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Fla. Man Goes Nuts on Neighbor for Feeding Squirrels

By Betty Wang, JD on August 27, 2013 2:03 PM

A Florida man allegedly assaulted his neighbor for feeding peanuts to squirrels.

Actually, the fight wasn't even about the peanuts -- it was the peanut shells that set him off.

Eugene Oates, 57, of Vero Beach, was arrested for battery after he allegedly grabbed neighbor Ernest Willette and forced him out of his home. Their dispute was over Willette's feeding of peanuts to squirrels in their neighborhood: Oates was apparently angry that the squirrels kept discarding peanut shells on Oates' driveway and lawn, The Huffington Post reports.

No squirrels were reported harmed in the incident. Oates' neighbor, however, wasn't so lucky.

Battery Over Nuts

The definition of battery varies by state, but it generally requires that there be some sort of harmful and offensive contact, with damages.

Florida's battery statute says that battery occurs when a person actually and intentionally touches or strikes another person against the will of the other; or when a person intentionally causes bodily harm to another.

In this case, Willette claims that Oates had allegedly tried to force him out of his home. Willette told the officers that he grabbed the door frame to prevent Oates from pulling him, and ended up with two scratches. Even if those scratches are small, they seem to suggest a battery occurred.

Legal Grounds for a Defense?

After all the hooplah that Oates seems to have caused, could he assert any defenses?

Defenses to battery include things like self-defense or defense of property. But it's unlikely that Oates, who appears to be the initial aggressor, can claim any of these defenses, unless more facts emerge.

However, if Oates wanted to retaliate in civil court, could have a valid legal claim against Willette?

According to a FindLaw survey, animals are actually one of the top reasons for neighbor disputes. However, these usually involve one neighbor's dog or cat, and not squirrels that don't belong to anyone.

One possible claim that Oates could try to pursue, however, is nuisance. A nuisance exists when there has been a loss of the use or enjoyment of property without an actual physical invasion of that property. Examples of this are unpleasant odors wafting over into the neighbor's house, or trash spilling over onto a neighbor's lawn.

Squirrels wantonly disposing of peanut shells might qualify, but if Oates tries to sue his neighbor for it, it's more likely that a court will think the claimant is a little, well, nuts.

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