Iowa Court of Appeals Affirms Half-Million Dollar Nuisance Verdict

November 23, 2016
Kristine A. Tidgren

The Iowa Court of Appeals today affirmed a half a million dollar judgment against Prestage Farms in a neighboring landowner’s nuisance lawsuit alleging that the company’s hog confinement substantially deprived her of the comfortable use and enjoyment of her property.[i]

The jury awarded the landowner damages of $100,000 for loss of past enjoyment, $300,000 for loss of future enjoyment, and $125,000 for diminution of property value. In rendering its nuisance verdict, the jury found that Prestage Farms failed to use existing prudent generally accepted management practices that were reasonable for the facility. Because the landowner was a joint tenant with her husband, the trial court did reduce the award for diminution of value to $62,500.

On appeal, the company argued that the trial court improperly found that applying Iowa Code § 657.11(2) to insulate Prestage from the nuisance lawsuit would violate the landowner’s rights under the Iowa Constitution. Iowa Code § 657.11(2) is a right to farm law protecting animal confinement operators who comply with state and federal regulations from nuisance liability. In 2004, the Iowa Supreme Court found the law was unduly oppressive to a landowner in a nuisance lawsuit and, therefore, not a reasonable exercise of the state's police power under the facts of the case before it. The Court in Gacke v. Pork Xtra, L.L.C., 684 N.W.2d 168 (Iowa 2004) specifically found that the statutory immunity provided by Iowa Code § 657.11(2) violated article I, section 1 of the Iowa Constitution under the facts of that case.

In its appeal, Prestage Farms sought to distinguish its facts from those of Gacke. Specifically, the company argued that the law was not unconstitutional under its facts because the landowner had raised Belgian horses and other neighbors had horses and cows. The court gave little credence to the argument, pointing out that none of those endeavors appeared to have been “animal feeding operations” which would also have had the protection of the right to farm law.  

The court also found that the large damage award was reasonable because it was not outside the reasonable range of damages from similar cases. The damages represented “personal inconvenience, annoyance, discomfort, and loss of full enjoyment of the property caused by the offensive odor.”

Given the similarity of this case to Gacke, it seems unlikely the Iowa Supreme Court will review this case. But, we'll keep you posted!

The case is McIlrath v. Prestage Farms of Iowa, LLC, No. 15-1599 (Iowa Ct. App. Nov. 23, 2016).

 

[i] In 1971, the plaintiff and her husband, James, purchased a farm in rural Poweshiek County. She made improvements to the property, and she and her husband gifted one acre of their land to their son, who lives with his two children in a home about 300 feet from the landowner’s home. Prestage Farms constructed an animal confinement facility in 2012 for 2496 hogs about 2200 feet from the plaintiff’s home.

 

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