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Indiana Supreme Court Rules in Right to Farm Case

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Indiana agriculture got a big win Friday, an Indiana Supreme Court ruling that upholds protections from nuisance claims that the Indiana Right to Farm Act, RTFA, provides Indiana farmers. Elizabeth South is Vice President and General Counsel for Co-Alliance, an Indiana cooperative owned by local farmers.

“We’re just really pleased for the growers in this case, Sam, Cory and Clint Himsel and their families,” she said. “Their families have been weighing the burden of having this litigation hanging over their heads and over their farm for the last four and a half years, and we’re so happy for them that it’s over.”

The Indiana Supreme Court’s action was to deny transfer in the Himsel vs. Himsel case, which effectively upholds the Indiana Court of Appeals April 2019 decision (read HAT coverage of that ruling here) in favor of the Himsel’s of Hendricks County and their right to farm. South says it is an important decision for all Hoosier farmers.

“It really provides them the protection they need to feel comforted that they can invest in their farm, that they can continue to improve their farm, and that they’re not going to be subject to a nuisance suit when they really have had no operational negligence,” she told HAT. “That’s what the Court of Appeals case really provides for farmers. It provides them the comfort to know if they follow all the rules and they do everything correctly, that they’re not going to be sued just for existing. That’s what the Indiana Right to Farm Act is really meant to protect, and this ruling by the Indiana Supreme Court really upholds that protection for Indiana farmers.”

She said it also once again sends a powerful message from this state about the right to farm.

“I think that this decision will be looked upon by other states when they’re evaluating this type of case in their state as well.”

Kevin Still, President and CEO, at Co-Alliance, also issued a statement following the decision of the Indiana Supreme Court.

“Co-Alliance and Indiana’s farmers are pleased that today the Indiana Supreme Court upheld the protections from nuisance claims afforded Hoosier farmers. This decision is consistent with numerous decisions over the past 40 years by Indiana courts that have interpreted the RTFA to protect a farm’s ability to grow, develop and improve its land for the production of food and other agricultural products. While Indiana farmers must adhere to strict local and state requirements when they build or expand a farm, such as converting land from row crops to a confined feeding operation, they must have the flexibility authorized by the RTFA to develop and improve their farming operations, which today’s decision re-affirms.

Sam Himsel, issued a statement on behalf of entire family, saying, “Our family has lived with this stressful lawsuit since October 2015. We are relieved that our farming way of life and multi-generational agricultural livelihood can continue uninterrupted and be passed on to my grandchildren.  We hope today’s decision helps ensure farming rights for future generations of Hoosier farmers and that no other farming family has to endure this type of protracted, expensive litigation.  We greatly appreciate all of the support that we have received from Co-Alliance, the rest of the agricultural community and our lawyers who fought for us from day one and who prevailed at the trial court, court of appeals and now the Indiana Supreme Court.”

Still with Co-Alliance added, “this litigation has been difficult, hard fought and worrisome for Sam, Cory and Clint as it jeopardized their ability to continue raising livestock on their farm today as well as for future generations. As a farmer-owned Indiana cooperative Co-Alliance is proud to have stood side by side with Sam and his sons as co-defendants fighting for the preservation of rights for all farmers in Indiana. Today’s decision provides farmers with a high degree of certainty that their farm, which often represents a multi-million-dollar investment, cannot be shut down without reason. After today’s ruling, Indiana farmers now have another consistent interpretation of the Right to Farm Act that can be applied when nuisance suits come masquerading as trespass or negligence claims.”