Rural Empowerment Ass’n for Cmty. Help v. State of N.C

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Opinion Filed December 21, 2021
Attorney for the Case Elizabeth Haddix Mark Dorosin Burton Craige Narendra Ghosh Christopher A. Brook
Amicus Brief Writers Matthew Ballew
Court NC Court of Appeals
Docket No. 21-175

NCAJ filed an amicus brief in the N.C. Court of Appeals arguing that two recent tort reform statutes were facially unconstitutional. By way of background, this case arises from the recent “hog farm” litigations and jury trials against Smithfield, the largest pork producer in the world. In those litigations, multiple homeowners and residents in eastern NC counties living nearby to open air hog waste cesspools – (euphemistically called “lagoons”) filed lawsuits against Smithfield alleging common law nuisance claims under NC law. These plaintiffs sought recovery for noneconomic damages that have been allowed under the nuisance common law for hundreds of years, e.g. loss of enjoyment of their homes, discomfort, and annoyance damages. In five straight jury trials conducted in the EDNC, before five different juries, each set of plaintiffs won multimillion verdicts against Smithfield for both compensatory and punitive damages.

Following the first two verdicts against it, the General Assembly was lobbied to pass several bills designed specifically to take away the rights of plaintiffs who had similar pending nuisance lawsuits against the corporation, to prevent other similarly situated plaintiffs who had not yet filed complaints from ever being able to file such nuisance claims in the future, and to strip the jury’s right to ever again award noneconomic damages for nuisance claims against IHOs (“Industrial hog operations”). Through the passage of these industry specific tort reform bills (HB 467 and SB 711 in 2017 and 2018 respectively), the General Assembly moved forward with eliminating the rights of plaintiffs to sue for and recover full and fair damages for nuisance claims against IHOs.

The Plaintiffs in the current action represent a collection of affected homeowners, residents, and local civic groups who filed a lawsuit stating common law nuisance claims against Smithfield and alleging that HB 467 and SB 711 were facially unconstitutional. NCAJ’s amicus brief joins the Plaintiffs at issue in arguing that (1) the Plaintiffs’ Complaint stated a valid claim that the Farm Act amendments improperly infringed on fundamental property rights protected by Article I, Section 19 of the North Carolina Constitution, and (2) the allegations in the Plaintiffs’ Complaint are sufficient to support Plaintiffs’ claims that the legislation improperly infringes upon the right to jury trial protected by Article I, Section 25 of the North Carolina Constitution.