It took three years for Tony and Anita Knapke to get a 1,960-head finishing barn built.
The Greenville, OH, couple first made plans to expand the contract feeder pig finishing portion of their hog operation in the fall of 1998. Then they got an alarming telephone call. A reporter wanted to know how it felt to be named the defendant in a $10-million lawsuit.
Three Neighbors Sue
The lawsuit for an injunction against construction was filed in Darke County, OH, District Court by three of the Knapkes' neighbors. It claimed expansion would be a nuisance and “create substantial adverse impact on the health, welfare and safety of the community.”
Those three neighbors have an interesting connection, points out Knapke. The lead plaintiff is a realtor (who settled out of court prior to the award of damages). The second owns a construction company that was the building contractor for the farm in the mid-70s. The third lived and worked on the farm, raising hogs under contract, as it was going through bankruptcy in the early to mid-80s. This neighbor also farmed land for both the first and second neighbors.
The three plaintiffs expressed concern that the proposed expansion would reduce future property values.
Knapke acquired the farm in 1987. Besides the contract finishing business he started, the farm includes a 180-sow, farrow-to-finish operation. He stresses there were never any environmental complaints prior to the lawsuit.
In December 2000, Judge William Millard found evidence lacking to prove a nuisance case and denied the plaintiffs' request for an injunction.
Construction of a two-room, double-wide finisher was completed in the fall of 2001.
In March 2002, the judge awarded the Knapkes damages in the amount of $144,500 for lost production income and attorneys fees. The plaintiffs have appealed the damages ruling, says Leisa Boley Hellwarth, Knapke's attorney.
Hellwarth is a dairy farmer and attorney who represents farmers throughout Ohio from her office near Celina, OH. She can be reached at (419) 586-1072 or [email protected].
Tony Knapke says the ruling “was about like winning the Super Bowl of agriculture.” He credits Cooper Farms of Ft. Recovery, OH, his hog contractor, for footing the legal bills.
Neil Diller, Cooper Farms general manager, says it was time to take a stand against lawsuits based on scare tactics. He hopes this ruling “sends a message to people that they better have a concrete basis for suing producers.”
Also supporting Knapke were the Ohio Pork Producers Council, Ohio Farm Bureau and Ohio Livestock Coalition.