Beginning in late 2009 and early 2010, attorneys Richard Hailey of Indianapolis, Charles Speer and Britt Bieri of Kansas City, and Richard Middleton brought five lawsuits based on negligence and nuisance in Randolph County, Indiana, on behalf of neighbors against Maxwell Farms of Indiana and several individual farmers. The complaints stated that the basis for the suits was the odor created by the production of hogs, improper handling of manure waste and dead hogs, fly generation and leaks of manure from the barns on to neighbors’ property. Although water pollution was raised, no Clean Water Act violations were alleged. At that time, the four attorneys, who were labeled by the newspapers as “high-powered,” were reported as vowing to make Randolph County “ground zero” in a legal fight over how Indiana produces pork.
Then Governor Mitch Daniels had encouraged the development of pork production during his administration. Middleton was quoted as stating that the failure of Governor Daniels to meet his legal obligations to protect citizens from environmental threats was at the root of the cases.
OFW Law’s Gary Baise and Anson Keller represented Maxwell Farms in all five cases. In the first four cases, depositions of the plaintiffs showed that they knew nothing about improper handling of manure waste, improper handling of dead hogs, or any leaks of manure from the barns on to their property. They claimed that those allegations came from their lawyers.
OFW Law moved for summary judgment in all five cases, and at no time did plaintiffs attempt to show any evidence of negligence or negligent operation of the hog farms in any of the five cases. The trial court judge, Marianne Vorhees, a special judge sitting in Muncie, IN, found that the elements of the Indiana Right to Farm statute had been met. The farms had been in existence for more than one year before the lawsuits began, there had been no change in circumstances in the operation of any of the farms, and there was no evidence provided by the plaintiffs to show the farms had been a nuisance at the time that the farms began operation. After a thorough briefing by OFW Law and the Indiana Attorney General, Judge Vorhees also found that the Indiana Right to Farm statute was constitutional. The plaintiffs’ appealed four of the cases, but subsequently dropped the appeals.