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COA rules against longtime shooting range owner

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A Marshall Circuit judge erred in granting partial summary judgment in favor of a shooting range owner on his neighbors’ claims of nuisance, the Indiana Court of Appeals held Thursday. The appellate judges found a statute cited by the trial court did not apply to the owner.

Levi Wayne Kemp built a shooting range on his property in Marshall County before any ordinances, zoning restrictions or laws governing shooting ranges were in effect. He has since expanded several times and received the county board of zoning appeals’ approval in 2008 to continue the operation of the range. His neighbors across the road, Connie and Richard Yates and Jason and Pauline Tibbs, sued Kemp, claiming nuisance, negligence and other claims. They maintained that the shooting range prevents them from riding their horses, scares the horses and they often have to close their windows because of noise from the range.

Marshall Circuit Judge Curtis D. Palmer granted partial summary judgment to Kemp on the nuisance claim, the only issue before the COA. Palmer cited Indiana Code 14-22-31.5-1 et seq. in determining Kemp wasn’t liable for his neighbors’ nuisance claims.

But Senior Judge Betty Barteau pointed out in Connie Yates, Rick Yates, Jason Tibbs, and Pauline Tibbs v. Levi Wayne Kemp, 50A04-1204-CT-192, that Section 6, which provides a safe harbor in limited circumstances for owners, operators and users of shooting ranges against claims of noise pollution doesn’t apply to Kemp. That section is only applicable to ranges “if the shooting range complies with a law or an ordinance that applied to the shooting range and its operation at the time of the construction or initial operation of the shooting range, if such a law or ordinance was in existence at the time of the construction or initial operation of the shooting range.”

Kemp isn’t entitled to the protection of Section 6 because there were no applicable laws or ordinances in effect at the time he built and began operating the range, the judges held.

They also found evidence to establish a dispute of material fact as to whether Kemp has caused his neighbors to experience inconvenience, annoyance or discomfort. The matter is remanded for further proceedings.

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