Money Can’t Buy Happiness, Unless Spending Money on Lawyers Makes You Happy

The recent decision of Mr. Justice Ed Morgan in the case of Morland-Jones v. Taerk does not set any legal precedent, but it tells a great story – particularly for those of us who marvel at the lengths that wealthy people will go to indulge themselves.

In this case, the plaintiffs were oil company executive John Morland-Jones and his wife Paris. The Defendants were psychiatrist Gary Taerk and his wife Audrey.

These couples live across the street from each other in an exclusive Toronto neighbourhood in what the Judge described as “stately houses on a well-manicured, picturesque street” complete with numerous high-end automobiles parked outside.

This dispute came before Mr. Justice Morgan on a motion brought by the plaintiffs for various forms of injunctive relief stemming from their allegation that the defendants had been misbehaving and disturbing the plaintiffs’ peaceful life in what the Judge described as their “leafy corner of paradise”.

The plaintiffs’ house is ringed with eleven video cameras, two of which are aimed directly at the defendants’ front door and driveway.

The hearing before Mr. Justice Morgan began with the plaintiffs’ lawyer playing a security footage excerpt in which Mrs. Taerk was seen performing a “poop and scoop” after her dog did its business on her own front lawn. The footage showed Mrs. Taerk crossing the street with the bag-full in hand, walking towards the plaintiffs’ driveway where their garbage cans were out for collection and returning to her side of the street moments later, empty-handed.

Mr. Justice Morgan described the “dog faeces incident” as a high point of the claim. It was followed by a cease and desist letter sent to the defendants by the plaintiffs’ lawyer describing a “dog urination issue”, referring to photographs showing Mr. Taerk walking his dog and occasionally allowing it lift its leg next to the bushes lining the plaintiffs’ lawn.

According to Mr. Justice Morgan, the story “goes downhill from there”. For example, the Taerks were accused of occasionally parking one of their cars on the street, in a legal parking spot, in front of the plaintiffs’ home. While this accusation was put forward by the plaintiffs, the plaintiffs also conceded that they were parking one of their cars in front of the defendants’ home every day.

The plaintiffs also complained about Mrs. Taerk’s habit of standing in her driveway from time to time taking cell phone pictures of the plaintiffs’ house across the street. Mrs. Taerk was also accused of taking pictures of the plaintiffs’ housekeeper taking their dog out for its daily walk.

As for Mr. Taerk, he was accused of walking by the plaintiffs’ house with a voice recorder in hand, trying to catch some of the verbal exchanges between the parties. Mr. Taerk responded by indicating that Mrs. Morland-Jones occasionally shouts profanity at him while he is on his walks so that he now only ventures onto the road armed with a dictaphone held at the ready in his right hand.

Mr. Justice Morgan also indicates in his reasons that “the controversy has even extended to other lucky residents”. The plaintiffs summonsed four of their neighbours to testify on the pending motion, “no doubt endearing themselves to all of them”. One witness was asked to confirm that he had warned the plaintiffs about the defendants when they first moved into the neighbourhood. His answer was that he could recall saying no such thing. Another witness was asked to confirm that she had sold her house for below market value just to get away from the defendants. She denied having done so.

According to Mr. Justice Morgan, “in what is perhaps the pièce de résistance of the claim, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendants – again focusing primarily on Mrs. Taerk – sometimes stand in their own driveway or elsewhere on their property and look at the plaintiffs’ house”. The plaintiffs showed a video at the hearing showing Mrs. Taerk casting her gaze from her own property across the street and resting her eyes on the plaintiffs’ home for a full 25 seconds.

Mr. Justice Morgan determined that the defendants had not been entirely innocent either. He suggested that they had obviously learned that the plaintiffs, and particularly Mrs. Morland-Jones, had certain sensitivities “and they seem to relish playing on those sensitivities”. He made the observation that the defendants appeared to have acted in ways which they knew would irk the plaintiffs in what he termed “a repeated form of hijinks that could, if a sponsor were found, be broadcast and screened weekly, although probably limited to the cable channels high up in the 300s”. For example, Mr. Taerk was said to apparently enjoy walking by the plaintiffs’ residence with his dictaphone conspicuously raised to shoulder level when he saw Mrs. Morland-Jones in her garden, which then prompted the very outbursts that he was at first reacting to.

According to Mr. Justice Morgan, “the parties do not need a Judge; what they need is a rather stern kindergarten teacher”. He accused them of acting like children, having taken up an entire day in a crowded Motions Court at the expense of the taxpayers.

Mr. Justice Morgan found that there was simply no serious issue to be tried in the action and dismissed it with each side to bear their own costs.

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