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Indiana Supreme Court urged to hear right-to-farm case

Environmental and citizen groups file amicus brief in support of challenge against large pork operation.

Earlier this year, in a challenge to the state’s right-to-farm law, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the defendants in the case, the owners of an 8,000-head hog operation in Hendricks County, Ind. The Indiana Farmers Union, Family Farm Action, Public Justice and Food & Water Watch filed an amicus brief in support of plaintiffs Richard and Janet Himsel and Robert and Susan Lannon -- represented by the Hoosier Environmental Council -- to have their case, Himsel vs. Himsel, heard in front of the Indiana Supreme Court.

The case was brought against 4/9 Livestock LLC and Co-Alliance LLP -- pork producers from Hendricks County who began operation of their modern pork production operation in 2013. The lawsuit alleged nuisance and negligence and also challenged the constitutionality of Indiana’s right-to-farm statute.

In a joint statement, the groups filing the amicus brief said Indiana’s right-to-farm law strips independent farmers and rural residents of any sort of redress against concentrated animal feeding operations.

“The appellate court decision, in this case, must not be the last word on the matter, as it gives blanket immunity to corporate agribusiness interests against nuisance suits when their operations negatively affect small family farmers and other neighbors. We hope the state Supreme Court will choose to hear the case and give farmers and rural residents the chance to stand up for their rights when industrial food operations abuse surrounding communities with their unsustainable amounts of pollution.”

Indiana’s right-to-farm statute protects Indiana farms that operate in traditional agricultural locations and are not negligently operated. The statute is a farmer’s defense to nuisance suits, provided that the farm has been in continuous operation for more than one year at the time the suit is brought. Significantly, under the law, the farm is allowed to change the type of operation from a dairy to a hog farm or from a soybean field to a turkey farm, for example, without losing protection.

“In interpreting the statute, the court held that a farm does not need to prove its modern operation ‘would not have been a nuisance’ at the time the property was first used for agriculture. Here, the farm property was used for agriculture as early as 1941, and the neighbors began their non-farming uses sometime after that,” said John Shoup, director of INAgLaw,  an organization created by the Indiana Farm Bureau to help defend the law and other legal challenges facing Indiana farmers.

Shoup explained that considering the 2005 amendment to the act, which clearly stated that converting from one agricultural use to another, such as from crops to livestock, was not a statutorily significant change; the court held that the law applies. Shoup added that the court summarily dismissed the plaintiffs' constitutional challenges.

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