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Missouri Senate sends Nixon new bill on farm lawsuits

Missouri Senate sends Nixon new bill on farm lawsuits

May 11th, 2011 by David A. Lieb, Associated Press in News

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Responding to objections from Gov. Jay Nixon, Missouri lawmakers passed a revised bill Tuesday that would restrict the ability of neighboring property owners to bring nuisance lawsuits against large, smelly hog farms.

The legislation would limit the amount of money people could win in nuisance lawsuits against livestock and crop producers. It also seeks to prohibit neighbors from filing repeated nuisance claims arising out of similar conditions against the same farm.

Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed a prior version of the bill last week but indicated a willingness to work with the Republican-led Legislature on revisions. The House passed a modified bill last week by a 100-42 vote and the Senate followed suit Tuesday, sending the legislation to Nixon by a 24-8 vote. Sponsoring Sen. Brad Lager, R-Savannah, said Nixon has assured him that he will sign the revised bill into law.

A Nixon spokesman stopped short of such a pledge Tuesday.

"The governor outlined his concerns on this issue in his veto message. We will be reviewing this legislation to ensure that those concerns have been addressed," said Nixon spokesman Sam Murphey.

The legislation comes after hog-producer Premium Standard Farms - a major employer in northern Missouri - warned last year that it might have to leave the state if it continued to be targeted by nuisance lawsuits. Such lawsuits have resulted in multimillion-dollar awards against the company, including an $11 million award to a group of 15 northwest Missouri residents.

On Monday, a southwest Missouri jury awarded nearly $2 million to a dozen plaintiffs who claimed odors from a nearby hog farm owned Iowa-based Synergy had ruined their way of life.

The legislation passed Tuesday would limit compensatory damages against farms to the reduction in the rental value of neighboring property in cases where a "temporary nuisance" exists and to the reduction of the property's fair market value if a "permanent nuisance" exists. The legislation also would require that any subsequent nuisance lawsuits involving the same properties and problems be treated as "permanent nuisance" claims in court.

While vetoing the original bill, Nixon cited a concern that the bill's monetary limits also would apply to punitive damages in nuisance lawsuits. And he said the provision about repeated lawsuits could have been interpreted to apply not only to agricultural nuisances but also to other alleged nuisances such as noisy neighbors or vehicle exhaust.

The bill passed Tuesday by lawmakers would allow punitive damages in nuisance lawsuits against crop and livestock producers. It also clarifies that the provisions about repeated nuisance lawsuits apply only to those agricultural producers.

"It was never the intent to stop punitive damages," Lager said. And "we're not trying to change language for nuisances in urban and suburban areas."


Farm lawsuits bill is SB187.