Court ends feud over debris, Bible verses

Bounds of decency became major point in Ketchikan case

Posted: Monday, October 01, 2001

An unneighborly feud between a Ketchikan couple and an Oregon woman who owned rental property below their hillside home went all the way to the Alaska Supreme Court.

Pointed biblical messages painted on the roof of a duplex owned by Leta Trask didn't rise to the legal definition of "outrageous," the state Supreme Court said in an order handed down Friday.

The ruling caps a dispute over construction debris from a fire at George and Elizabeth Lybrand's home that saw the two neighbors building their own retaining walls to separate the properties and eventually filing competing lawsuits alleging unneighborly behavior.

"It's been a mighty expensive disagreement. It seems to be a lot over very little," said Robert Erwin, an Anchorage attorney who represented Trask.

When they were unable to resolve the dispute, Trask eventually painted biblical passages on her roof below the Lybrand's home. "Do unto others," and "Love Thy Neighbor," and a large painted crucifix accompanying the words "You(')re welcome George L." were among the messages.

"My wife just got out of the hospital after being unconscious for a long time, and we came home to this," George Lybrand said Friday.

Lybrand filed a lawsuit in Ketchikan Superior Court in April 1998 to get their neighbor to remove the messages. He also alleged the messages caused his wife to suffer emotional distress and trauma that required professional therapy.

Trask and her husband, Robert, filed a countersuit for trespassing and other claims. The trial lasted four days, Erwin said.

Superior Court Judge Michael Thompson dismissed the lawsuit against Trask, ruling that the words weren't outrageous enough to meet Alaska's legal definition of intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Lybrand was ordered to pay a dollar for trespassing and Trask agreed to quit painting her rooftop.

In Alaska, someone intentionally inflicts emotional distress only when their conduct goes beyond the bounds of decency, state Supreme Court Justice Robert L. Eastaugh wrote in his ruling. "The trial court concluded that Leta Trask's conduct did not 'measure up,"' Eastaugh said. "We agree."

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