Andrew Branan, ARE Extension Assistant Professor, updated swine producers attending the Wilson Area Pork Conference on the issues surrounding the recent nuisance litigation against Murphy-Brown/Smithfield. He was joined on the evening’s program by Dr. Jonathan Holt, NC State Assistant Professor & Extension Specialist focusing on swine, who discussed the global status of African Swine Fever. Andy Curliss, Director of the NC Pork Council, also spoke to the group.
In his presentation, Branan broke down for the farmers the elements of common law nuisance as applied in North Carolina, and the balancing tests juries must weigh in determining a nuisance. He noted that given the legal balancing tests, waste management technology and its costs could play a role in future litigation. Branan also discussed the development of North Carolina’s Right to Farm statute, and its recent 2018 amendments to address some issues raised in the recent litigation, such as punitive damages. Noting that oral arguments in the federal 4th Circuit appeal of the verdicts are now scheduled for late January 2020 in Richmond, Virginia, Branan reported that the retroactive applicability of the Right to Farm statute to these cases – which may remove plaintiff standing to bring the lawsuits – is a key issue on appeal. Regardless of the outcome of the appeal, he noted, such laws nationwide – some in response to the North Carolina verdicts – are trending toward tighter restrictions on nuisance suits, and could interpreted as an unconstitutional legislative restriction on the property rights of farm neighbors. (He noted that a lawsuit has recently been filed in Wake County challenging the constitutionality of North Carolina’s Right to Farm law.)
Branan also updated the farmers on various environmental issues related to swine production, as well as the recent federal court challenge to North Carolina’s “Ag Gag” law, as well as North Carolina’s drone regulations, which can provide producers tools to discourage infiltration by animal activists. Andy Curliss of the NC Pork Council followed up with a detailed look at the strategy employed by plaintiff’s lawyers in the Murphy Brown cases, as potential funding sources behind the lawsuits.