- Nuisance lawsuit first filed nine years ago.
- 12-person jury took less than three hours to decide verdict.
- Neighbors of the gun club say shots fired at the shooting complex are not a bother; they go about their daily routines without thinking much of it.
- Woodwards say the noise from the gun shots has severely impacted their lives.
For 27 years Bob and Jo Woodward lived a peaceful existence, then, in their words, the Gun Club moved in. Twelve days after the One Box Shooting Complex held their first meet, the Woodwards filed their first lawsuit. That was nine years ago. Since that day they claim the club has consumed their lives. “When the guns start shooting they grab their dog and flee,” stated Brian Jorde, the lawyer the Woodwards hired to finally take the case to court. “The Woodwards cannot bear the burden for recreational shooting.” This was a civil case, filed by the Woodwards against the One Box organization as a noise nuisance. In civil cases it is the job of the plaintiff, in this case the Woodwards, to bear the burden of proof.
The Woodwards purchased approximately 800 acres of land four miles west of Broken Bow in 1972. Their land sits across the road, northeast of the One Box complex. They talked about starting up the Rodeo Bible Camp in 1974 and operating the camp there for the next 12 years. They talked about the gun shots spooking their animals, the cows and horses but not the pet Badger.
The gun club offered to put up trees to buffer the noise. The Woodwards said no, because of the length of time it would take for the trees to grow.
“How would you like all these people shooting over your house?” Bob Woodward asked. “If a guy were in the pen (penitentiary) you wouldn’t expect any freedom, but a guy should be able to leave his house …)" he said. When asked if they had approached anyone on the board asking for a meeting to talk about the issue he said no, he did not know any of them. When Mrs. Woodward was asked the same question she gave the same reply.
An attempt at mediation early in the first lawsuit failed. The gun club offered through mediation to purchase their land (in 2001) for $300 per acre and to help them find a comparable place to relocate. The Woodwards said not and offered to buy the gun club for $1000 an acre and use the club house for a barn. The process failed. “I don’t know how many places I’ve looked at,” said Mr. Woodward. “But none of them were suitable.”
The suit in court this last week was filed in 2004. When asked why there was so much time between the first lawsuit and the second, Mr. Woodward said it was because they had a difficult time finding someone willing to take the case. “We couldn’t get a lawyer. You don’t know how many lawyers we tried.” When asked about the club, and the shooting noise, Mr. Woodward gave this response, “I have a nervous condition and some depression. I think everyone gets depressed. Sometimes I really get down. If I found another place it would just cost me more money. My wife Jo gets real nervous and she gets real upset. She is a quiet person and doesn’t talk that much but I know she is upset.”
When asked if the club did anything to make it quieter, Mr. Woodward responded, “They’ve done nothing. Any good rancher knows guns bother the cattle,” he said.
“Sir, according to your tax returns your property has NOT earned any less money since the Gun club opened,” Chaloupka said. Jo Woodward’s nervousness became evident during the playing of a video she made over the last several years. As the tape progressed, showing trees she said were on their land, gun shots could be heard behind her commentary, as well as crickets, birds and cars. She leaned forward on the stand during those 32-minutes, clasped her hands and held tight. Her eyes furled and a look of utter despair crossed her face. She kept a diary on the gun club, when they shot, when they started, when they quit, what they did, whether or not she and Bob stayed home or went for a drive. The anxiety over the gun club’s presence appeared genuine. When asked if she wanted the One Box gun range shut down, Mrs. Woodward did not answer. When asked if she would be happy if they were shut down, she responded, “yes.”
“I don’t see how they (the One Box organization) expect anyone to live next to something like this,” she said quietly, looking once more at her hands. A motion from Chaloupka to have the case dismissed (directed verdict) midway through the second day due to lack of evidence was turned down. “There is no evidence of medical expenses, there is no evidence of future pain and suffering, there is no evidence of loss of income,” she said. Jorde replied that the plaintiffs would not fight the medical or the loss of income complaints, but it should be for the jury to decide if there is pain and suffering. Judge Karin Noakes agreed.
Scott Hansen, sound expert out of Massachusetts, presented detailed testimony on how sound travels and how volume of sound is measured. Coughs in the courtroom came up at the same level as the gun shots on Woodward’s property. He offered comparisons. Normal conversation registers at 50-70 decibels, ambient kitchen noise registers at 35-50 decibels. A noisy restaurant registers averages around 80 decibels and a diesel truck registers at 90-120. OSHA has set an average of 90 decibels for the work day before a protection program must be in place. At the Woodward’s home the decibels registered a high of 85 at the west end of their garage, and 44 decibels inside their home. There are no sound standards on file in Custer County.
In closing arguments Jorde discussed how different people perceive noise. “Noise is what is annoying to you. Noise doesn’t have to be loud and it doesn’t have to register on that piece of equipment. Noise, is subjective, it is based on our individual sensitivities. We’re in One Box country now. Shouldn’t we also be in Bob and Jo Woodward country? We can’t put fun and recreation in front of the other things in life. It’s OK to have fun, but we have to balance that against the two people who are bearing the brunt of this.”
Chaloupka asked the jury to concentrate on what is mainstream, and what is reasonable. “On the subject of One Box, they are not mainstream. The law hits for the middle. The laws hit the mainstream … Those people in the middle, it doesn’t consume them, it doesn’t destroy them. That is what is reasonable…"
“A person who, by their own admission is not reasonable wants to set the standard for what is reasonable in Custer County. We can agree the Woodwards have suffered some real disappointments and some real frustrations in their lives and the Woodwards attribute all of that to being caused by One Box. Sympathy for the sadness in their lives does not carry the day.” In the end, the jury agreed with Chaloupka and found in favor of the One Box. “We weighed the evidence and just found it supported the defense claim more than it supported the plaintiff’s claim,” said jury foreperson Raine Pelton. She said the jury reached a consensus quickly. “It was fairly fast,” she said.
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