As part of the ongoing litigation against Murphy-Brown and its parent company, Smithfield Foods, 20 plaintiffs brought this lawsuit against the hog integrator seeking compensatory and punitive damages for trespass, negligence, civil conspiracy, and unjust enrichment. The plaintiffs claimed that the swine owned by the defendants at the nearby Vestal Farm caused unreasonable odor, dust, flies, and noise. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss, claiming that the plaintiffs failed to join an indispensable party and for failure to state a claim.

The defendants claimed that the owner/operator of Vestal Farm is a necessary and indispensable party under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(7). In its own motion, the Vestal Farm operator claimed that it cannot protect its farm and financial interests unless allowed to join in the lawsuit. The court found that the operator’s interests were not directly related because the plaintiffs did not challenge the operator’s actions or swine production agreement, but only sought financial compensation from the defendants. Therefore, the operator was not a necessary party.

The defendants also argued that the plaintiffs’ claim should be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6) because they failed to state a claim. The North Carolina Right to Farm Act (RTFA) bars nuisance lawsuits against agricultural operators if the action is not brought within one year of the operation’s establishment. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 106-701(a)(3). A hog operation has existed at Vestal Farm for decades. The defendants claim that the plaintiffs’ claims “are merely disguised nuisance claims” and should be dismissed under the RTFA. The court found that torts such as nuisance and trespass can share the same elements. Additionally, the RTFA specifically excludes claims of “negligence, trespass, personal injury, strict liability, or other cause of action for tort liability other than nuisance.” Id. at § 106-702(d). Therefore, the plaintiff adequately stated a claim.

Barden v. Murphy Brown, LLC, 2021 WL 965915 (E.D.N.C. March 15, 2021)