Posted by: Patricia Salkin | May 18, 2015

MO Supreme Court Finds Statute Limiting Damages for Agricultural Nuisances Does Not Authorize an Unconstitutional Private Taking nor Violate Equal Protection

Several landowners and other individuals (Appellants) filed suit against Cargill Pork LLC and Bohr Farms (Respondents) alleging damages for temporary nuisance, negligence, and conspiracy due to alleged offensive odors emanating from a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) owned and operated by Bohr Farms. Appellants alleged that their damages for temporary nuisance consisted solely of the loss of use and enjoyment of their property. Appellants also asserted that Bohr Farms was negligent, that Cargill was vicariously liable for the nuisance and negligence, and that Bohr Farms and Cargill engaged in a civil conspiracy. The circuit court entered summary judgment for Respondents, and determined that section 537.296 was constitutional and that the statute did not authorize an award of damages for Appellants’ alleged loss of use and enjoyment of their property. The court also denied recovery on Appellants’ negligence and civil conspiracy claims.

Unlike a common law private nuisance action, section 537.296 precludes recovery of non-economic damages for items such as loss of use and enjoyment, inconvenience, or discomfort caused by the nuisance. Appellants argued that the statute effectuates a taking because limiting temporary nuisance damages to diminution of rental value requires Appellants to forfeit their right to the use and enjoyment of their properties for Respondents’ private benefit. However, the court found that the plain language of section 537.296.2 did not delegate any authority to private parties or authorize any landowner to create a nuisance. Furthermore, the statute provided just compensation by authorizing a plaintiff to recover the diminution in rental value in a temporary nuisance.

As to the equal protection claim, the court found that 537.296 provided obvious benefits to the large number of rural landowners who devote their property primarily to agriculture. Because of this, the Appellants were not a suspect class, and the claim was evaluated under a rational basis test. The court held that the statute rationally advances the legitimate state interest in promoting the agricultural economy by reducing the litigation risk faced by Missouri farmers while permitting nearby landowners to recover the diminution in property value caused by agricultural operations. Accordingly, the equal protection claim failed, and the judgment of the trial court was affirmed.

Linda Labrayere as Trustee of the Don E. Labrayere Trust v Bohr Farms, LLC, 2015 WL 1735494 (MO 4/14/2015)

The opinion can be accessed at: http://www.courts.mo.gov/file.jsp?id=85514


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