Sunday, October 20, 2019

In memoriam: Meir Shamgar

Meir Shamgar as a detainee in Eritrea, 1946
Friday saw the passing of one of the greats of Israeli law, former Justice and President of the Supreme Court Meir Shamgar. Shamgar has been eulogized elsewhere, mainly with regard to his many important contributions to constitutional law and public law in general, but I'd like to shine a light on an important decision of his in an environmental nuisance case, about which I've written (in Hebrew). (I hope the case will be translated into English soon.)

Ata v Schwartz (1976) is an Israeli classic. Briefly put, Schwartz sued a neighboring textile factory, the largest in Israel at the time; asking for an injunction against the noise emitted by its cooling and ventilation systems. Despite the factory's warning that granting the injunction would lead to the layoff of thousands of workers, the trial court as well as the two appeals courts that considered the case upheld Schwartz's right to an injunction, noting that the relevant statute rejected a "balance of the equities" test for permanent injunctions, and emphasizing the importance of every person's right to live free of harsh disturbances.

What makes the case a chestnut for teaching, beyond the stark facts and bold result, is Justice Shamgar's discussion in his decision for the Supreme Court of the then-new economic approach to law. Unbidden by the parties, Shamgar linked the defendants' claim that an injunction should be granted only if the balance of the equities was in the plaintiff's favor (i.e. that the harm eliminated by the injunction would be greater than the cost of complying with it) to classic arguments by Ronald Coase, Richard Posner, and Guido Calabresi (with Douglas Melamed), arguing for wealth- or utility-maximization as the guiding principle of nuisance law. I write "classic arguments", but Shamgar's decision was really the first (in the world) to discuss the works of these authors at any length. Why "the law and economics movement" received its first substantial treatment in an Israeli, and not an American, court is a subject for another time.

No comments:

Post a Comment