Andrew Branan, Extension Assistant Professor concentrating in Environmental and Agricultural law, presented to the 40th annual American Agricultural Law Association conference, held this year in Washington, DC on November 7 and 8. Andrew presented alongside Jake Parker, General Counsel for the North Carolina Farm Bureau, and Rusty Rumley, Senior Staff Attorney at the National Agricultural Law Center.
For his part, Andrew walked the audience through the common law elements of nuisance at issue in the recent Murphy-Brown (Smithfield) swine nuisance lawsuits, with an emphasis on the balance jurors in such cases must strike between nuisance harm (the affront to a swine farm neighbor’s property right of “quiet enjoyment”) and the “utility” or public benefit of the activity causing the harm (for example, a steady supply of pork products). He also traced the evolution of North Carolina’s “Right to Farm” law and how the NC General Assembly has continued to update farmer nuisance protections in pace with historical nuisance litigation against swine farmers, as well as the concern that such cases may extend to North Carolina’s poultry production integration system.
Jake Parker then reviewed the particulars of the individual Murphy-Brown cases and their farmer-adverse verdicts, the potential impacts on the eastern North Carolina farming community, and the legal issues on appeal before the federal Fourth Circuit, revealing that oral arguments in that appeal will be heard January 28-31, 2020. Rusty Rumley – an authority on Right to Farm laws nationwide – reviewed the theory and origins of Right to Farm laws and patterns of evolution in several states, as well as constitutional dangers to such laws as they expand beyond the policy of balance inherent in nuisance law theory.