Nicholas Malfitano Mar. 23, 2016, 8:33am


WILLIAMSPORT – A recent ruling in the Lycoming County Court of Common Pleas has resulted in another victory for parties arguing certain agricultural activities are protected under Pennsylvania’s Right To Farm Act (RTFA).

In a decision issued March 4 by Judge Richard A. Gray, the Court granted summary judgment to defendants Nicholas Meat, Bowes Farm, Camerer Farm and JAB Livestock. After three years of discovery, the Court ruled their application of a fertilizer consisting of organic animal material qualified as normal and protected activity under the RTFA.

The lawsuit was first filed in June 2013 by neighbors living next to 1,200 acres on which Camerer Farms grows corn and soybean, using fertilizer created from food processing residual material generated at Nicholas Meat’s processing plant.

The plaintiffs argued claims for nuisance and negligence, alleging the odors stemming from the defendants’ farming operations detracted from the use and enjoyment of their properties. Further, the plaintiffs also claimed the defendants were liable for negligence in their storage, transport and application of the food processing residual.

However, the Court decided the RTFA is “a shield that protects against nuisance lawsuits and negligence claims stemming from the same facts.”

The decision signaled the first time a trial court cited the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania’s recent decision in Gilbert v. Synagro Central, LLC, which upheld the application of biosolids as a fertilizer to crops on the basis that the RTFA affords “extraordinarily broad protection” to Pennsylvania farmers, so long as the activity in question was “normal” and had been occurring for more than one year prior to any legal action being filed.

James C. Clark and John J. Haggerty of Fox Rothschild in Warrington, attorneys for the defense, argued Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) maintained close oversight of the defendants’ conduct, and though the DEP issued three NOVs (notices of violation) to the defendants since 2011, the agency did not levy fines on them or seek to end their farming activities.

Rather, defense counsel asserted, the defendants remedied the violations. In its decision, the Court made clear that entering summary judgment in favor of the defendants was “mandated by the public policy of the Commonwealth.”

Clark spoke on securing the verdict in this matter.

“We are very pleased with the outcome of the case,” Clark said. “My clients work hard to ensure that their family-owned businesses are compliant with all regulations, and they take pride in being good corporate citizens.”

Clark further commented on how rulings such as this one may influence future lawsuits connected to the RTFA.

“With respect to future litigation, my hope is that plaintiffs’ lawyers considering similar lawsuits take note of this decision and the broad protections afforded to agricultural operations by the Right To Farm Act, understand that these protections are ingrained in the reality that Pennsylvania is an agricultural state with an economy driven by farmers, and think twice before filing,” Clark said.

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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