barking dog come under the heading of freedom of expression, and what do you think of the idea?

Geordie Duckler:
Okay, let me address this a couple different ways, and I'll start backwards with the last thing you said. Freedom of expression, whatever that rule is, is not going to apply to projecting sound, like the sound of a barking dog, across a fence line. It has much more to do with when you make statements of fact or opinion and the question of whether you are free to state them in a certain forum to a certain audience. So you can't use that phrase or that doctrine to address what it is that these people are doing, because it just doesn't apply.

That applies when you are talking about your right to speak, or your right to freely associate, or constitutionally protected rights like that, but it doesn't apply in terms of what you are describing. However, there is still the question of whether you have a right to project sound from your property onto someone else's property and, in a sense, do it as a tit-for-tat kind of thing.

There are two things that occur to me. First, there is the doctrine of unclean hands and, second, there is always the danger that, in doing something like that, you will open yourself up to a lawsuit.

Let me start with the doctrine of unclean hands. If the dog owner's lawyer raises the defense of unclean hands, he'll say, "Listen, yeah, maybe we're doing it, but the other side is doing it too, so one side is just as guilty as the other." Well, the courts pay attention to that. So then the courts says, "You're right, you two deserve each other, so we're not going to help you at all. Therefore, you won't get equity. You won't get a court of law. You won't get compensation. You won't get jack."

So if your solution to the problem is to yourself cause a problem, then, I guess that's okay sociologically. But legally, you will have just blocked yourself from any sort of legal remedy. There will be no remedy for you because no jury in the world will like the fact that your solution to the problem was to cause a problem.

That's one thing. I think the unclean hands doctrine should really make you think twice about striking back, because you'll never get any help from the law after that.

The second thing is that if you are creating a nuisance, then, you are committing a tort. So your neighbor can then sue you for that tort. So then, even though you're the victim, you now find yourself the defendant because the perpetrator is suing you for projecting sound over onto his property.

Yeah, your defense is that you're just trying to drown it out or you're just trying to show them how it feels. But that's a pretty crappy defense, and the truth is that if you are unreasonably engaging in offensive conduct by interfering with somebody else's use and enjoyment of their property, then you are at fault for a nuisance. Then, maybe they are going to get an injunction against you and have a judge force you to give up the amplification device. Or, they may get money from you. Or, you may have to pay their attorney's fees.

Just beware of committing torts. I would never encourage anyone to do that.

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This page from the Duckler Interview is part of Section Three:
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