By Kim Ferraro

Eric and Lisa Stickdorn own a small farm in Wayne County, Indiana, where they have raised grass fed cattle since 1993. Unfortunately, for the last eight years, they have been unable to live in their own home because owners of a confined dairy operation, built next door, has refused to properly contain and dispose of animal waste generated at the facility. Unfortunately, under Indiana’s environmental regulations, they are not required to.

Specifically, animal waste from only the largest livestock facilities known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are subject to regulation, and even that is minimal. Indeed, CAFOs can produce as much animal waste as a small city, yet they are allowed to store untreated waste in open-air, unlined lagoons. They are also permitted to dispose and spread this waste on the ground, regardless of the soil’s ability to absorb it. These irresponsible practices continue to cause manure spills, fish kills, and ground and surface water contamination throughout the State. And, as the Stickdorns have personally experienced, the effect of concentrating too much manure on too little land significantly reduces quality of life for those who live nearby.

Without regulatory protection, the Stickdorns turned to the courts where they found that CAFOs, no matter how noxious and polluting, have not been held liable for nuisance under Indiana’s Right to Farm Act. Indeed, most lawsuits brought against CAFOs by impacted neighbors fail due to the liability shield afforded by the Right to Farm law. However, the Stickdorns, represented by attorney Kim Ferraro, now HEC’s Director of Agriculture and Water Policy, convinced the Indiana Court of Appeals to let their case proceed despite argument by counsel for the neighboring dairy that the Right to Farm Act applied.

In a lengthy opinion, the Indiana appellate court agreed with the Stickdorns and held that the adjacent dairy became a nuisance through its operation and mismanagement of waste, not by its mere existence on the day it was built. In addition, the appellate court declared that the Right to Farm Act does not apply to the Stickdorns’ lawsuit stating:

We acknowledge that the purpose of the Right to Farm Act is, among other things, “to reduce the loss to the state of its agricultural resources by limiting the circumstances under which agricultural operations may be deemed to be a nuisance.” I.C. § 32-30-6-9(b). However, when examining the statutory provisions and the policy behind the Right to Farm Act, it is our view that it has no applicability to the manner in which two farmers, i.e., the Stickdorns and the Lantzes, conduct their operations. Moreover, it is clear that the Right to Farm Act does not “apply if a nuisance results from the negligent operation of an agricultural or industrial operation or its appurtenances.” I.C. § 32-30-6-9(a). Thus, we reject the Lantzes’ reliance on the Right to Farm Act in this instance.

Stickdorn v. Zook, 2011 Ind. App. LEXIS 1921, 25-26 (Ind. Ct. App. Nov. 28, 2011).

The Court’s decision strengthens the ability of Indiana’s small farming communities, now home to scores of polluting CAFOs, to fight back. The decision is also an example of how the Hoosier Environmental Council is protecting the environment by providing a needed public voice at the statehouse, before administrative agencies, and in the courts.

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