RALEIGH, N.C. – North Carolina lawmakers voted to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a bill that limits nuisance lawsuits against agricultural businesses. The North Carolina Farm Act of 2018 became law after the state Senate voted 37-9 on June 26 and state representatives voted 74-45 on June 27 to override the veto.
Lawmakers added language to the Farm Act that will make it harder for individuals living near agribusinesses to file nuisance claims about odors and other issues. The new language was included after 10 neighbors of Kinlaw Farm, a hog production facility in Dublin, North Carolina, successfully sued Smithfield Foods subsidiary Murphy-Brown LLC in federal court. A jury awarded plaintiffs $750,000 in compensation in addition to more than $50 million in punitive damages. But the judge in the case reduced the punitive damages to $250,000 from $5 million in compliance with state law that limits punitive damages to three times the amount of compensatory damages or $250,000, whichever is greater.
“Overriding this veto and correcting Gov. Cooper’s unwise decision sends the clear message to our family farmers and rural communities that they have a voice in the legislature and that this General Assembly intends to give them the respect they deserve,” state Sen. Brent Jackson, primary sponsor of the bill, said in a statement. “This was never a partisan issue or about politics, but about doing what is right, and I am glad we had bipartisan support in both chambers as we stand up for our farmers.”
The new language in the bill, however, won’t affect lawsuits that already have been filed. Supporters of the bill argued that the lawsuits were brought by outside interests against family farms. Opponents of the bill said the legislation limited property rights. In a statement explaining his veto, Cooper said, “While agriculture is vital to North Carolina’s economy, so property rights are vital to people’s homes and other businesses. North Carolina’s nuisance laws can help allow generations of families to enjoy their homes and land without fear for their health and safety.”