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N.L. man gets just $1 for fence destroyed by snow plowed by town


‘The town is probably responsible for some damage to the damaged fence. However … it is impossible to put a value on a seriously dilapidated fence,’ the judge wrote

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The first time Gary Antle, 62, sued his Newfoundland town for destroying his fence by piling snow on it, the retired long-haul petroleum trucker did pretty well for a self-represented litigant.

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Bylaws exempt the town of Victoria, near Carbonear, from liability in “severe” storms, but back in 2007 the town failed to prove the storm in question was particularly bad, so a judge ordered it to pay Antle $1,000.

The record-breaking blizzard of January 2020, was different. Now Antle has gone back in court, self-represented as before, to ask a judge to force Victoria to replace that very same fence for the very same reason, that it was destroyed by snowplowing in what is widely known as Snowmageddon.

This time it did not go so well. “I guess most of that was my fault,” Antle said about the trial in Harbour Grace, starting last month and ending last week, before Judge Harold Porter, appearing by videolink. “I didn’t know the system. Blame it on me own self, I guess.”

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He felt he had a case. “I just tried to get up and explain what I was there for,” he said in an interview Wednesday. At first it was a little over $1,600, based on what the hardware store told him about the cost of wood and wire.

“They just plows the road and pushes it in over people’s property,” Antle said.

The snow piled up on the side of the road burying the fence underneath, making difficult to assess the damage
The snow piled up on the side of the road burying the fence underneath, making difficult to assess the damage Photo by Holly Antle

He volunteered that he was aware of the old joke about the self-represented litigant having a fool for a client. But he also knows that the municipal truck plowed snow along the road parallel to his paddock, turned ninety degrees, and “pushes everything over me fence.”

“I knows what happened to me up in court, 250 butterflies flying around in me stomach,” he said, with the town’s hired lawyer “objecting this and that and another thing.”

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He said he got confused, and when he was told to submit something, he asked, “Should I give that to the girl?”

“I didn’t know I had to call her a clerk,” he said. “He (Judge Porter) did point that out and I apologized.”

Porter’s written decision , issued Tuesday, describes the trouble with Antle’s case as twofold.

One problem was Antle’s behaviour, at least impolite by courtroom standards. He called the clerk “the girl” a second time after being corrected, and he interrupted opposing counsel, witnesses and even the judge. He “wasted the better part of two days of court docket time,” Porter found.

The other problem is that his fence was rotten to begin with. Antle does not deny it. It is made of wood and wire and buried under snow for three months a year, he said. His point is that this snow is put there by the town.

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“Every single year this happens, and it got to the point, here I was spending a few dollars every year putting in a new rail, a new stake,” Antle said. “It’s not a big fancy fence or anything. It’s just a farm fence.”

He agrees the judge was correct to point out some posts could not even hold a nail. The judge, however, took special note of the fact that it was in bad shape all around the paddock, even far from the road.

The ruling observes almost sarcastically that Antle did not even try to explain “how the snow piled up by the plow was any different from snow which fell from the sky,” the judge wrote.

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The town argued that if the fence had been in reasonably good condition, it would have survived the Snowmageddon snowplowing.

Antle even called a witness from council, a former RCMP officer whom he had allowed to pasture the local Heritage Society’s Newfoundland Pony in his paddock in spring and fall, and who arranged for the fence to be fixed up back in 2014. His view was that they fixed it for him before, and should do so again.

Antle’s initial claim of $1,610.15 was unsupported by anything more than his handwritten notes from a phone call to a hardware store clerk, the ruling says, and when challenged, he changed course and simply asked for a new fence.

Judge Porter seemed aghast. “The plaintiff actually said that he has no intention of fixing the fence himself, and that he wants the town to fix it.”

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Broken sections of the fence due to the weight of snow
Broken sections of the fence due to the weight of snow Photo by Holly Antle

This is called an order for “specific performance,” and the court was not about to order it. The town of Victoria “cannot be expected to build a fence as dilapidated as the Plaintiff’s fence was before the snow storm,” Porter wrote.

In short, Antle does not get a nice new fence because the town wrecked his rotten old one.

If Antle was a bit impolite, however, the judge was a bit coy, writing that he “agreed with both parties,” and walking a fine line in order to deny the substance of Antle’s claim.

“The town is responsible for the results of its snow clearing, including damages caused by the town, but the Plaintiff has to prove his damages, which he has failed to do,” the judge wrote. “The town is probably responsible for some damage to the damaged fence. However, there is insufficient evidence as to the amount it might cost to put the fence back in the condition it was before the snow storm. As Mr. (J. William) Finn, Q.C. (lawyer for the town) put it, it is impossible to put a value on a seriously dilapidated fence.”

So the judge found in Antle’s favour, technically, but ordered damages of $1 and no costs because of his bad behaviour and waste of court time. He decided Antle was “not out much, if anything.”

Antle said he does not think he got a fair shake, but seemed to accept the ruling.

“I’m not the only one in Victoria got problems,” he said. “I got a dollar out of it anyway.”

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