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The Bengies claimed light from a Royal Farms store that opened in 2008 was interfering with its ability to show movies. (File photo)
The Bengies claimed light from a Royal Farms store that opened in 2008 was interfering with its ability to show movies. (File photo)

Curtain closes on the Bengies’ light-pollution lawsuit

Looks like it’s time to roll the credits on the Bengies Drive-In Theatre’s light-pollution lawsuit against Royal Farms.

The Court of Appeals last week denied the Middle River theater’s writ for petition of certiorari, meaning it will let stand a Court of Special Appeals decision from July affirming the Bengies is not entitled to $838,000 in damages awarded by a Baltimore County jury.

The Bengies, which opened in 1956 and is Maryland’s last drive-in movie theater, filed suit against Royal Farms in 2010, two years after one of its stores opened nearby along Eastern Boulevard.

County zoning officials granted a special exception for a convenience store along Eastern Boulevard that required lighting not to “inappropriately spill” onto the Bengies, but owner D. Edward Vogel alleged he had to close early in the fall and wait until foliage appears on his trees in the spring because of the light pollution.

A Baltimore County jury awarded the Bengies damages following a June 2012 trial, money Vogel planned to use to erect a 25-foot-tall, 850-foot-long fence to block the light from Royal Farms. But Judge Robert E. Cahill Jr. threw out the jury verdict, agreeing with Royal Farms that there was insufficient evidence for the jury to find a private nuisance.

“If the business located on the Bengies property was a 7-Eleven or a Walmart or a car dealership, there would not be even a colorable claim for nuisance based on lighting spillage,” Cahill wrote.

Ed Stronski, marketing manager for Royal Farms, said in a statement Monday that the company is pleased the case has ended.

“This decision by the court finally proves that Royal Farms has done nothing wrong, despite Mr. Vogel’s repeated assertions to the contrary, and our attempts to work with Mr. Vogel over the years,” Stronski said.

2 comments

  1. Cahill, you’re an idiot. The business is NOT a Walmart or a car dealership, that’s the point! It’s a motion picture theatre, which uses LIGHT to form an image on it’s screen. That image is the theatre’s PRODUCT. When stray light encroaches on the property and hits the screen along with the projected moving picture, it competes with the image, lowering its contrast, making it difficult or impossible to SEE the movie. If stray light encroaches the property in such a way as to shine in people’s eyes who are trying to view the movie (or if the source of stray light is an open source, such as parking lot lights), it makes it impossible to watch a movie in a darkened theatre. The viewer’s eye will be drawn straight to the open light source and the pupils will contract – further reducing the customer’s ability to see the movie on the screen. Using the example of a supermarket or car dealership has got to be the most-insipid reasoning I have ever heard! If that’s the kind of logic you use, I sincerely hope you are never in a position to decide life and death matters.

    Tim Reed,
    Motion Picture Projection and Sound Engineer

  2. Treat paying customers with respect and kindness, your business will grow like Royal Farms Stores; treat them like felons and personal irritations, your business will lose money like Bengie’s.

    This decision is karma and schadenfreude. It’s sad to see a drive-in close, but I’ve no sympathy for the man who runs it. D. is a bitter, hostile man who demands customers to praise him for the blessing of being allowed to visit his drive-in, if they obey him well. An expert may agree that he’s marginal psychotic. He’s been in business this long because he’s MD’s only drive-in. It explains why he can yell at customers, hire rude employees who do likewise, be convinced that “obey my rules or else” is a great business model, and smugly hold an enduring grudge (14 years?) against The Sun because Dan Rodricks asked him to “lighten up” (http://www.bengies.com/Sun.php)), among other things. He could’ve blocked the lights, as many advised here, but he doesn’t have the money. He must’ve been delusional enough to think he could gain public pity and win a civil action against Royal Farms over something that could’ve been resolved professionally. He’s likely barred half of north central Maryland from his drive-in because of a rule infraction or having the nerve to come to him with a concern—no sympathy from them, surely. The only customers D. gets are those unaware of how he runs the place, the few who can withstand his absurdities and enjoy the movie, and the masochists who support him and enjoy being treated like dirt under his shoes.

    Selling Bengie’s is the wisest decision D can ever make. Maybe and he’ll sell it to someone who truly enjoys customer patronage and we’ll be able to actually enjoy going there, for once. I suggest a “rule-burning” party in celebration once this happens.

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