Gary Baise Commentaries

Based on this case a judge could shut your farm down permanently

A jury finds that a Texas chicken operation’s odor constituted a nuisance. What about the state’s Right-to-Farm statute?

A state district court in Henderson County, Texas (Blanchard, ET AL. v. Huynh, ET AL.) ordered and decreed that a poultry operation - sixteen chicken barns of Sanderson Farms in Malakoff  - was a nuisance, and to “…cease and desist from conducting and from allowing any other person to conduct any of the Activities on Defendants’ Properties or on any other real property that is subject to Defendants’ ownership or control within 5 (five) miles of any boundary of Plaintiffs’ Properties, except for remedial actions ordered herein…”

The court ruled that plaintiffs in their case against the famer defendants had established “irreparable injury”. The judge found that the odor pollution from the defendant famers’ chicken operation created a substantial and unreasonable nuisance. Consequently, because a nuisance exists and because there has been “…serial annoyance and interference with the use and enjoyment of Plaintiffs’ Properties” there must be a complete shutdown.

With this order, the judge told defendant Sanderson Farms and its farmer growers that they could no longer grow chickens.

What happened?

The judge said he entered the permanent injunction because plaintiffs in this case did not have an adequate legal remedy. The jury in this matter found that the chicken operation constituted a nuisance. (Remember that agriculture in general is a nuisance, therefore the Right-to-Farm statutes for protection.) Quite obviously the defendant poultry farmers had planned on continuing growing flocks of broiler chickens for the foreseeable future.

The farmers of course admitted they would continue their operations and had no intention of closing the broiler operation. The defendant farmers and Sanderson also admitted that if there was no injunction, they would continue to conduct their activities in the future the same as they had done in the past.

The plot thickens

The Texas Council on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) had attempted to force the defendant farmers to reduce their odor. The defendant farmers contended their activities were not a nuisance and believed claims against them lacked credibility. This matter went to trial. The judge said the defendants’ activities of underreporting their taxable income and forfeiting the corporate charter for failure to pay franchise taxes was not helpful.

There is not one mention in the entire 7-page court opinion of the Texas Right to Farm Statute which is good and strong. It is impossible to tell from the opinion why the Texan Right-to-Farm Statute was not used by the defense.

If you believe your farming operation cannot be closed down by a judge, this opinion suggests otherwise. What really grabs your attention in the opinion is that from Aug. 1, 2020 the defendants cannot operate “…within 5 (five) miles of any boundary of the Plaintiffs’ Properties except for the remedial actions ordered herein;”. The court did order that until Dec. 1, 2020, the defendants must continue maintaining all their fly traps in good order.

This is a sobering case for anyone in agriculture!