RALEIGH, N.C. – Environmental and social justice groups in North Carolina filed a lawsuit challenging state laws that limited compensatory damages awarded to property owners living near hog and other agricultural operations.
The plaintiffs said in their lawsuit that the current legislation violates “the North Carolina Constitution’s prohibition of ‘special laws’ that create unreasonable classifications and relate to the abatement of nuisances; the guarantee of due process and the protection of fundamental right to property; and the right of all citizen to a trial by jury in cases respecting property rights.”
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit including the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help, Waterkeepers Alliance and Winyah Rivers Alliance.
“These laws not only violate the state constitution, but also have disparate impacts on low-wealth and non-white North Carolinians, who disproportionally live where North Carolina has permitted industrial hog facilities to develop and operate,” the lawsuit continued.
The groups are challenging House Bill 467 and Senate Bill 711 that passed after overriding 2017 and 2018 vetoes by North Carolina governor Roy Cooper.
A statement released by North Carolina Republican house leaders, who are named as the defendants, voiced their continued support for the laws in place.
“We will continue to fight for hardworking North Carolina farm families and their communities by opposing any coordinated legal assault that seeks to profit off their livelihoods and potentially shut down their farms,” the statement said. “There is no right more fundamental than the right to feed our families.”
Nuisance cases are still making their way through the court system. In the latest ruling in March, Smithfield Foods Inc. subsidiary Murphy-Brown LLC was found responsible for nuisances caused by odors from neighboring hog farms. This was the fifth lawsuit that Smithfield lost, but it did appeal the ruling to the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals.
“These lawsuits are an abuse of our legal system, one that bypasses decisions made by lawmakers and regulators,” said Smithfield spokeswoman, Keira Lombardo in March. “As with the first three trials, the negative result is due in large measure to rulings by the court that our attorneys believe are incorrect. These errors skewed the evidence presented in favor of plaintiffs and prejudiced our ability to defend the case, our company, our industry, family farmers and all agriculture.”