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Appeals Court rejects lawsuit challenging recent farm laws

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A unanimous three-judge panel of the N.C. Court of Appeals has affirmed a lower court’s decision to dismiss a lawsuit challenging 2017 and 2018 amendments to North Carolina’s Right to Farm Act.

The Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help, N.C. Environmental Justice Community Action Network, and Waterkeeper Alliance filed suit in 2019 against the amendments.

The changes were designed to tighten restrictions on nuisance lawsuits filed against farms. Lawmakers have been dealing with the issue since “hundreds of plaintiffs” filed nuisance lawsuits against N.C. hog farms in 2013.

“Our State’s long-asserted interest in promoting and preserving agriculture, forestry, horticulture, livestock, and animal husbandry activities and production within North Carolina clearly rests within the scope of the State’s police power,” wrote Judge John Tyson for the unanimous court.

The 2017 and 2018 farms laws “are intended to promote agricultural and forestry activities and production in North Carolina by defining and limiting nuisance claims from agricultural, forestry, and related operations,” Tyson added.

“The asserted and purported interference in the statute with the enjoyment of property is reasonable and clearly rests within the General Assembly’s enumerated powers,” the opinion continued. “By passage of an act with the signature of the Governor of North Carolina, the General Assembly can modify or amend the common law or amend, replace, or repeal a state statute.”

“Limiting potential nuisance liability from agricultural, forestry, and related operations helps ensure the State’s stated goal to protect agricultural activities in North Carolina and to encourage the availability and continued ‘production of food, fiber, and other products,’” Tyson wrote.

Tyson and colleagues Fred Gore and Jefferson Griffin rejected a series of arguments from the environmental groups opposing the 2017 and 2018 farm laws.

Opponents claimed the changes to rules surrounding nuisance lawsuits violated their rights to the enjoyment of their property. They also labeled the laws unconstitutional as “private laws” designed to protect the swine industry. They claimed new limits on nuisance lawsuits would deprive them of a right to a jury trial.

“The Amendments are a valid exercise of legislative and the State’s police powers, do not violate the Law of the Land Clause or Due Process, are not a special or private law, and do not deprive a prospective plaintiff of the right to a jury trial,” Tyson concluded.