Thursday, November 12, 2015

Court Rules on Preliminary Objections in Luzerne County CAFO Case

Written by M. Sean High

On October 29, 2015, in the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County Pennsylvania, a ruling was rendered regarding Country View Family Farms, LLC’s preliminary objections in a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) case involving a Salem Township pig farm.

The legal action in question originated from an April 27, 2015 complaint filed by multiple Salem Township residents seeking relief from the operation of a neighboring CAFO.  In their complaint, 90 individual plaintiffs collectively stated that “foul-smelling odors particulate matter, harmful chemical compounds, pathogens, other hazardous substances, and in some cases flies, generated at Defendants’ CAFO and the spreading of swine manure and urine, have intermittently and frequently escaped and continue to escape form Defendants’ CAFO  and the spreading fields and invade Plaintiffs’ properties, and thus have and continue to substantially impaired Plaintiffs’ use and quiet enjoyment of their properties, and caused substantial annoyance, inconvenience and discomfort and property devaluation.”

Defendant Country View Family Farms, LLC countered Plaintiffs’ allegations by filing seven preliminary objections to the complaint.  According to Defendant’s brief in support of the preliminary objections: 1) Plaintiffs’ nuisance claim (both public and private) was legally and factually insufficient; 2) allegations concerning harm to nearby schools, a hospital, a retirement village and Thompson’s Run Creek should be stricken; 3) allegations concerning potential violation of a Salem Township zoning ordinance should be stricken; 4) Plaintiffs’ trespass claim was legally and factually insufficient; 5) Plaintiffs’ potential claim for negligence was improperly pleaded and legally insufficient; 6) demand for punitive damages should be stricken; and 7) the demand for diminution in value damages should be stricken.

With only one partial exception, the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County agreed with Country View Family Farms, LLC and ruled in favor of all seven of Defendant’s preliminary objections.  The lone exception concerned Country View Family Farms, LLC’s preliminary objection to Plaintiffs’ nuisance claim. Specifically, though the Court agreed with Country View Family Farms, LLC that Plaintiffs “public nuisance” claim should be stricken, the Court also ruled that Plaintiffs’ claim of “private nuisance” could proceed with the added requirement that within 45 days of the Order, Plaintiffs must submit an amended complaint “delineat[ing] with the requisite specificity the alleged injury” suffered by each one of the 90 individual plaintiffs. 

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