HSB134 passed out of an Iowa House agricultural subcommittee on February 22. The bill would limit allowable damages in nuisance lawsuits filed against animal feeding operations that have used “existing prudent and generally utilized management practices reasonable” for their operations. The bill would also allow animal feeding operations that prevail in a nuisance lawsuit brought against them to recover reasonable attorney fees from the losing plaintiff.
The bill requires plaintiffs in a nuisance action to prove one of two things to exempt a nuisance lawsuit from the bill’s reach:
If the plaintiff is unable to prove an exception, damages to a prevailing plaintiff would be limited to:
The bill also provides that an animal feeding operation found to be a public or private nuisance would be a "permanent nuisance," thereby foreclosing future lawsuits for additional damages.
Finally, the bill would require plaintiffs who file an action, but are unable to prove a nuisance, to pay the reasonable attorney fees and court costs of the animal feeding operation. This bill would apply to causes of action alleging both statutory and common law nuisance.
The constitutionality of this legislation, if enacted, would no doubt be challenged as prior legislative attempts to limit nuisance actions against agricultural operations have been rejected by the Iowa Supreme Court. This legislation, however, is very different in that it does not seek to dismiss a nuisance lawsuit, but to limit the types of damages that can be recovered against “responsible” producers. The stated legislative purpose of this bill is to encourage the “expansion of responsible animal agricultural production in this state which provides employment opportunities in and economic growth for rural Iowa, contributes tax revenues to the state and to local communities, and protects our valuable natural resources.”
We’ll keep an eye on this bill as the Iowa Legislature begins its first funnel week.
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