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Lawmakers Give Hog, Poultry Farms Lawsuit Protections With Veto Override

Poultry farms like these are found near homes throughout the Catawba River Valley.
David Boraks
Poultry farms like these are found near homes throughout the Catawba River Valley.

The General Assembly has overridden the governor's veto of a bill that protects hog and poultry farmers in lawsuits over nuisance smells.  The state Senate voted 30-18 Thursday night to override the veto, following a similar vote in the House Wednesday. It takes effect immediately. 

The bill limits the amount of monetary damages nearby property owners could collect if a court rules that smells from hog or poultry farms are a nuisance.  

Under the bill, neighbors could still sue, but farms' liability would be limited to the lost rental or property value that neighbors can show was the result of the nuisance. And the total cannot be more than the market value of the property. 

After a lengthy debate last month, the House added language saying the new law would not apply to any pending cases. That includes current federal lawsuits against the state's largest hog producer, Murphy-Brown, which operates in eastern North Carolina.  

In announcing the veto last week, Gov. Roy Cooper called the nuisance lawsuit bill "special protection" for one industry. He said it could set a precedent that would lead to weakening protections in other areas for homeowners.

The Catawba River Valley doesn't have large industrial hog farms like eastern North Carolina, but it does have a concentration of commercial poultry operations. Catawba Riverkeeper Sam Perkins monitors them, and says it's a problem when air blows through.   

“You have a lot of air passing through and that includes a lot of dust and feathers and even bacteria. I like to think I'm pretty good shape, and I'm surprised that even around these after a few minutes I can start to have a pretty good trouble breathing,” Perkins said.

He says the new law means it will be harder for neighbors hold hog and poultry farmers accountable through lawsuits.

“This limits the ability for people spewing this waste out to be held accountable and for people near these to enjoy their property and receive compensation when they're not able to do that,” Perkins said. 

Supporters say the bill helps the livestock industry.  Sen. Brent Jackson (R-Sampson County) said in a statement after the vote: 

“I am incredibly pleased that this bill providing legal certainty to family farmers and the thousands of North Carolinians who earn their living in the agriculture industry is now law. This is a victory for farmers and our rural communities.”

The Senate override came mostly on party lines, with Republicans supporting the bill. Three Republicans joined 15 Democrats in opposing the action.  


Text of House Bill 467, on NCLeg.net