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18 July 2014 - A Victory for “Right to Farm”

A judge in eastern Indiana handed down a decision this month that is a victory for livestock producers and all producers of food and fiber. Judge Marianne Vorhees declared that the Indiana “Right to Farm Act” is constitutional and that it barred nuisance claims. The decision was watched closely by other states that have passed “Right to Farm” laws that are being challenged in the courts.

This is the Indiana story that began in December 2009 when a reporter for the Muncie Star-Press wrote an article that was headlined “Lawyers target pig, dairy farms: Attorneys seek justice for neighbors allegedly injured by pork and dairy producers.” He then wrote “Three high-powered trial lawyers have vowed to make Randolph County ‘ground zero’ in a courtroom food fight over how Indiana produces pork and milk.”

The defendant was Maxwell Farms, a family pork operation founded by two brothers in North Carolina in 1979, and in 2006 expanded into eastern Indiana with a 20,000 sow operation. That’s where neighbors filed a “nuisance” lawsuit to shut down the farm, and finally, 5 years later, the judge granted a summary judgment in favor of Maxwell Farms. The Indiana Law Blog reported the decision and quoted part of the judge’s statement that is worth noting and I share it with you.

“Plaintiffs have argued the increased size and scope of the current swine operations constitutes a new and different use. This is not correct under Indiana law. The court must read the statutory language, which is unambiguous, and apply it as written. The Indiana legislature had to know in 2005, when it amended the Right to Farm Act, that the number of animals being confined in swine and dairy operations was growing exponentially, and yet the legislature did not give neighbors surrounding the operation any relief. The legislature has made its intent known to protect farming operations against nuisance actions, even if the operation grows from a few hogs to several thousand.”

Maxwell Farms said “it was extremely pleased to have prevailed in the court actions brought against the company claiming swine production is a nuisance in the community. During the last 5 years we have had to defend our agriculture practices which are commonly practiced throughout the Midwest in swine producing communities . We find it unfortunate that a few individuals have attempted to discredit our industry despite the fact that Maxwell Farms maintains an excellent environmental record in the state of Indiana.”

It will be interesting to see if judges in other states reach the same conclusion in favor of producers.

My thought on Samuelson Sez.