NC governor vetoes hog farm nuisance lawsuit bill

by MEAT+POULTRY Staff
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RALEIGH, N.C. – North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper recently vetoed legislation that would have limited compensatory damages awarded to property owners living near hog and other agricultural operations.
Roy Cooper, governor, North Carolina
Gov. Roy Cooper

“The agriculture and forestry industries are vital to our economy and we should encourage them to thrive,” Cooper said in a statement. “But nuisance laws can be used to protect property rights and make changes for good. We used nuisance laws to force the Tennessee Valley Authority to stop air pollution flowing into North Carolina and we won damages to improve air quality.”

Under House Bill 467, damages would have been measured by the reduction in the fair market value of the plaintiff’s property in the case of a “permanent nuisance.” In the case of a “temporary nuisance” compensatory damages would have been limited to the “diminution of the fair rental value of the plaintiff’s property caused by the nuisance.”

Additionally, the combined recovery from a private nuisance lawsuit, according to the text of the bill, “…shall not exceed the fair market value of his or her property.” Environmental protection groups applauded the veto.

“This is a big win on behalf of hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians, including many who have seen their property and health harmed by the animal waste literally sprayed on them from factory farms,” Craig Cox, senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources of the Environmental Working Group.

The North Carolina Pork Council, which supported House Bill 467, urged the North Carolina legislature to override Cooper’s veto.

“The North Carolina Pork Council is disappointed in Gov. Cooper’s veto of a bill that passed the legislature with bipartisan support,” NCPC said in a statement. “The ratified bill strikes a balance in providing clarity and certainty to farmers while ensuring that property owners remain protected.

“Our laws offer special protections for a wide range of industries — and farmers are among them. North Carolina’s pork producers follow stringent environmental regulations,” NCPC said. “We encourage the legislature to override the veto in support of a vital sector of North Carolina’s economy.”

Molly Diggins, state director of the NC Sierra Club, said in a statement that “…It’s disappointing that the Legislature passed this bill to strip away legal rights of certain citizens, although these same rights are available to all other North Carolinians. But now legislators have a second chance to get it right and uphold Governor Cooper’s veto.

“While the majority of farming and forestry operations may not cause problems, there are outliers in any industry. Neighbors whose rights are harmed by these operations should be able to receive fair compensation under the law.”

The North Carolina Chamber of Commerce said the veto placed “frivolous lawsuits before jobs.”

“The veto of Agriculture and Forestry Nuisance Remedies, House Bill 467, puts the interests of plaintiff attorneys before those of North Carolina’s greatest economic engine,” Lew Ebert, president and CEO of the North Carolina Chamber, said in a statement. “North Carolina’s agriculture and the agribusiness sector accounts for one-sixth of the state’s income and employees, in addition to $84 billion of the state’s $482 billion gross state product. This anti-jobs veto spurns North Carolina farmers and fails to remedy ambiguity plaguing our state’s legal system. The NC Chamber is deeply troubled by this veto and will continue to advocate for measures that strengthen our legal climate and support our job creators.”

The bill initially was written to cap damages against Murphy-Brown, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, but later was revised. Murphy-Brown currently is involved in 26 federal lawsuits in North Carolina.

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