Indiana Livestock Farmers v. Frivolous Lawsuits

A recent bill which is working its way through the final passages in the Indiana state legislature in Indianapolis would require those who file (and lose) frivolous lawsuits against livestock farmers to pay for their opponents’ legal fees. Environmentalists contend that this law will have a chilling effect on residents who would otherwise be compelled to file legitimate complaints. And judges never appreciate having their leeway taken away from them.

Not Just about the Smell

The farmers of hogs and cattle are certainly happy to see it pass, especially since those sectors of the agricultural industry contribute heavily to those majority GOP members who wrote and passed the bill. There are many reasons to file a civil suit against a large, corporate livestock farm. The noise and the smell are only nuisances compared to the kind of damage that can be done to aquifers and watersheds if regulations are ignored or not enforced.

Really Necessary?

Indeed, there have only been 10 “nuisance” lawsuits brought against such farms in the past decade, according to Kim Ferraro, the water policy director of the Hoosier Environmental Council. None of them, she notes, were dismissed by judges as frivolous. Since Indiana is home to more than 2,000 industrial livestock farms, she wonders why there is all such concern over frivolous lawsuits, which seem not to exist in any Indiana courtroom. “The idea,” she says, “Is to intimidate.”

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bill Friend (R-Macy), actually crafted it to cover all farms in Indiana, not just those that raise livestock. He believes there is a need to protect farmers from groundless litigation which, he asserts, is designed only to interfere with their operations. While the focus of this bill is farming, says the bill’s co-sponsor, the pro-corporate legislature hopes to expand such protections to all Indiana businesses in the future.