Murphy-Brown aims to separate nuisance lawsuits

by Erica Shaffer
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RALEIGH, N.C. – A hearing is set for Dec. 4 to determine whether 26 nuisance lawsuits will be divided into separate trials. The nuisance lawsuits against Murphy-Brown LLC, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods Inc., involves nearly 500 individuals who live near the company’s contract hog farms in eastern North Carolina.

US District Court Judge Earl Britt also granted the company’s request to seal certain documents. However, the judge rejected the company’s argument that North Carolina’s “Right to Farm” law protected Murphy-Brown from litigation. The law protects agricultural concerns in operation for more than a year if the operation was not a nuisance at the time the operation began. The law exempts nuisances resulting from negligence or improper operations.

In his ruling, Britt said “…plaintiffs’ use of their properties as residences did not extend into an agricultural area. Their land use had been in existence well before the operations of the subject farms began. The fact that some plaintiffs may have used their land for agricultural purposes in addition to a residence or that other agricultural uses have pre-existed in the locality does not alter the court’s analysis. At bottom, plaintiffs’ nuisance claims have nothing to do with changed conditions in the area, and therefore, as a matter of law, the right-to-farm law does not bar those claims.”

In May, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the Right to Farm legislation that also limited compensatory damages awarded to property owners living near hog and other agricultural businesses.  The North Carolina legislature overrode the governor’s veto in the same month.

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