3. Spiek and highway effects

In Spiek, a homeowner whose property abutted the service drive for I-696 sought damages for "highway effects," such as increased "noise, dust, vibration, and fumes" due to proximity to the highway. The suit was categorized as an inverse-condemnation action, which this Court defined as "one instituted by a landowner whose property has been taken for public use without the commencement of condemnation proceedings." 456 Mich at 334 n. 3 (internal quotes and citations omitted). The trial court dismissed the claim, but the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that citizens near a highway had been detrimentally affected to a greater degree than the general population. Id. at 336.

This Court reversed the Court of Appeals:

We conclude that plaintiffs’ complaint fails to state a claim on which the relief sought may be granted. Taking all plaintiffs’ factual allegations as true, the complaint fails to allege an essential element of their cause of action: that the damage to their property is of a unique or peculiar character different from the effects experienced by all other similarly situated property owners. In other words, plaintiffs fail to allege an injury unlike that experienced by all who live in proximity to a highway. Thus, their case is barred by the well-accepted rule that property owners are not entitled to compensation for highway noise that is necessarily incident to proximity to a highway.

Id. at 338-39.

In particular, this Court indicated that the Court of Appeals erred by comparing those living near the highway to the citizenry at large. Citing Richards v Washington Terminal Co, 233 US 546 (1914),[6] this Court held that those near a highway can recover damages only if they show they suffered a unique injury compared to others near a highway:

The Court of Appeals incorrectly concluded that Richards supported the conclusion that the plaintiffs could recover if they could show they were harmed to a degree greater than the citizenry at large. The plaintiff in Richards prevailed, not merely on the basis of a difference in degree from the inconvenience experienced by the public at large, but because the harm he suffered was different in kind or character from that experienced by those similarly situated.

Spiek, 456 Mich at 342 (footnote omitted).

This Court indicated that its holding was supported by public policy considerations:

To require the state to litigate every case in which a person owning land abutting a public highway feels aggrieved by changing traffic conditions would wreak havoc on the state’s ability to provide and maintain public highways and place within the judicial realm that which is inappropriate for judicial remedy. Where harm is shared in common by many members of the public, the appropriate remedy lies with the legislative branch and the regulatory bodies created thereby, which participate extensively in the regulation of vibrations, pollution, noise, etc., associated with the operation of motor vehicles on public highways. Only where the harm is peculiar or unique in this context does the judicial remedy become appropriate.

Id. at 349.

Thus, to overcome the doctrine of damnum absque injuria,[7] landowners near a highway must show "harm of a [different] character from that suffered by all living in similar proximity to a highway." Id. at 350. This Court also consistently conditioned its opinion in Spiek on a significant caveat — the landowners did not allege there was a "physical invasion." Id. at 344.

[6] This case will be discussed below.

[7] Black’s Law Dictionary defines this term as “Loss, hurt, or harm without injury in the legal sense.” Black’s Law Dictionary (6th ed abridged) at 273.