Monday, January 23, 2012

Bill Gives Farmers a Legal Tool to Stop Groundless Nuisance Suits

Today's Indianapolis Star ("Protection Bill Leaves a Bad Smell") contained an editorial opposing HB 1091, a bill before the Indiana General Assembly that would allow courts to award attorneys' fees to farmers that successfully defend "frivolous, maliciously initiated, or groundless" nuisance suits.   The Star's editorial mistakenly described the bill, "under which agricultural operations, such as large confined livestock complexes, would be guaranteed payment of their legal fees if found to be victims of nuisance lawsuits."  (Emphasis added).

As the bill is currently written, the Star's statement is wrong.  Only if the farm prevails in the lawsuit and the suit is determined by a court to be "frivolous, maliciously initiated, or groundless," would the court award attorneys' fees. This is not a guaranty.

Nevertheless, some anti-ag groups are already lining up to oppose the bill.  Kim Ferraro of the Hoosier Environmental Counsel explained in Nuvo: "Given the significant hurdles already in place that limit the ability of CAFO communities to protect themselves,this is probably the most repulsive, underhanded and unjust piece of proposed legislation I've ever seen. . . . No other industry is afforded these protections (included in the proposed bill) ... It seems the purpose is to have a chilling effect."

Farm group industry leaders explained why the bill is necessary.  Justin Schneider, a staff attorney from Indiana Farm Bureau, testified that was bill was necessary because there have been several cases where judges declined to award court costs to successful defendants.  Michael Platt, executive director of the Indiana Pork Producers, testified that he is seeing more attorneys file suits against CAFOS with the express purpose of delaying and disrupting industry expansion.

From my standpoint, Indiana Farm Bureau and Indiana Pork have it right. A number of lawsuits have been filed in the last few years against Indiana farms, often funded by out-of-state attorneys or in state anti-farm groups.  Nuisance suits dissuade farms from expanding.  HB 1091 seeks to address these problems. 

Read the text of HB 1091 for yourself:  HB 1091.

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