Statutes defining nuisance and granting a private person the right to maintain action for public nuisance in certain cases, are in effect a crystallization of the common law[i]. The statutory definitions and enumerations of nuisance do not modify the common-law rule applicable to nuisances[ii].
The Legislature may prescribe by statute what will constitute a nuisance without formally declaring that such is a nuisance[iii]. The established rules governing statutory construction are applied in interpreting statutes relating to nuisances.
The fundamental rules of statutory construction are that courts should construe a statute so that the plain intent of the legislature is given effect and that courts should not construe a statute in such a manner as to reach an absurd conclusion if any other construction is possible[iv]. Moreover, words in a statute should not be construed as surplusage if a reasonable construction which will give them some force and meaning is possible.
Where the statute either makes an act unlawful or imposes a punishment for its commission, such act becomes a crime without any express declaration that it is a crime or of its grade[v]. Public nuisances may be declared by statute to be crimes. In such cases, public nuisance statutes are penal statutes, which should be strictly construed.
Where the legislature has, within its constitutional power, declared a certain act or use of property to constitute a nuisance, or a public nuisance, such act or use of property constitutes a nuisance per se, against which an injunction may issue without allegation or proof of irreparable injury[vi].
[i] McCollum v. Kolokotrones, 131 Mont. 438 (Mont. 1957).
[ii] Schlotfelt v. Vinton Farmers’ Supply Co., 252 Iowa 1102 (Iowa 1961).
[iii] State, Dep’t of Environmental Protection v. Exxon Corp., 151 N.J. Super. 464, 482 (Ch.Div. 1977).
[iv] Pinellas County v. Woolley, 189 So. 2d 217 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2d Dist. 1966).
[v] State v. Brown, 221 N.C. 301 (N.C. 1942).
[vi] People ex rel. Dept. Pub. Wks. v. Adco Advertisers, 35 Cal. App. 3d 507 (Cal. App. 3d Dist. 1973).