Bible Pork Inc., based in Louisville, IL, the major multiplication system for The Maschhoffs, has been cleared of charges of hog odor nuisance after a three-year court battle.
“This ruling is great news for the livestock industry and all of agriculture,” says Illinois Pork Producers Association President Phil Borgic of Nokomis, IL. “Many times, as in this case, livestock operations are wrongfully attacked by people with misinformation and emotional rhetoric. This jury proved that in the end facts will prevail. We believe that this ruling will set precedent for future livestock-related cases.”
The lawsuit was brought by 21 nearby residents, many of whom had operated their own livestock operations. These neighbors had charged that Bible Pork’s newest breed-to-wean facility, a $10-million project located just west of Louisville, IL, was a public and private nuisance. The lawsuit was filed in 2005 before construction had begun. The operation was completed in July 2006.
The complaint specifically alleged that dust, noise and gases such as hydrogen sulfide and ammonia and odors from the facility “constituted a criminal public nuisance, a common law public nuisance and a private nuisance at the plaintiffs’ homes.”
A Clay County jury deliberated just under three hours on Feb. 4 in rendering its verdict that Bible Pork was not a private nuisance.
Bible’s lead attorney Gary Baise, an Illinois corn and soybean producer and Washington counsel, explains that until a few years ago, most litigation cases against hog farms were brought under the federal Clean Water and Clean Air Acts.
But since those violations have been hard to prove, a new tactic has been tried: filing suit on common law public and private nuisance charges.
Baise successfully argued three main points in the Bible Pork 4 case:
First, locally, Bible Pork, Inc., represents one of the largest private employers in the area (64 jobs), and its newest facility provides an additional $100,000 in property taxes and 20 new jobs to the community. Ruling in favor of the plaintiffs could have placed the facility in real danger of being closed.
Second, on a statewide level, the new facility was constructed based on Illinois’ Livestock Management Facilities Act (LMFA), which balances protection for neighbors with recognition of the importance of livestock to the state’s economy. “As a part of the case, plaintiffs were asking the jury to implicitly overrule the LMFA, which would have had a chilling impact upon the state’s entire agricultural economy,” Baise says.
Third, nationally, plaintiffs were attempting to undermine the nature of today’s modern livestock industry using common law claims such as nuisance to override “right-to-farm” statutes.
“We are pleased that the jury’s decision reiterated the importance of livestock production to rural communities in Illinois, and recognized the best management practices that pork producers, such as the Bibles, have taken to be good neighbors and stewards of the environment,” Borgic says.
For his part, owner Matt Bible says he appreciates the efforts of family, employees and others who have supported the operation for the last 17 years, especially the last three years in which the farm was embroiled in the lawsuit.
“We are very pleased that the Clay County jury made their decision based on the facts,” he says. “We have met or exceeded all regulations, and this verdict shows that people and livestock can coexist in rural communities throughout Illinois and the nation.”Bible pledged respect for the community and to continue to be a good neighbor.