By David McAfee
Law360, Los Angeles (May 14, 2014, 6:31 PM ET) — A Louisiana state appeals court on Wednesday affirmed a trial court’s judgment granting a permanent injunction barring USA Speedway LLC from operating its commercial automobile racetrack on its property in rural Union Parish, Louisiana, after nearby residents complained about noise and dust.
Wednesday’s appellate ruling affirms the judgment of the trial court, which weighed the testimony and posed questions to witnesses to clarify matters. The three-judge appellate panel rejected USA Speedway’s argument that all the evidence concerning the level of noise was based on data from 2010 and 2011, prior to measures undertaken by the racetrack, saying that claim isn’t supported by the record.
One of the plaintiffs, E.J. Simmons, testified that he lived 3/8 of a mile from the racetrack and obtained a sound level machine to record sound levels, the judges said.
“The exhibits introduced into evidence show that some of the contemporaneous sound level records were made by Simmons in 2012, on various dates and at different locations near the racetrack,” Judge J. Jay Caraway wrote in the 26-page opinion. “These readings ranged from 51 to 89 decibels. Although USA strenuously attacked the methods Simmons used in testing the sound levels, the trial court found the records to be admissible and we detect no error in that ruling.”
The lower court paid close attention and issued “lengthy written reasons for judgment” in February 2013, according to the appellate opinion.
USA Speedway, operated by Bobby “Jerry” Hobson, built the commercial competitive car racetrack in 2009 and racing began the next year. On Aug. 5, 2010, a group of 18 people living in the rural community sued Hobson’s construction company Hobson Wrecking, USA Speedway and others, according to court documents.
The plaintiffs said the track ran on weekends from 7 p.m. until 1 or 2 a.m., with practice races throughout the week, and the noise prevented them from enjoying their homes. Dust also aggravated respiratory problems and their property values were reduced, according to the suit.
The trial court held that people living within 600 feet of the racetrack experience noise that is very loud and “mind-boggling,” causing agitation, anger, disturbance of sleep and dread of the coming race weekends. The court further found that, although several witnesses testified that the noise wasn’t a nuisance, all but one of them had a financial stake in the track or often went to its races.
The trial court ultimately filed a judgment permanently enjoining USA Speedway from operating the track, from which the company appealed.
The appeals court affirmed that decision Wednesday, also rejecting USA Speedway’s argument that the plaintiffs’ video recordings of the noise level shouldn’t be considered because claims made in the videos were “inadmissible hearsay.”
“As found by the trial court, the videos were not admitted for the truth of the content of the discussions therein and the discussions were not considered by the court,” the opinion says. “Rather, the videos reflected the level of sound during the races. The trial court did not err in admitting the videos for that limited purpose.”
Clay Garside of Waltzer Wiygul & Garside LLC, counsel to the plaintiffs, said he is pleased that the community members have regained “the peaceful enjoyment of their homes.”
“The Court of Appeal’s ruling is well-founded and basically unsurprising,” Garside told Law360 on Wednesday. “Anyone with common sense understands that racing 40 and 50 racecars until midnight and beyond in the middle of a residential neighborhood is severely disruptive.”
Representatives for USA Speedway didn’t immediately return requests for comment on Wednesday.
Chief Judge Henry N. Brown Jr. joined Judges J. Jay Caraway and Jeanette G. Garrett on the appellate panel.
USA Speedway is represented by Thomas R. Hightower Jr., Wade Kee and Thomas R. Hightower III of Thomas R. Hightower Jr. APLC.
Plaintiffs are represented by Clay Garside of Waltzer Wiygul & Garside LLC.
The case is Fred Badke et al. v. USA Speedway LLC, case number 49060-CA, in the Court of Appeal, Second Circuit, State of Louisiana.
–Editing by Katherine Rautenberg.