HEC Wins Major Appellate Victory in Factory Farm Case

Factory farms pose a significant threat to public health and the environment. These farms run the risk of releasing massive quantities of bacteria, nutrients and other harmful pollutants to the surrounding waters. By concentrating too much manure on too little land, factory farms often cause water and air pollution. This pollution threatens drinking water supply and impacts the surrounding community’s quality of life.

aerial view

Aerial view of confinement dairy next to the home of Eric and Lisa Stickdorn

A CAFO can produce as much waste as a small city. However, they are permitted to store this waste in open-air lagoons with little or no treatment. CAFOs and other large livestock facilities often spread manure on nearby cropland at unsustainable rates, leading to manure spills, fish kills and groundwater contamination.

A confinement dairy operation was built next to the home where Eric and Lisa Stickdorn had lived in since 1994. In March and September 2004, shortly after the dairy operation was built, the Stickdorns discovered that the CAFO owner was discharging animal manure and parlor wash directly into a drainage tile. The drainage tile leached into a tributary of Symonds Creek, which runs through the Stickdorns’ property and into the shallow aquifer that feeds their drinking water well.

Water testing on both occasions confirmed high levels of ammonia-nitrogen (8 ppm), e-coli and dissolved oxygen, rendering the water unsuitable for livestock or human consumption. Ultimately, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) refused to take any action because the operation was “too small” and not subject to regulation.

The Stickdorns were forced to move from their home into an apartment because of the noxious fumes that contained high levels of hydrogen sulfide, ammonia and particulate matter. The fumes were originating from the operation’s open slurry pit that was constructed 250 feet from the Stickdorns’ property line and land application of manure adjacent to their home. Seeking relief, the Stickdorns contacted LEAF for help.

On November 9, 2009, HEC filed a lawsuit on the Stickdorns’ behalf for compensatory damages, punitive damages and injunctive relief. After the trial court wrongly dismissed the case, HEC appealed to the Indiana Court of Appeals and WON! The Appellate decision clarified that Indiana’s unjust “Right to Farm” law does not prevent farmers, like the Stickdorns, from suing to protect their farm and family from a polluting CAFO. This significant legal victory led to a settlement in the case that required the CAFO to shut down and transfer ownership of the property to the Stickdorns as payment of their damages. And, after ten years of not being able to live in their own home, Eric and Lisa have finally moved back to their farm!

HEC continues to represent families and communities harmed by factory farms. You can learn more about our legal work here.