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North Carolina Farm Nuisance Legislation Challenged


Recently enacted legislation limits the amount of compensation for nuisance to be awarded to homeowners in the vicinity of intensive livestock operations. Action by the North Carolina Legislature was prompted by numerous lawsuits claiming odor and reduction in property values by homeowners in the vicinity of contract farms raising hogs and using lagoons to dispose of waste.

Three lawsuits were decided in favor of plaintiffs against Smithfield Foods, the integrator receiving hogs from contract farms cited in the lawsuits. Compensation was however limited by the North Carolina law enacted hastily in anticipation of the lawsuits. House Bill 467 and Senate Bill 711 that both passed after an override of vetoes by Governor Roy Cooper (D) are now the subject of a challenge by the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, the Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help and the Waterkeepers Alliance. The plaintiffs noted “These laws not only violate the State Constitution, but also have disparate impacts on low-wealth and non-white North Carolinians who disproportionately live where North Carolina has permitted industrial hog facilities to develop and operate”. The plaintiffs claim that “current legislation violates the North Carolina Constitution’s prohibition of special laws to create unreasonable classifications relating to the abatement of nuisance, the guarantee of due process and the protection of fundamental right to property”. The Republican leaders of the North Carolina House and Senate, named as defendants emphasized their support for the laws.

The lawsuits that decided against Smithfield Foods are now subject to appeal in the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A spokesperson for Smithfield Foods stated “These lawsuits are an abuse of our legal system, one that bypasses decisions made by lawmakers and regulators”. The spokesperson added “Rulings by the court skewed the evidence presented in favor of plaintiffs and prejudiced our ability to defend the case, our company and family farmers”. Juries that considered cases in Raleigh were drawn from predominantly urban areas and were not allowed to visit the sites to personally evaluate odor and alleged nuisance.