Hog producers win right-to-farm lawsuit

Maxwell Farms prevails in defending against negligence and nuisance lawsuits filed by neighbors.

For years, Maxwell Farms has had to defend itself against five lawsuits brought by its neighbors based on negligence and nuisance. Recently, those actions were acknowledged when a court sided with the farming operation.

Beginning in late 2009 and early 2010, attorneys Richard Hailey of Indianapolis, Ind.; Charles Speer and Britt Bieri of Kansas City, Mo., and Richard Middleton, acting on behalf of neighbors, brought five negligence and nuisance lawsuits in Randolph County, Ind., against Maxwell Farms of Indiana and several individual farmers.

The complaints stated that the basis for the suits was the odor created by the production of hogs, improper handling of manure waste and dead hogs, fly generation and leaks of manure from the barns on to neighbors’ property. Although water pollution was raised, no Clean Water Act violations were alleged.

At that time, the four attorneys, who were labeled by newspapers as “high-powered,” were reported as vowing to make Randolph County “ground zero” in a legal fight over how Indiana produces pork.

Then-Gov. Mitch Daniels had encouraged the development of pork production in Indiana during his administration. Middleton was quoted as stating that Daniels' failure to meet legal obligations to protect his citizens from environmental threats was at the root of the cases.

OFW Law's Gary Baise and Anson Keller represented Maxwell Farms in all five cases. In the first four cases, the plaintiffs' depositions showed that they knew nothing about improper handling of manure waste, improper handling of dead hogs or any leaks of manure from the barns on to their property. They claimed that those allegations came from their lawyers.

OFW Law moved for summary judgment in all five cases, and at no time did the plaintiffs attempt to show any evidence of negligence or negligent operation of the hog farms in any of the five cases.

The trial court judge, Marianne Vorhees, a special judge sitting in Muncie, Ind., found that the elements of the Indiana Right to Farm statute had been met. The farms had been in existence for more than one year before the lawsuits began, there had been no change in circumstances in the operation of any of the farms and the plaintiffs provided no evidence to show that the farms had been a nuisance at the time the farms began operations.

After a thorough briefing by OFW Law and the Indiana attorney general, Judge Vorhees also found that the Indiana Right to Farm statute was constitutional. The plaintiffs appealed four of the cases but subsequently dropped the appeals.

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