North Carolina Supreme Court dismisses Right to Farm Act challenge

A unanimous North Carolina Court of Appeals three-judge panel had ruled against the lawsuit in December 2021.

Compiled by staff

December 19, 2022

2 Min Read
Edward's Farm North Carolina (5).jpg
National Pork Board

The North Carolina Supreme Court has declined to take up a legal challenge regarding the 2017 and 2018 amendments to the state's Right to Farm Act. In an order signed by Justice Phil Berger, Jr. last week, the court upheld the December 2021 North Carolina Court of Appeals decision to dismiss a 2019 lawsuit brought by the Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help, North Carolina Environmental Justice Community Action Network and Waterkeeper Alliance. 

The 2017 amendment capped recoverable damages to the fair market value of a plaintiff's property and the 2018 amendment narrowed who can bring a nuisance lawsuit against a farm and the time in which they can bring a nuisance suit.

The three non-profit organizations argued on appeal that the amendments violated private property rights in North Carlina's constitution, obstructed the fundamental right to enjoy property and that capping recoverable damages breached the constitutional right to a trial by jury. Finally, the organizations contended that the amendments provided private protections just for the hog industry. 

In the December 2021 Court of Appeals decision, Judge John Tyson said, "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."

The appeals court concluded that 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.

"While Plaintiffs assert the Amendments are private protections for the swine industry, the statutes are statewide laws of general applicability to 'agricultural and forestry operation[s],'" Tyson wrote.

In last week's decision Justice Anita Earls presented the only dissent, citing "This petition raises significant issues of great public interest to the people of North Carolina, as it involves the constitutional rights of property owners who allege they are harmed by industrial hog farm operations. Petitioners raise fundamental constitutional questions that have not been previously decided by this Court. Our statutes provide that parties have a right to appeal in cases directly involving substantial constitutional questions. Therefore, I dissent from the Court's dismissal of this appeal without consideration of the merits and in the alternative, I dissent from the denial of the petition for discretionary review."

In a tweet, the North Carolina Farm Bureau said the decision was "a big win today for North Carolina's farmers in the N.C. Supreme Court!

"In 2017 and 2018, the General Assembly restored and strengthened North Carolina's right-to-farm statute in response to nuisance lawsuits against Smithfield, and opponents began their legal challenge to the law in 2019. Today's ruling ends that challenge once and for all in favor of farmers."

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