In 2017 and 2018, the North Carolina General Assembly amended the state’s Right to Farm law in response to several nuisance lawsuits against pork producer Murphy-Brown. The lawsuits resulted in five large jury verdicts against the company. S.B. 711 created additional requirements a plaintiff must meet to bring a nuisance lawsuit while H.B. 467 provides limitations on the amount of compensatory and punitive damages a plaintiff can receive.
In June 2019, a group of nonprofits brought this lawsuit claiming that S.B. 711 and H.B. 467 violated the North Carolina Constitution’s Law of the Land Clause. The North Carolina Supreme Court has held this clause to be the equivalent of the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause. State v. Collins, 84 S.E. 1049, 1050 (1915). After the superior court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the plaintiffs appealed.
Law of the Land Clause and Due Process Clause
To survive a due process challenge, the purpose of the law must be within the scope of police power, the law must be reasonably necessary to promote public good, and the interference with the landowner’s right to use his property must be reasonable. Here, the court found that promoting agricultural activities clearly falls within the state’s police powers. Additionally, both S.B. 711 and H.B. 467 promote the public good by reasonably limiting nuisance claims against agricultural operations. Any interference with the use and enjoyment of property is reasonable.
Right to Trial by Jury
The plaintiffs also claimed that H.B. 467 violated Article I, Section 25 of the North Carolina Constitution by limiting the plaintiffs’ right to a trial by jury. The court disagreed finding that H.B. 467 limited remedies and damages available to a plaintiff, but “did not impair nor abolish the right to a jury trial.”
The case is Rural Empowerment Association for Cmty. Help v. North Carolina, 2021 WL 6014722 (N.C. App. Dec. 21, 2021).